NITTANY NOTES: Progress Report

See how the Penn State offense is coming along after the first nine spring practice sessions.

With nine practices under their belt we take a look at how the spring period is progressing for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State has focused largely on unit and individual drills to work specific position skills and fundamentals. Last Friday the team got into a “pseudo scrimmage,” which had contact with limitations. “It was a set of teaching drills for the players,” one observer explained. Despite this, there “was a good amount of hard hitting, which the coaches have been trying to manage.” The squad ran about 50 plays during the session.

With a limited roster, the staff remains concerned with injuries, which is why they've taken a cautious approach to contact. “[Bill O'Brien] is preaching for the guys to take care of themselves and each other on the field. It's tough because you want them to go all out, but don't want stupid injuries that can kill your depth.”

Offensive Progress

Quarterbacks Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson have continued to split reps with the first team. Both have shown they solid arms. Ferguson has been “more sharp on his release.” However, Bench “has delivered the ball better overall.” Each quarterback has shown progress, with Ferguson picking up the scheme relatively quickly.

Ferguson is also said to have “good feet to move around the pocket.” He continues to have some misreads on routes, which is “not unexpected” at this stage.

Bench has shown an ability to “see the field” well, finding targets in traffic and delivering “sharp passes” to them. He's also improved “reading the line” and reading with the pocket. “A few balls got away from him and ended up as interceptions.”

There's debate as to who has the edge at this point. The overall consensus seems to be that it remains a wide-open race with several observers feeling that it will remain that way until freshman Christian Hackenberg arrives. “Unless one of them just clicks and takes off,” is how one observer put it.

Much of the success of the passing game has come from the receivers with Allen Robinson leading the charge. “He's created a huge target with his hands and feet and ability to go to the ball.” Robinson made a series of “strong pull-ins” on Friday “on some tough balls.” Brandon Moseby-Felder has also been a go-to target for the leading QBs. “[He] had pretty easy catch on a 7-yard curl and took a step and turned it into 17 (yards).”

Alex Kenney continues to see reps in the slot and seems “more comfortable” with the role as the spring has progressed. In terms of young receivers who are impressing, Eugene Lewis had a handful of nice intermediate grabs and an touchdown run. Richy Anderson has shown he has some “solid hands,” although his route-running is a point of focus this spring.

With the tight ends seeing impressive depth, Jesse James continues to lead the pack with the consistency he has shown catching and blocking. Matt Lehman has also shown versatility in his ability to play the run or pass. Brent Wilkerson and freshman Adam Breneman have displayed “strong abilities in situational roles” and are both working on “polishing their basics on blocking and releasing.” As one observer explained, “There's a lot of talent [at tight end]. The challenge the coaches will have is using it, but they're working a lot of situations for the young guys to focus on.”

Breneman and returning All-Big Ten tight end Kyle Carter are being held out of hitting while recovering from injuries. But both are doing non-contact work, including catching balls from the QBs.

In terms of the running game, it “hard to deny” that Akeel Lynch is making a case for the starting job. Lynch has shown an ability to “run over blockers,” which the staff is apparently concerned about (again trying to avoid injuries). “He's shown great strength and determination in his running style.” Lynch had a series of powerful runs in traffic going 15-plus yards on multiple occasions on Friday. “He's tough to grab onto because he tight with his motion.”

Zach Zwinak did not see as much action on Friday, in order to give Lynch some added work. With 203 carries last season, Zwinak is very much a known commodity to the coaches. The staff likes the multi-dimensional looks Zwinak and Lynch combine for.

Bill Belton has had a few minor injuries this spring. He's in good shape and has shown improvement holding onto the ball, but has had issues with his consistency. “He's strong and smart with his play, but needs to get better reading his blocks.”

The first-team offensive line has played well as a unit, with a large focus being placed on communication and general fundamentals like hands and feet. The first-team lineup has seen:

RT: Adam Gress

RG: John Urschel

C: Ty Howle

LG: Miles Dieffenbach

LT: Donovan Smith

Eric Shrive looks to be getting work in at few positions as a backup and has consistently been praised as one of the team's most improved linemen this spring.

Overall, the line back done well with its pass protection and is “making progress with their run blocking.” Dieffenbach and Howle, in particular, have been working on their “tandem play.”

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