Nittany Notebook: PSU Preseason Practice Battles

With just over a week remaining until the 2005 season kicks off a number of starting jobs have all but been captured. However, several battles are ensuing to stake claim to the top spot on the depth chart. Here is a closer look at the key battles heating up in practice currently.

It is not surprising that several positions have had a clear starter since the outset of preseason practice. Veterans like Michael Robinson, Alan Zemaitis, Paul Posluszny, Tamba Hali, Jay Alford and Calvin Lowry have locked up the starting roles at their respective positions. However, several positions continue to have battles brewing for the number one spots on the depth chart.

Here are the more intense ensuing battles seen in practice:

Scott vs. Hunt

The Challenger: Although he is still "ne the mend" from his ankle break in the off-season and "about 85 percent," Austin Scott's renewed attitude and focus, coupled with a leaner physique have provided him with his fair share of first team reps at running back. "He has obviously picked up a step from the off-season, but is tentative on cuts with that ankle," on observer shared.

The Edge: Although most observers feel Tony Hunt has the edge in this one given his health and experience, Scott's renewed determination in practice has made this much more of a battle than what was expected this summer.

The Decision: Hunt likely will get the starting job from the outset, but don't be surprised to see Scott get his fair share of game reps given the variety of formations this offense may implement. If Scott continues to improve physically and mentally he has a solid shot to overtake the starting role.

Hahn vs. Snow:

The Challenger: Matt Hahn is perhaps the most versatile back the Nittany Lions have currently. As a pass-catching fullback last season he grabbed six balls in seven games. In the spring, Hahn spent most of his time at tailback, picking up the slack for an injured Austin Scott. Now he is back at fullback battling with BranDon Snow for the fullback role, a position which is instrumental to the success of the offense.

The Edge: As an "impressive all-around blocker," Snow is back at his "natural position where he excels," after spending last year with the linebackers. This gives him the edge to start, but Hahn's versatility and enhanced blocking skills this off-season make him a valuable weapon in PSU's aresenal.

The Decision: Snow is expected to start and serve as a "bodyguard for the quarterback," but Penn State can't afford to keep Hahn off the field. If the staff embraces the I-formation, split backs and spread, watch for Hahn to play intergral role on the field this season.

Norwood vs. Butler

The Challenger: This being a battle of untested talent, both players are really the challengers here. With Mark Rubin sidelined with an ankle injury, the staff is looking to two of most unexpected surprises this off-season to step up and fill in. Deon Butler has added size to his speed and has diplayed impressive consistency coupled with tight routes and sound fundamantals. Jordan Norwood is a name we have often mentioned in practice reports, which has surprised the Nittany Nation. Norwood is "tough, aggressive and plays hungry on every snap."

The Edge: Although these two are practically the same size, Butler has the edge on speed and control in the flat. His "fundamentals are among the most polished with the young guys — I guess that would be everyone," one observer explained. Butler's increased strength make him a likely starter to play the line on the spread.

The Decision: Although Butler has the edge, the wideouts are an unproven unit that frankly need all the talent they can get. Watch for both players to see rotation time with shifts around the field. Norwood and Butler are a vital part of this offense and both have the opportunity to make big statements this season.

Harrison vs. Price:

The Challenger: Although Greg Harrison had a nagging foot injury which he played on through the spring and impacted his performance, he has recoved and has been impressive through the preseason sessions. With improved strength, better use of his hands and enhanced footwork, the redshirt freshman has been challenging Robert Price throughout the preseason for the right guard starting role with Tyler Reed knocked down the depth chart due to his involvement in "arrowgate."

The Edge: While Price has seniority, Harrison has a significant height advantage (a good four inches), with great mobility off the snap. He also has an edge with his athleticism and has an "infectious attitude."

The Decision: Right or wrong, knowing Penn State's track record it is unlikely that Harrison gets the start out of the gate, but his overall play can't be ignored and the early schedule is the perfect opportunity to get Harrison some meaningful game experience to help him break out as an impact player this season and boost the play and depth of the offensive line.

Rush vs. Cadogan:

The Challenger: On the other side of the line, at left guard, senior Charles Rush has seen some pressure from another redshirt freshman, Gerald Cadogan. Cadogan is quick and, like Harrison, has a height advantage (three inches) on Rush. His real advantage is his technique; he "consistently sits in a low base," a technique which Rush has struggled with throuhgout his career.

The Edge: Despite the push Cadogan has made, Rush has the edge in the staff's eyes given his extensive experience. If the line struggles early on and he hasn't refined his stance technique Cadogan could get an early nod on snaps.

The Decision: The outcome of this matchup is similar to the Harrison-Price bout. The senior Rush will see the early start, but the early schedule could provide the ideal situation to get Cadogan some early, meaningful time on the field.

Roach vs. Robinson

The Challenger: Again, it may seem sort of odd to have Elijah Robinson as the challenger in this battle, but Steve Roach has been seeing the majority of first-team reps at defensive tackle with Scott Paxson down the depth chart. Although Paxson has seen some second- and first -team reps, don't expect him to make an impact out of the gate. In regard to Robinson, he has the size and "bullrushing ability" to play the role of an effective tackle. Although he needs to focus on setting a wider base and staying low, he will be key in providing depth to the line.

The Edge: Again, knowing the PSU staff, Roach is likely to get the starting nod, however, Coach Larry Johnson knows his line is only as good as the rotation he implements, and Robinson will be an essential ingrediant in the mix.

The Decision: In terms of raw talent, Robinson is ahead of Roach, but watch for Roach to get the early starting nod. However, Robinson will have to see the field early and often if Johnson wants and effective rotation for his line.

Sales vs. Zwierzynski

The Challenger: With Dan Connor sidelined due to a suspension, the question shifts to who will step in for him early on. This battle does not have a clear "champion," although J.R. Zwierzynski has shown his abilities in games and practices. Tyrell Sales has impressed out of the gate, with an aggressive style of play and "excellent ability to read and pursue."

The Edge: Given his game experience and resp on the outside backing up Paul Posluszny, Zwierzynski likely has the early edge in this one.

The Decision: Again, watch for a rotation to take place here and both players to see reps to make up for Connor's absence, which will be tough to replace. Coach Ron Vanderlinden is expected to use a rotation to get fresh legs in there to make up for the missing star.


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