Ahh, spring football brings to mind the image of soft passes falling into the hands of sweetly striding wide receivers. It brings to mind the image of running backs heading through nice holes carved into the line of scrimmage by mammoth linemen.
Oh yeah, and it brings to mind the sound of big thunderous hits too! Exclamation point hits!
This preview will deal with the players you hope will be able to deliver a few of those hits on Saturday, the defenders. Those fearsome defensive linemen with beaten up hands, the linebackers with glaring eyes peering out of those facemasks, the cornerbacks who won't give you any room to maneuver, and the big hitters at safety who are just waiting to knock your head off! Oh yeah, spring football makes the mind wander.
If every season were to play out for us Penn State fans as this little story of mine is unfolding, well, we'd all be happy as can be. Will the 2002 Penn State defense remind anyone of the great defenses of old? Are there any Jack Ham or Mike Reid types on this PSU roster waiting for their chance to show what they can do? Are you ready to let your mind wander?
Are you ready for some football? I caaaan't heeeeeeaaar yooouuuu!
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!
Penn State returns three fourths of their defensive front four from last year in tackles Jimmy Kennedy and Anthony Adams, and defensive end Michael Haynes. Kennedy and Adams were superb against the run last year and both are garnering some preseason publicity for all Big10 honors. Haynes has been a good pass rusher, but his run defense and overall play have been inconsistent in the past.
I'm not convinced you will even see Kennedy in the Blue-White game. He reportedly terrorized the entire offense in the Coaches Clinic scrimmage this past weekend though, so visions of him wreaking havoc this fall may not be misplaced. Adams will probably play a little on Saturday, but not too much as the staff will likely be wanting to get a better look at the backups.
Behind Kennedy and Adams at DT is a pair of 5th year seniors in Tyler Valoczki and Tim Falls. Both are in the 6'5" and 290lbs. range. It will be very interesting to see how these two players look on Saturday. Both will be trying to fend off freshman Charles Rush in the fall. Rush is a force to be reckoned with at 6' 3" and 285lbs. Charles was the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year in high school where he led Coach Mike Mischler's Erie Cathedral Prep squad to back to back state title game appearances.
In the fall you can expect highly touted incoming freshmen Levi Brown, Jason Alford and Robert Price to join the above group at defensive tackle.
At defensive end, you have Haynes who is reportedly up to 280lbs. on the one side. Haynes has always had a very muscular build, and last year he looked very physical even if his play was inconsistent at times. Early spring reports indicate that he's looking very strong.
John Bronson now appears to have the inside track for the other starting spot at defensive end. Bronson is a near mirror image of Haynes at 6' 3" and 270lbs. He is also getting a lot of praise this spring. Bronson has a thick build and I am very interested to see how well both he and Haynes do in rush defense this spring.
Penn State has a very deep well of talent at DE this year. Jeremiah Davis was one of the best DE's in the country coming out of high school. He's a rugged 6' 5" and 250lbs. right now. Lavon Chisley is 6'6" and 262lbs. and Matt Rice is 6' 5" and 260lbs.
Chisley played WR up through his junior year in high school before becoming a very intimidating DE at Westlake HS in Waldorf, Maryland. Rice hails from Maryland as well. This pair teamed up to simply dominate the Maryland vs. Northern Virginia Super 44 game last summer. These two players are both tall and physical.
Scott Paxson may play at both LB and DE in this game. Scott played TE and DE at Roman Catholic HS in Philadelphia, Pa. before coming up to Penn State. Scott had an excellent week of Big33 practices and is a very physical player with excellent leverage. I believe he will eventually wind up at either DE or TE at Penn State.
The defensive end spot was spotty last year as I have already noted, but don't be shocked if you notice a substantially better unit this year. Penn State is deep with athletic and strong talent at this spot, and the best part may be that Bronson and Davis each have three years of remaining eligibility while Chisley, Rice, Paxson and the highly coveted high school senior Tamba Hali, who will enroll in August, each have four years remaining.
The weakest link in the Penn State defense the past two years has to be the linebacking corps. What was once thought of as Linebacker U. quickly became known as Linebacker Who (Ok, so I borrowed this lame description) the past two years. Needless to say, Penn State badly needs some players to step up to the task this year. Spring reports indicate that is already happening.
The early depth chart at linebacker shows Sam Ruhe at MLB being flanked by Gino Capone on the (Will) weak side and Derek Wake on the (Sam) strong side.
Sam Ruhe has played the past two years at DE, but he played at the Sam spot in spring drills and the Blue-White game last year. This year the staff has him at the MLB spot, and at 6' 5" and 260lbs, he'd have to be one of the biggest MLB's in college football. My one concern with Sam at MLB will be whether he can handle the cut blocks that taller LB's have to face. You need a certain high level of toughness and athleticism to handle them, and I'm certain he'd face them in September. I'm going to watch for this at the spring game.
Gino Capone has reportedly been playing at a higher level than in the past two years. He's reportedly quicker and more decisive in his reads this spring, and his quickness has allowed him to do a better job of running down plays.
Derek Wake may be one of the best pure athletes on the PSU team. Derek is not only extremely quick for a 240lb. player, but he's also a very gifted athlete who was sorely missed after going down in the Miami game with a torn meniscus. He played in the Coaches Clinic over the weekend and was at 100% in that scrimmage. I'm not sure if he'll play Saturday, but try and pick him out somewhere in the sidelines if he doesn't.
The second unit this spring consists of Tim Johnson at MLB, with Lamar Stewart and Jimi Mitchell outside. Deryck Toles would also be in the mix at the Will spot as well. Toles is a returning starter, but I am unsure how much playing time he'll be getting in this scrimmage.
Johnson was a high school All-American in New Jersey and it's been reported to me on numerous occasions that he is a very fierce practice player. He's spent some time in Coach Paterno's infamous doghouse, but expect to see him play in the Blue-White game and this September as well. It's my belief that when Johnson gets on the field fans are going to see a very rugged player who loves to just flat out slobberknock opposing players.
The preceding use of the descriptive "slobberknock" might also fit with Lamar Stewart. Anyone who saw him lay out Jeff Smoker last year knows he's got a tough take-no-prisoners attitude. Lamar is both extremely quick and a textbook tackling machine.
Jimi Mitchell may not hit quite like Stewart, but he's perhaps the quickest linebacker on the team. He's probably quicker than some of the safeties on this team too. Mitchell came on late last year and made some terrific open field tackles late in the year, including s