An assessment of the Penn State football team roughly one-third of the way through preseason practice.

Thursday marked the first break the Penn State players had seen since preseason sessions kicked off a week earlier. With eight practices under their belt, a lot had been made of the intensity and pace of the period.

As one observer explained, "I think the level (of intensity) where the practices started is typically where it is a week or so in." In recent years the coaching staff has assumed a "gradual increase" with each practice.

"Last year I'd say it started at a four or five — a lot more light work when we were out of pads early on. This time I'd say it started at a seven or eight." The practices have been faster, with "more involved drills" and fewer breaks.

The squad has seen time both outside and inside Holuba Hall, depending on the heat and conditions. In fact, the Sunday Holuba session was where Joe Paterno was injured after being hit.

Despite Paterno missing some practices the team pressed on. "He wanted everyone to focus on their jobs and not worry about him," according to an observer. "I think that was what has happened for the most part."

The first few practices were focused on basics with extra running, fundamental work and agility sets. The latter sessions put the spotlight on position drills and "getting the units to work together."

Among the units that are "looking strong" are the linebackers and receivers.

"The 'backers have a ton of talent to work with. Vandy [Ron Vanderlinden] has a lot to work with and is looking at what kind of rotation he can put together." With Mike Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Nate Stupar, there are strong veteran presences. But young players like Khairi Fortt, Mike Hull, Glenn Carson and Dakota Royer have drawn praise for their work, too.

Fortt began the preseason at outside linebacker but more recently has been seeing snaps at inside 'backer. Move young players around at the LB positions is common at PSU. It is a good way for them to get a handle on the various spots and be ready to move and fill in case of an injury to a regular.

Derek Moye and Justin Brown leading the way in the receiving corps. But Shawney Kersey continues to gain notice as he is making better use of his great speed. The coaches are easing Curtis Drake and Christian Kuntz in as they return from injuries. Drake no doubt adds a "spark," and Kuntz could "give them some different looks" with his 6-foot-4 frame.

With about a third of the preseason period complete, we asked observers to tell us who they feel has stood out the most to them:

Standout Players

"I think a lot of the guys stepping up are the ones you'd expect," one observer said, but he noted that there have been a few nice surprises in this area, too.

Keep in mind this list is not exhaustive and we will be assembling some specific reports on different player groups and units as preseason practices progress.

Silas Redd, RB: Only a sophomore, Redd has natural leadership skills. And he's not afraid to use them now. "When you have some veterans (like Brandon Beachum and Stephfon Green) ahead of a young guy, you'll often see him take a back seat. But some guys are comfortable and are natural with their leadership," an observer said.

Redd's maturity and discipline have been pointed to quite a bit this off-season. Said "not to be an in-your-face player," his approach is described as candid and positive in nature. "The fact he goes all-out ever practice helps too. It shows guys the investment he's making and that gives him credibility."

Mike Mauti, LB: A guy who was expected to emerge on the field was Mauti. "Physically, he looks great," one observer said. Another shared, "What makes him good is that he's never satisfied with his play. He studies his game and asks a lot of questions of those around him who watch him play."

Aside from continually "studying," Mauti's charisma leads teammates to gravitate toward him. "He's also not afraid to get on guys if they are dogging it."

Justin Brown, WR: Derek Moye has certainly gotten his share of praise and is expected to be in the running for a captain position with this squad. But one player who's "showing more maturity with his play" is Brown. "That's not a criticism [of Brown's earlier efforts], but J.B. has been looking at his play different," an observer said. "He's watching more film, but also, I think, listening more to how to improve smaller aspects of his play — like hand and shoulder positions."

Observers feel Brown has been a strong receiver since he arrived on campus, but the junior "is practicing more like a veteran." Word is that Brown is making fewer "circus catches" than previous years. "I think part of that is the QBs and part is he's just in better position to grab it."

Nick Sukay, S: The fifth-year senior is back on the field after recovering from a torn pectoral. Although he was a bit tentative initially, he "back at it now." As one observer said, "The coaches pushed him to trust his body; you can't play with hesitation and succeed. I think that was all he really needed."

Sukay is a major voice in the secondary given his seniority, but more importantly given his "demeanor and work ethic." He also has a track record for making plays, as he tied for the team lead in interceptions last season (three) despite missing the second half of the season due to the injury.

"He's a guy who pushes and pushes," an observer said. "He certainly will make mistakes, but he'll point out what he did wrong and quickly adjust."

Stephon Morris, CB: The junior has been impressive when it comes to overall experience and "is not the most vocal guy, but has shown great speed and physicality."

Morris is a player who has had ups and downs with his play, and preseason has not been all that different. But "he's anticipating better which is helping his ability to read a route."

Morris missed part of summer workouts after having wisdom teeth removed but has been full go in the preseason.

Thursday's respite from practice was welcome.

"Everyone needed a break anyhow just to get rest up a bit," an observer said.

But the Lions were right back at it Friday.

Media Day, which was supposed to be held Thursday but was delayed when Paterno was injured, has been rescheduled for Tuesday. That will be a practice day for the Lions and the first 15-20 minutes of the session is scheduled to be open to the media.


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