Nittany Notes: Lions Start Making Contact

Sunday the Penn State football players finally had the opportunity to strap on their pads for some contact drills, something the team has been waiting for since the end of spring practice. Although it was only the first preseason practice with contact, the structure of the team took a step or two closer toward completion for the 2006 season.

Quarterbacks: Anthony Morelli worked the first-team unit Sunday, working the timing routes of various patterns as well as some roll outs. "He has times where he still tries to carry the team — he wants the big play — but he is getting better using the talent around him," an observer explained.

Although the backup quarterback position was said to be in question on Saturday's Media Day, the consensus from observers is that 230-pound Daryll Clark has the edge on the job. Although he's been seeing a majority of his reps with the third team so far this preseason, he's expected to start seeing more second-team snaps as practice progresses. "There was concern that the scheme wouldn't fit D(aryll)," according on an observer. "However, Morelli has shown he has legs, so the scheme is not limited to strict pocket-play, so it looks like it could fit D[aryll] pretty well."

Clark's size, demeanor and his ability to "control the huddle" have observers opining that he is the likely backup. Paul Cianciolo and Kevin Suhey continue to see quarterback reps, (Cianciolo has been with the second team recently) but the arm strength of both has been an issue, "particularly because of the timing the scheme relies on; ball delivery precision is essential."

Clark had some runs Sunday and "delivers an impressive hit when he lowers a shoulder." He is not as shifty of a runner as Michael Robinson, however his "hits could be comparable at full speed."

Fullback: With BranDon Snow possibly missing up to three games this season, the bulk of his reps have gone to Matt Hahn so far this preseason. Although Hahn is a good 10 to 12 pounds lighter than Snow and is shorter and lighter than both Dan Lawlor (6-foot-2, 242 pounds) and recently converted tight end Mickey Shuler (6-4, 235 pounds), "his use of his body makes up for his relative lack of size."

Hahn "runs very low and wide" and he shifts his upper body well in tight lanes, making him a challenge to grasp and take down. The fullback is expected to see primarily a blocking role for the running back this season, but short-yardage situations are still in the mix for the position. "Matt can deliver impressive blocks, but he can also run like a tailback. He fights for every inch on a carry and he can level, I mean level, a defender. He just needs to work on tucking the ball away more and shifting his hips at times," one observer said.

Lawlor is also expected to see action in the fullback role during Snow's absence. More of a blocker, Lawlor's size is nearly identical to Snow's. "Dan has the frame and he can take a hit. He just needs to focus on delivering the hit rather than taking the hit. That has been the secret to Snow's success," according to an observer.

Shuler has shifted from tight end to fullback. His 6-4 frame is a little bit of a concern in the role, as he "needs to get his center down and low or he'll get pushed back into the runner." Given that this is a recent move observers say they need to see how he adjusts to the role over the next few weeks before making a true analysis of Shules as a fullback.

Defensive Tackle: The coaches are looking for consistent aggression on the defensive line. At tackle, the position opposite Jay Alford has three solid candidates in Ed Johnson, Elijah Robinson and Chris Baker. Johnson and Robinson received consistent solid reports through the spring, with the redshirt freshman Baker refining his game this off-season. All three are about the same size (Johnson: 6-1, 290 pounds, Robinson: 6-2, 288 pounds), Baker: 6-2, 290 pounds). The factor that will set them apart is their motor.

"It's all about drive an intensity with L.J. All three of these guys can play mean and nasty, they can all read a break in the line and hit it, they can all use their hands and legs to help collapse a pocket — but they need to do it down after down after down. Whoever can do that gets the job," an observer said.

Another mentioned, "These guys worked with Anthony Adams - Mr. Motor - for most of the preseason, so they know from him what it takes. They just have to do it."

Special Teams: Although the team has not necessarily practiced special teams an inordinate amount for this time of year, it has looked more closely at how to leverage the speed and aggression it has on both the return and coverage units.

In the spring Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood, Justin King, Derrick Williams and Anthony Scirrotto were seeing kick return reps. Since then the list of candidates has shifted to Derrick Williams, Justin King, Rodney Kinlaw and Lydell Sargeant.

"Forget about the clock in the Michigan game last year, Penn State outrushed and outpassed Michigan, but Michigan had over three times as many return yards on Penn State," one observer explained. "They see how other teams are using their speed on special teams, so they have to keep up."

It's not surprising to see Williams, King or Kinlaw on kickoff return duties since Williams handled them prior to his injury in that same Michigan game and King and Kinlaw filled in for Williams in a two-man return scheme after he was sidelined. Sargeant's speed has allowed him to be in the mix, too.

Though Joe Paterno said the staff hopes to use Austin Scott in the return game, observers say as of Sunday the senior did not appear to be in the practice mix there.

In terms of the kickoff coverage unit, the focus is on using the same approach they engaged against Ohio State to contain Ted Ginn to 59 yards on four kickoff returns — fast and hard gunners. During the 2005 Ohio State preparations Donnie Johnson, Calvin Lowry, Alan Zemaitis and Justin King were used in the gunner role to fly down the field and play containment. Currently the staff is using Knowledge Timmons, Spencer Ridenhour, Sean Lee, Jerome Hayes and Tyrell Sales in a similar fashion.

"Lee, Timmons and Hayes are very sharp on returns. They converge on the carrier well, but more importantly they communicate well on their reads. The issue they are all working on is overpursuits."

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