Nittany Notebook: OL, DL and QBs

Penn State had its second spring practice session Wednesday, running individual unit drills and some matchup drills over the course of the afternoon. Although Thursday is a weight-lifting day, Monday and Wednesday served as assessment days for the staff to review the troops. Here are some early practice notes on the offensive line, defensive line and quarterbacks.

Before we jump in keep in mind that it is very early and the lineups can, will and likely already have shifted. The staff is reviewing and experimenting with the personnel at this initial stage of the spring.

Offensive Line:

As of yesterday's practice the starting offensive line was:

LT: Levi Brown
LG: Charles Rush
C: Lance Antilock
RG: Robert Price
RT: John Wilson

Lots of folks have been asking about Rich Orhnberger — currently he has been seeing time at right guard, backing up Price. He is "looking good and expected to make a run at the two-deep"

The staff likes the idea of having experience protecting Michael Robinson's blind side, hence Brown and Rush as the early starters on the left side of the line, but will continue to shift around different combinations to see what combination works best.

As one observer shared, "They [the coaches] are focusing primarily on the guys with the most experience, but chances are we'll see some younger guys like [Greg] Harrison get a shot there."

Defensive Line:

On the defensive side of the ball the starters were:

LE: Tamba Hali
LT: Jay Alford
RT: Ed Johnson
RE: Matt Rice

Johnson is "filling in nicely" for Scott Paxson during his departure from the squad. It is said Alford and Johnson "complement each other well on pass rushes and reall challenge the [offensive] line."

The defensive line did get the better of the offensive line in most of the matchup drills in the first two practice days, which is not surprising at this early stage.

A few interesting notes on the approach Larry Johnson is taking early on this spring. Johnson has always been described as having an intense, disciplined and direct type of coaching style over the years. Several observers have interestingly commented on how he is "even more intense with the defensive line out of the gate."

He is not said to be a screamer, but is "driving the D-linemen hard." He is using more equipment in drills than previous seasons and in the first practice was "all over his guys." On the first day of practice several commented on how tired the defensive linemen looked after wrapping up a "packed practice."

Observers have also said he has "scripted" out everything for the team manager that assists him with drills. As we understand it, typically the head manager creates these schedules for each unit's manager, but Johnson is apparently "closly directing things and is knee-deep in the details."

One comment was, "I feel for his linemen [laughing]."


Over the first two practices on Monday and Wednesday the quarterbacks — Michael Robinson, Anthony Morelli, Paul Cianciolo and Kevin Suhey - have participated in a variety of drills testing their footwork, dropbacks, throwing motions, reads, accuracy and strength.

Each quarterback has participated in both indivdual unit sets with the tight ends, running backs and wide receivers pulling in passes, as well as 7-on-7 drills, which test a variety of situations in match-up situations against the defense.

At this early point Joe Paterno "usually lets all the QBs get in there to show what they can do to give them an opportunity and some confidence. Then he'll go back to who he had pre-planned in his head in the beginning."

Here are some notes on the QBs from the first two sessions:

Michael Robinson: We recently gave an update on Robinson, but to reiterate, observers "think we could see some big things out of him this season."

He is said to have "sharp focus." He is constantly watching film, and "always in the gym" and "seems to have the playbook with him everywhere he goes."

His all-around strength is solid and he throws well in drills, the biggest question heading into the meat of spring sessions is his accuracy. He has tossed considerably well on intermediate drills, while "showing some rust" on deeper outs.

He has shown some nice scrambling ability when the pocket has shifted or broken down.

Robinson has really stepped up as the clear leader of the offense. He is down to 215 pounds, about the lightest he has been at PSU, and is has "submerged himself in the game with workouts, film, drills, film playbook and more film," as another insider shared.

Anthony Morelli: Morelli's strength continues to be his most powerful asset. He passes are described as "so crisp and confident." He has a strong dropback and and sets his feet well. Even his 40- and 50-yard passes "have a vapor trail," as one observer described.

He biggest area of focus currently is his "tendency to focus on one target. He is getting better scanning the field, but he isn't entirely comfortable with it." When he drops he has a habit to key up on the receivers on his strong side.

Morelli has developed a stronger touch on his passes, something the coaches would like to see more of, but are pleased that "every pass is forced on a rope." He needs to keep it up though in order to build his versatility as a passer.

Paul Cianciolo: Described as an "opposite of Morelli," Cianciolo may lack the "relative arm strength" and passing ability of Morelli, but is "ahead on his reads," according to several observers.

That is not to say Cianciolo can't deliver the ball, he is said to be excellent on intermediate passes and has the "strength to deliver on deep routes — just not with the zip of Anthony," one insider shared. His dropbacks are solid and he "aggressively steps into his passes — almost too much sometimes."

Cianciolo's biggest asset is on reads. One observer described this ability, saying, "His eyes are constantly moving. He gauges the receivers against each other for the right moment." He is also described as having "good patience for a young guy." He takes his time, and aside from getting aggressive on his releases he doesn't panic when things break down.

He does need to work on is scrambling ability and has had the opportunity with the defensive line givng the offensive line some workouts early on. He has decent speed with about a 4.65/40, but "runs flat-footed at times." The staff really likes his size at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds.

Kevin Suhey: Dramatically smaller than both Morelli and Cianciolo at 6-1 and 200 pounds, Suhey has received a solid set of reps in practice. Although he has a solid, strong physique, he lacks the size (height or weight) of the other three QBs, which is a clear disadvantage early on.

He delivers the ball fairly accurately, but "does not have the power the other three guys have displyed." He also has struggled at times with the deeper intermediate routes.

His overall fundamentals — footwork, dropbacks, sets and motions are said to be good. On scrambles he runs hard and has "shown a nice move or two."

Suhey is "investing himself" in practices, but "he simply lacks the physical gifts the other guys have," as one insider put it.

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