Here are looks at three players who are getting looked at to take on expanded roles for the Nittany Lions this Spring.
Gary Wooten, LB, RS Sophomore: Wooten saw duty in 10 games last season primarily on special teams, grabbing 4.5 tackles on the year. He certainly struggled at times, but with a depleted linebacker corps spearheaded by Brandon Bell, Mike Hull inside and Nyeem Wartman, the staff is looking for depth to build a rotation. Wooten has played "fast and hard" in practices and "turned heads "early on.
According to one observer, "I think he sees the opportunity and is trying to position himself." He's reportedly been very receptive to working with Hull to understand the position, which has significant responsibility and "can be complex."
At 6-2, 237 pounds, Wooten has shown improvement on reads and an ability to "get a jump into lanes" at the middle linebacker position. He's described "as hard-nosed" and "just needs to get comfortable to get it consistent."
Brandon Bell, LB, Sophomore: Bell is not an unknown, having seen action in nine games last season, grabbing 19 tackles and forcing a fumble. However, his role is expected to expand significantly. He actually ended the 2013 campaign as a starter, closing the season with six tackles at Wisconsin.
Bell showed aggression in that game as the starter and largely created a key interception by pressuring the QB, allowing C.J. Olaniyan to grab the takeaway. That game gave Bell confidence, which he's seemingly carried into the spring session.
The coaching staff is looking for him to pick up where he left off and he's opened up spring drills with a "strong performance so far." He's shown greater comfort, which "allows him to play faster." He's also been described as "tenacious" and "intense" with his play.
Overall Bell is looked at as a good addition to the starting lineup and one the coaches are hoping to rely on this coming season, particularly on helping to pressure the pocket.
His attitude is also one that is expected to help the defense a boost. "I think we're going to see him get more and more comfortable with his play which help him emerge as one of those key leaders you need." Bell has an outgoing personality and many expect him to emerge as a leader on the defense.
Andrew Nelson, T, RS Freshman: With the departures of Adam Gress and Garry Gilliam the offensive line is in search of tackles, particularly on the right side, with veteran Donovan Smith manning the left post. Nelson appears to be the leading candidate at this stage.
Bill O'Brien praised Nelson throughout last season, particularly on his work ethic. In fact, observers felt that Nelson could have stepped in and made an impact last season on the offensive line, and was a "backup" if injuries struck Gress or Gilliam. In the end, this is another case of a preserved redshirt paying dividends for James Franklin's team.
In the winter Nelson worked to improve his footwork and "made significant progress." He also used the redshirt year to boost his strength and add size to his 6-5 frame. Overall, he's shown he is athletic and has good endurance in drills.
At 305 pounds, he also has good size, but can continue to add some weight to his long frame. He's been impressive thus far in opponent drills and "making a case for the starting job."