Redshirt Watch: Part III

We continue our Redshirt Watch feature, reviewing the progress of several Penn State rookies who sat out last season, including overviews of their practice performances in 2005 and where they may impact the depth chart headed into spring practice and the 2006 season.

Redshirt freshmen are essentially a second recruiting class, players who have been kept under wraps since they stepped on campus last summer. Given that these athletes have not had the opportunity to contribute and have had a year to brush up their skills, there should be a lot of excitement around them. Yet the buzz around the current recruiting class typically overshadows the excitement around these redshirt freshmen.

We received periodic progress reports on the redshirts throughout the 2005 season and beyond from practice observers. Here are some updates on a few of the redshirts who have made impressive strides in conditioning and practice. You may want to keep an ear out this coming off-season for any buzz around these players and their progress.

And stayed tuned to FOS for more redshirt reports in the coming weeks:

Willie Harriot: Harriot has seen reps at both the safety and corner positions this past season with the Scout Team. There is disagreement among observers where he is expected to focus his time in spring practice, although most see him as a corner.

"Willie has the speed to be an impressive cornerback," an observer explained. "He has gained significant control over his speed, which was a problem early in the season - he ran sloppy in coverage and overpursued at times. He's adjusted well to the increased game speed."

Harriot has improved his route-running and overall coverage technique. Regardless of where observers fel he should play (safety or corner), Harriot is expected to be in the mix this off-season. "He understands pursuit angles and learned a lot watching Zemaitis this year. He could be a big asset to the secondary if he keeps it up."

Mickey Shuler: Shuler saw his 2005 reps primarily at tight end with the Scout Team this past season. At 6-foot-4 and roughly 227 pounds, "he needs to continue to add size to handling blocking an end and to get off the line effectively."

Shuler has focused on his blocking technique and has shown he has "pretty good hands," pulling in passes fairly consistently from Scout Team quarterback Daryll Clark.

As one observer explained, "He can pull in the ball pretty well, but he lacks the frame to add the size needed to play tight end in this conference."

Brennan Coakley: Although he sustained a knee injury this past September, which limited his practice reps, Coakley is described as "big," "powerful," and "aggressive." At 6-foot-4, and about 260 pounds, he has the size to play tight end or defensive end.

This in itself poses a bit of a problem. He split his limited reps this past season between those two positions, which has the staff wondering where he should play. Both the tight end and defensive end postions have senior departures and depth needs, so depending on how the expected go-to guys like Jordan Lyons, Josh Gaines and Mike Lucian perform will likely dictate where Coakley ends up.

"Brennan has good size, good fundamentals and a nose for the ball," an observer explained. "Where he ends up depends on where the staff needs him."

James McDonald: McDonald focused his time at wide receiver for the Scout Team this past season, sustaining a minor injury in mid-October, which he fully recovered from.

According to Paterno, McDonald was impressive this year, saying "He is good enough to play." Observers said there was extensive debate over redshirting him, but with the emergence of Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams, "it was a difficult decision that had to be made, but will help in the long run."

McDonald has good size and "gets off the line consistenty well." He "has excellent hands" and can "create separation in the flat." He is expected to be in the thick of the receiver battles come spring practice.

Redshirt Watch: Part I
Redshirt Watch: Part II

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