NITTANY NOTES: First Contact

Penn State football got into pads and contact drills in their most recent session. Get an update on the squad's progress across a variety of players and positions here.

Penn State dialed up the intensity of practice after getting the pads on late last week, particularly on Saturday. The Big Ten Network was on hand for its annual Spring Practice Tour around the conference and the coaches "wanted to show them something," according to one observer.

As an aside, although the Nittany Lions were only the third stop on the tour, Gerry DiNardo tweeted that the Penn State session was the "most physical practice so far," compared to previous stops at Michigan and Michigan State.

The Saturday session in particular was described as a "showcase" event, which had what was estimated nearly 1,000 spectators (including a mass of recruits) on hand.

Power Lines

The offensive and defensive lines saw similar lineups as reported in our earlier report, yet the units saw more contact drills in 1v1 style reps. Overall=, the defensive side was said to be ahead, which "is nothing really new."

On the offensive side of the trench, aside from the veterans who stood out (like Miles Diffenbach at guard and Donovan Smith at tackle) Andrew Nelson and Brandon Mahon are two newcomers who turned heads. "They're massive, but agile," one observer explained. "They definitely have progress to make, but they've got the foundation to build from."

A key position getting attention is center, Angelo Mangiro is "generally snapping well, but needs to get it to be second nature." Wendy Laurent, Miles Dieffenbach, Derek Dowrey are also snapping with the quarterbacks, but none have stood as of yet.

On the defensive side of the trench, Anthony Zettel's transition from end to tackle has been characterized as "going well," with veteran Austin Johnson working with him on the nuances of playing inside.

In terms of younger players, juco transfer Tarow Barney has "been aggressive" in early contact work, although "sloppy" with his funadmentals at times. "He can't just run over guys on every snap." Parker Cothren has also continued to show "dominance at times." Freshman Antoine White also had a "strong practice."

Veteran C.J. Olaniyan particularly has been working with the younger ends like Garrett Sickels and Curtis Cothran. Sickels specifically "looks like he's turning the corner," in terms of consistently "getting off the blocks and breaking into the backfield."

Ground Game

With seniors Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak obviously leading the charge, the coaches are getting an array of backs work to "evaluate how they want to construct the ground game." As one observer shared, "They like the multi-dimension look Zach and Bill give." Akeel Lynch is getting a lot of attention from the coaches, given that he saw action in nine games last season and rushed for 358 yards and a TD on 60 carries.

Lynch is said to be "running more determined" and "seems a lot more focused" this spring, apparently realizing "he has work to do to make an impression to get reps away" from Belton and Zwinak.

'Backer Boys

With limited options, the linebacker unit looks is shaping up to be Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell. Gary Wooten has also "looked very sharp at times" and is expected to contribute to the rotation.

Ben Kline has seen reps at both the inside and outside positions and the coaches are working to identify potential contributors to the unit's depth among the several walk-on players.

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