Nittany Notes: Air Attack Refined

The Nittany Lions saw scrimmage action Wednesday evening in an effort to pull together various elements of the offensive and defensive schemes. Get an update on how the passing unit and secondary is coming together.

Here is an overview of scrimmage work various elements of the Penn State football team saw.

Passing Game

Not surprisingly, Anthony Morelli ran the bulk of reps with the first-team offense. The focus of the scrimmage in terms of the passing game was timing. The coaches also wanted to assess Morelli's ability to change things up depending on the looks the defense provided. "His reads are getting better, he watches the [defensive] line and backers to see where they shift and is calling out pressure points to cover to his own line," an observer explained.

Morelli distributed the ball to a variety of targets, but has shown that Deon Butler and Derrick Williams are among his favorites due to their "speed on the routes." As another observer explained, "He doesn't need to hold back or wait for the play to develop with either of those guys." Jordan Norwood continued to show his great hand, making "circus-style" grabs at times.

Chris Bell has also had the opportunity to show his abilties to pull in Morelli's passes along with James McDonald. "The coaches want the added size advantage these guys provide in the lineup." Though McDonald has "crisper" routes, Bell has the edge on speed. "It's tough to ignore Bell's abilties. He just needs to refine his game, work on his patience letting things develop and improve on positioning his body to box out defenders."

Terrell Golden has also shown he can pull in balls. He's showing improvement on getting off the line and looking to the ball more. His route running has been impressive. Currently he is seeing second-team reps.

The backup QBs continue to split their reps, working with a variety of receivers. The consensus continues to be that Daryll Clark's athleticism and physical play set him apart, although Paul Cianciolo has "made strides" on his consistency with intermediate passes. "Timing routes are not designed for Paul [Cianciolo] or Kevin [Suhey]. Clark has pretty good [arm] strength, although not to Anthony's level. Paul and Kevin have to depend more on the receiver creating separation and getting creative on their route running."

In terms of that creativity, the observer explained, "an out timing route is a blueprint play. The QB snaps the ball, and he lets it go, expecting the wideout and ball to end up at a single point simultaneously. If the QB can't get the ball there in this fashion, they need the receiver to create separation with a stepout, head fake, shift in speed, whatever. Derrick Williams is flat out awesome at this sort of stuff, but teams will just double up on him. So you need multiple receivers who can draw the coverage."

One interesting sidenote is that true freshman A.J. Wallace has been seeing reps this week at receiver. He has "excellent speed and vision. Like most young guys, though, he needs to work on control of his speed. Being fast is useless if you can't control it." The coaches feel if Wallace can build his consistency that he can be a weapon for the team at a variety of positions. One observer compared his versatility to that of Derrick Williams.

The three deep as of this point looks like:

QB: Morelli, Cianciolo/Clark, Suhey
WR: Williams, Golden, Bell
WR: Butler, Norwood, McDonald/Wallace

Pass Defense

In terms of defending the passing game, the secondary is taking shape. The first-team corners have "challenged" the wideouts and are showing fairly good consistency. Justin King "looks much more comfortable out there," and "shows great patience reading his assignments." As one observer explained, "His fundamentals are sharper in that he reads the wideout's hips rather than his upperbody." He also has a "pretty transition from his backpedal to his full stride."

Tony Davis has "deceptive speed" and has shown excellent "stride-for-stride" coverage. He has been thrown off his coverage at times, "biting on a fake, but learns quickly from his mistakes."

Knowledge Timmons continues to see reps at second-team corner. "He looks like a football player instead of a track star in pads," as one observer put it. Timmons "carries his equipment" better than last year, although he continues to be aggressive and wants to continually make big plays. "He wants the pick, so he'll release his coverage, and go for the ball — it's a crap shoot — he's made some big plays, but given up some big ones, too." The staff wants Timmons to be more diligent in his coverage, taking "calculated risks."

The safeties have been Donnie Johnson at strong safety and Nolan McCready and Anthony Scirrotto working free safety reps. With Mark Rubin on the sideline due to injury, Spencer Ridenhour looks like the clear backup to Johnson now that the pads are on. "D.J. is an excellent safety. He's really come into his own and plays very smart in coverage. Playing the nickel (in 2005) really developed his coverage skills. Plus, he delivers punishment to receivers. He's really leveled some guys."

Two guys who have benefitted from controlling their speed over the past year are Devin Fentress and Willie Harriott. Both are in the mix at corner, with Fentress seeing second-team reps backing up Davis and Harriott seeing second- and third-team reps on the other side.

Lydell Sargeant is still seeing his time with the corners, primarily with the third team and some second team. "Lydell has impressive speed and gets off the line quickly. The issues are with his transition and coverage fundamentals." Sargeant continues to improve, but observers feel corner is not a "natural" position for him.

The three deepth as of this point looks like:

CB: King, Timmons, Harriott
SS: Johnson, Ridenhour, Hardy
FS: McCready/Scirrotto, Ganter
CD: Davis, Fentress, Sargeant

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