TYM: Camp Approaches

Welcome to the latest edition of Take Your Marks, the occasional series where FOS staffers Mark Harrington and Mark Brennan discuss and debate subjects relating to the Penn State football program. In this installment, they tackle key questions as the Nittany Lions edge toward preseason practice.

1). Now that they've been on campus for about a month, which of the true freshmen do you expect to make an impact for the Nittany Lions in 2006? Please pick only one.

HARRINGTON: Jared Odrick has been called a “beast,” “force” and “man-child” by observers. With his impressive physique, size and attitude he could be what the coaches need at defensive end. Though he has seen reps on both sides of the ball early on, his emergence should have the coaches wondering if he could make an immediate impact off the edge for this defense.

BRENNAN REPLIES: With his size and speed, and a strong-armed quarterback to get him the ball, receiver Chris Bell should emerge as another potent weapon in the receiving corps. And with Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood around, it will be impossible for opponents to double-team him. Bell arrived at Penn State in great shape and was one of the top freshman performers at Lift For Life. If he stays healthy and focused, I can see him developing into the best pure pass-catcher in the program.

HARRINGTON'S FINAL WORD: The reports on Bell have been impressive. If he is as good as his billing the bigger issue may be how to leverage all of the receiving talent in one offense. Bell still has to show his stuff against some consistent performers in Butler, Norwood and Williams before he is anointed the “best pure pass-catcher” of the bunch, but he has the tools to get there.

2). Outside of returning All-Americans Levi Brown and Paul Posluszny, which Lion do you believe will emerge as the top PSU prospect for the 2007 NFL Draft?

BRENNAN: Who said Bell is the best pure pass-catcher on the team? I simply stated I can see him “developing into” that role. On to this question: Senior Jason Alford quietly became one of the best defensive tackles in the Big Ten in 2005. If he can improve his endurance over last season, he should get a strong look from pro scouts. He has a long frame that appears to be capable of carrying more than his current 290 pounds. Playing in the same conference as the more heavily hyped Quinn Pitcock could hurt his chances of winning All-America honors, though.

HARRINGTON REPLIES: I agree on Alford. He is the type of athlete NFL teams look for. Aside from his frame, he is a heady player who is good at analyzing his assignment's style of play and exploiting his weakness. Couple this with his motor and he has the makings of a solid pro prospect if he keeps up his play in 2006.

BRENNAN'S FINAL WORD: Since you can't come up with your own name, I'll throw running back Tony Hunt into the mix here. While he does not have the breakaway speed needed to emerge as a first-round pick, his other qualities — he runs hard, blocks well and can catch the ball — should help him emerge as at least a middle-round pick provided he stays healthy.

3). Outside of Brown and Posluszny, which Lion do you believe has the best shot of winning All-America honors is 2006?

HARRINGTON: I may get some strange looks on this one, but I think if the air attack lives up to its potential with Morelli and Butler/Williams/Norwood/Bell/etc., it could really open up the running lanes for Hunt, enough for him to bust open a great year and make a run toward All-America honors. Running back is always a jam-packed position with solid prospects, but Hunt's relative unknown status in his own conference could help him take the Big Ten by storm. When you consider all the great backs who have run for the Nittany Lions, Hunt is currently No. 13 on the all-time list, just ahead of Franco Harris, and needs 1,464 yards to take over the No. 1 spot.

BRENNAN REPLIES: Count this as a strange look. I like Hunt, but I think winning first-team All-Conference honors will be a challenge there. I definitely wonder if he'll get enough carries and whether the new line will come together quickly enough for him to have the breakout season needed to win A-A laurels. Also, for better or worse, the folks who vote on A-A teams lean toward backs who make spectacular plays, and that's not Hunt's game. Williams, however, is a different story. The Penn State staff knows what it has in Williams — one of THE best multipurpose offensive threats in the nation. Though he played in only seven games before being lost for the year to injury as a true freshman, he is still being touted among the top receivers in the Big Ten for 2006. If he stays healthy, look for him to cause major damage as a receiver, running back and return man. And don't be surprised if he registers at least one TD pass.

HARRINGTON'S FINAL WORD: Williams showed his explosiveness on several occasions last season, with the most memorable play probably being his Northwestern touchdown. However, the key to Williams' success will be how the staff uses him. They need to focus his abilities and not try to have him do too much, wearing too many hats. Keep his role simple with a set group of shifts and his talent will take him far.

4). Which veteran figures to make a serious impact for the first time this year?

BRENNAN: QB Anthony Morelli is the obvious answer. But let's save him for another topic. I liked what I saw of Donnie Johnson as a reserve defensive back and nickel back late last season. Now a senior, he will start at safety this year and has clearly taken his new role as a first-teamer extremely seriously. From a build standpoint, Johnson is as ripped as anyone on the team.

HARRINGTON REPLIES: Patrick Hall jumps to mind. The Lions are looking for an effective tight end to catch a pass here and there in between blocks. Hall has emerged as the best of the bunch when it comes to blocking this off-season, so he could play an integral role in protecting the pocket for Morelli to make some deliveries.

BRENNAN'S FINAL WORD: One other player who should be noted here is Jimmy Shaw. The reports of his exploits in the weight room are the stuff of legend. And after an early-season injury in 2005, he finally earned quality playing time in the Orange Bowl and came through with a key safety in the win over Florida State. With Tamba Hali gone, it is time for the defensive end to emerge as an every-down, every-game player.

5). Which Nittany Lion enters the season with the most to prove?

HARRINGTON: Paging Mr. Morelli, Mr. Anthony Morelli, please report to the center stage spotlight. No player has more Nittany Nation eyes set on him than Anthony Morelli. He has a legendary reputation for having a strong arm but now must perform on the national stage for the first time. With two years in the system, fans are expecting him to be well acclimated with the scheme and play-calling, so the key will be shaking off any nerves which any athlete would have through their first few starts.

BRENNAN REPLIES: No question it is put up or shut up time for Morelli, and it is great to see how anxious he is to put to rest questions about his abilities. His amazing showing in the Blue-White Game was a good start. Now the real action starts. I'd also throw Austin Scott into this department, but for different reasons. The senior-to-be has yet to live up to his advanced billing, and this may well be his last chance to do so. Scott and the staff did their best to downplay the knee injury that knocked him out of much of spring ball. Now he is faced with the challenge of proving he is healthy and capable of taking carries from Hunt, a couple of serious tasks.

HARRINGTON'S FINAL WORD: Scott definitely falls into this camp as you point out. However, while Morelli has an open road to the starting position ahead of him, Scott has to fight off a clear frontrunner (in the literal and figurative senses) in Hunt. That is no small task. His Orange Bowl performance (26 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns) certainly illustrated his capabilities. But can he make his point with a healthy Hunt in front of him?


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