SIX PACK: Pivotal Players

Fight On State breaks out our trademark Six Pack, this time reviewing the key players for the 2011 edition of the Penn State football squad. Crack open the Six Pack to see if you agree with the picks.

The season isn't quite here yet, but with only weeks left until kickoff against Indiana State we figured it was time to break open a few Six Packs to review key aspects of the 2011 Nittany Lions.

In each installment of this series, we focus on an issue facing the PSU football program. We start by looking at the six players who are most instrumental to Penn State's success in 2011. Last year our Six Pack included Rob Bolden, Evan Royster, Anthony Fera and Gary Gilliam. See who makes our list this year.

Silas Redd, RB: With Evan Royster off to the NFL and Stephfon Green finding his way out of the doghouse, the runway is clear for Silas Redd to take over in the PSU backfield.

Redd saw action in 12 games in 2010, but never got the starting nod. Last season he rolled up 437 yards on 77 carries, averaging 5.7 yards per carry (which was better than Royster or Green). He scored two rushing touchdowns. He also caught the ball four times for 27 yards.

Redd has not only shown he is a physical back, but is also descried as a "cerebral runner" with an ability to "see and anticipate lanes." Redd's maturity and "pragmatic approach" to his game are seen as major benefits in terms of his performance and leadership in the huddle.

Redd is by no means alone in the stable as Brandon Beachum and Curtis Dukes are in the mix and Green is not necessarily done. But Redd is widely viewed as the most complete and versatile back in the group.

Devon Still, DT: Still made this list last year, too, as PSU lost Jared Odrick to the Miami Dolphins. While the defensive line didn't perform to the level of 2009 last season, Still is viewed as "determined leader" of Larry Johnson's unit.

This year the defensive line has to replace Ollie Ogbu, who is off to the Indianapolis Colts. With interior linemen like Jordan Hill, James Terry, DaQuan Jones and Luke Graham, the line has talent, but Still is being looked to to tie it together.

Last season Still had 39 tackles (16 solo) and four sacks. Still's size (6-foot-5, 305 pounds), strength and agility allow him to serve as a major force for offensive lines to handle. His play will be be instrumental in opening up opportunities for the defensive ends to pressure the pocket to disrupt quarterbacks.

Still stepped up late last season as a key leader on defense and has continued that role this preseason.

Rob Bolden, QB: We're sticking with our prediction from May that Bolden will start this season. He provides an athleticism and spark that should give the offense added versatility.

Last season Bolden passed for 1360 yards and five touchdowns, while going 112 for 193 (58 percent) and tossing seven interceptions. He has the size (6-4, 215 pounds) and mechanics to lead an impressive air attack.

His comfort under center and reported increased command in the huddle will serve the offense well. The question is how he is able to help his offensive line keep the pressure off by reading the defense and improving his reactions and communication.

Michael Mauti, LB: When it comes to leadership, Mauti is viewed as a "field commander" not only on the field, but also in the locker room. He's been more vocal and "leads by example." Mauti represented of Lions at the recent Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.

Mauti saw action in 11 games in 2010, starting in seven of them. He grabbed 67 tackles (32 unassisted), two sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. His speed, physical style of play and "all-business" approach to his game are all seen as major assets for the linebackers and entire defense.

Mauti is also a player focused on making those around him better. "He takes the time to push guys, but more importantly he'll pull them aside to help them understand how improve on a situation."

The biggest key for Mauti is staying healthy.

Derek Moye, WR: The veteran wideout has shown he can give a lift to the offense and even take over a game. Last seaso, Moye pulled in 53 passes for 885 yards (16.7 average) and eight touchdowns.

Through the first five games in 2010, Moye actually did not catch a touchdown pass. Yet through the final eight games he grabbed eight scoring passes — all from QB Matt McGloin, interestingly enough.

The Biletnikoff candidate "runs tight routes," but more importantly has been a "help to the young quarterbacks." He also has worked with the younger receivers like Shawney Kersey and Brandon Moseby-Felder.

Moye's leadership is viewed as a key to the offense's success. "You need guys who have experience and can get guys settled and focused."

Quinn Barham, LT: Barham is another player who made our pivotal player six pack last season. With some fresh faces likely to start on the line this season, stabilizing the blind side (whether McGloin or Bolden is the starter) is essential to give the passers time and confidence.

Barham saw all 13 starts last season, which has been key to his improvement and comfort level at the position. Also, with veteran guard Johnnie Troutman expected to hold the guard position on the same side, that should provide him with additional support to rely on.

Despite his experience, teams likely will come fast and hard at the left side, which will continue to test Barham. If he manages to preserve the pocket, it should pay dividends for the passing game and the overall comfort and confidence of the quarterback.

Bonus Pick

Sam Ficken, K: Although Anthony Fera is listed as the preseason starter at punter and kicker, it's unlikely that the staff will have one player handle both duties (2010 start Collin Wagner has graduated). PSU has not had one man serve as full-time kicker and punter since Chris Bahr in 1975. So after a strong season punting in 2010, it would not seem to make sense to move Fera out of that role.

Versatile junior Evan Lewis also did a bit of kicking in the spring, but he is actually listed as a wideout in the media guide. So he was really kicking as a fill-in, of sorts. Lewis is also the team starting holder, which would obviously rule out kicking, too.

All of that means all eyes are on the true freshman Ficken this preseason.

As a high school senior in Indiana last fall, Ficken hit kicks from 50 and 52 yards. He has shown consistency from 40 yards out from a variety of angles. He obviously has the physical skills to get the job done. But how will he handled performing in front of 110,000 at Beaver Stadium?

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