In Penn State's April 20th Spring Football Game we saw some new faces emerge on defense. Lavon Chisley at defensive end, Gio Vendemia and Alan Zemaitis at corner, and Calvin Lowry and Chris Harrell at safety are just some of the young players that emerged as future contributors this year.
At defensive tackle, we did not see pre-season All-American nominee Jimmy Kennedy. He was busy with class work and Joe Paterno told him to take the day off. Anthony Adams, who is receiving some hype for pre-season All-Big10 honors, did play a bit in this game.
The rotation in this game featured fifth year seniors-to-be Tyler Valoczki and Tim Falls, redshirt junior-to-be Jason Robinson, and redshirt freshman-to-be Charles Rush. Valoczki and Falls played at a level to be expected. In other words, they are nice backup players, but neither is likely to supplant the starter in front of him on the depth chart. Tim Falls did get a sack in the game. At around 280 pounds, both of these players are a bit on the smallish side for Big10 DT's.
Jason Robinson is pretty quick, but at 267 pounds he too is smallish for a Big10 DT. That being said, Jason was big enough to blast by his blocker on one play to sack the QB. He is built more like a true DE than he is a DT, but PSU will need him at DT in 2003 so that is where he will stay, and hopefully grow a bit.
Charles Rush was the only other DT to play in this game that you'd ever expect to see play in a Big10 tilt. Charles made a play or two, and he showed good instincts, but he was doubled a lot in this game. Charles is a tenacious fighter in run defense and he's athletic for a DT, but I'd like to see him get a little stronger push from his legs.
Incoming freshmen Levi Brown and Jason Alford will both be redshirting this September as they are playing DT on the scout team. One other incoming freshman from a group of Robert Price, Steve Roach or even Edward Johnson will likely redshirt at DT as well.
All of the defensive ends played in this game. I have seen fans at other schools talking about their young defensive ends, but if any school in the Big10 has better looking young ends than Penn State I'd like to see them. Some rightly questioned the play of the DE's from last year, but I have to believe our 2001 LB woes played a part in that. After watching the Blue-White Game, I am convinced that our young DE's have a very, very bright future.
Senior-to-be Michael Haynes and redshirt sophomore-to-be John Bronson are the apparent starters this year. Both are 6' 3" and both come in at about 270 pounds. These two will be two of the strongest defensive ends in the Big10 this year and both appear to be quick and athletic.
Jeremiah Davis has three years of eligibility left and looks to be in a rotation with a pair of redshirt freshmen, Lavon Chisley and Matt Rice, as the key backups at DE. Davis is about 6' 4" tall and weighs in at 250 pounds. He's quick and athletic and shows a good pass rush, but he probably needs a little work in run situations.
Rice checked in at all of 6' 5" and 260 pounds for the spring game. Matthew showed a pretty good range of pass rushing moves that included everything from a flat out bull rush to a nifty spin move, all of which were effective at times in getting past his blocker. If Matt can stay out of Coach Paterno's doghouse, I have some pretty high expectations for him on the field.
The show stopper among the young DE's, however, was Lavon Chisley. The other DE's looked pretty good in the game, but Chisley was simply outstanding. Lavon showed up at 6' 6" and 263 pounds for the spring game, and he was a one man wrecking crew at times.
Chisley batted down several passes, harassed freshman QB Michael Robinson all day long, and just created mismatch problems for everyone that attempted to block him. Lavon is obviously tall, but he's incredibly athletic for a guy his size and Penn State fans should rightly expect very big things out of Lavon Chisley starting this year.
What is not completely apparent at this time is who else will be in the DE rotation this year and next. I had thought that maybe Scott Paxson would shift over to DE from his ssOLB spot, but with the vacancy created by R. J. Luke's departure I'd have to believe that if Scott moves anywhere it will be back to TE.
Incoming high school All-American recruit Tamba Hali will likely redshirt this year at DE, and it's possible that incoming freshmen Edward Johnson might also wind up at DE. Hali was widely regarded as one of the top 3 or 4 DE recruits in the nation last year.
Sam Ruhe and Tim Johnson split time at MLB in the spring game and appear right now to be at the top of the depth chart. Dethrell Garcia is at MLB, but he did not play this spring due to injuries.
Note - the LB's were not allowed to blitz in this game.
Sam Ruhe, at 6' 5" and 257 pounds, is a big, tall, rangy MLB. Ruhe has moved to MLB from his DE spot to help shore up the LB corps, but also because of the vast talent we have at DE. Ruhe had a tentative Blue-White game and he'll be the first to tell you that.
Sam is plenty big enough to take on would-be blockers in run situations, but he's not an instinctive player right now. On most running plays, Sam would meet the play 4 to 5 yards downfield from the line of scrimmage, so he needs to work on reading plays and being quick to react to the play and get to the point of attack. Sam is a strong kid as far as MLB's go, but he could work on his speed and first step quickness as well.
Tim Johnson is about 6' 3" and 235 pounds. Whatever Tim lacks in size, he more than makes up for in instincts, guts, determination and plain old toughness. Tim very much understands how to play MLB and, despite the restrictions, you could see the potential in Tim to be an outstanding MLB here at Penn State.
The attributes I listed above allow Tim to do two things that are absolutely critical of linebackers. One, Tim plays with his head up and his eyes open and in pursuit of the ball. Two, Tim has the instincts to "feel" blockers. This allows him to pursue the ball without having to focus all of his attention on would-be blockers. These are two very big things.
Tim did not get credited with a lot of tackles in this game, but he consistently showed the skills required to play at a high level in the Big10, and I expect that he and Sam Ruhe will be an improvement at MLB over what we have seen the past two years.
I expect that, should the need arise, Gino Capone would rotate back to MLB in an emergency. Incoming freshman Patrick Hall will provide depth and is a likely redshirt this year.
On the weak side, we saw Deryck Toles, Jimi Mitchell, and T.C. Cosby. Deryck Toles was absolutely ripped this spring. He's obviously had a good winter and has put on some good muscle. Deryck didn't play a whole lot in this game, but he showed the same speed he has had in the past. His added muscle will be a big benefit to the LB unit this year.
Jimi Mitchell told me that he's at 217 pounds. He's trying to add weight, but it hasn't been easy for him. He is a very quick LB who is a sure open field tackler, but I'm a bit concerned about how well he'd do in traffic.
T.C. Cosby is 6' 1", 225 pounds and very quick. He's also able to read plays pretty quickly and doesn't hesitate to put a helmet on the ball. Cosby was in on 7 tackles in the game which is pretty damn good given the no blitz rules in effect.
On one play you could see the very good instincts, reaction time, and speed of both T.C. C