FOS' Hard Hitting Preseason Coverage

With the season almost here there is no better time to get a front-row look at how the Penn State football team has been progressing in practice this preseason with FOS' exclusive Nittany Notes feature. Here are some news and notes about the various units which we have provided to TAP members throughout the preseason.

If you're not a TAP subscriber, get a peek at what you have been missing this preseason. The following are excerts from several of our recent Nittany Notes feature, providing news and notes on Penn State from practice and scrimmages.

Nittany Notes: Reckless Play (8/23/06)

The area of the PSU football team with the least amount of discussion, speculation and concern this preseason is the linebacking corps. That is not surprising considering the Lions have three veterans returning who are widely considered among the best in the country. But there have been some noteworthy developments at Linebacker U. Read on to see what they are.

With the return of senior captain Paul Posluszny, along with Tim Shaw and Dan Connor, Penn State football has one of the most formidable 'backer units in the nation. As one observer described the group, "These three have great instincts, but more importantly they have played together for so long they understand each other's abilties and tendencies. They feed off each other and make each other better. The word they love to use to describe themselves is 'reckless.' "

Posluszny "has been playing like he's been caged up," he's been "hitting hard — like he making up for lost snaps." Extremely vocal with the entire defense, Posluszny has been particularly focused on working with the younger linebackers as he has all off-season. "Whether on the field or in the weight room, he's determined to help these guys be prepared to step right in," another observer explained. "He's rough on them, but the smart ones know to listen to what he has to say — it's a major opportunity to learn from one of the best."

Posluszny's main protoges have been...

Nittany Notes: Defensive Line Work (8/22/06)

With the Nittany Lions having to replace three departed starters in Tamba Hali, Matt Rice and Scott Paxson on the defensive front, the coaching staff is gaining added comfort with the depth of the overall unit. This despite the youth and inexperience involved.

It's no secret that Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson makes good use of rotations to keep fresh legs on the field and maintain heavy pressure on the pocket. In order to effectively run these rotations, each position requires a small team of players who can effectively play one or even multiple positions on the line.

Here is how things are shaping up at those positions:

Defensive End: Through this preseason the first-team defensive ends have been Jimmy Shaw and Josh Gaines. Shaw has been "downright dominating at times" in the recent scrimmages and "less impressive at other times." He has tremendous power and has been "a handful for guys." Shaw has been a "good test" for the offensive tackles like Levi Brown and John Shaw, who happens to be Jimmy's brother. Incidentally, the periodic clashes between the Shaw brothers have been described as "seeing two...

Nittany Notes: Backs Against the Wall? (8/21/06)

With the Nittany Lions into the third week of preseason practice, the primary focus of the offensive coaches has shifted to the running back situation, which is now of significant concern thanks to recent injuries.

Since the pads were put on last week several observers have commented on the "punishing" approach the defensive players have had with their hits. "The [defensive] guys are so fast and aggressive they have to be told to dial it down a notch or two in practice to avoid any unnecessary injuries."

Unfortunately, that is just what the PSU backfield is dealing with currently. Penn State football's running game has had questions which continue to swirl through preseason drills. Despite having a clear-cut starter in Tony Hunt, the depth of the tailback position was in question, but is not of paramount concern.

Although Austin Scott was recently sidelined with what has been described as a "minor" ankle injury, it is suspected that he never fully recovered from...

Nittany Notes: Air Attack Refined (8/17/06)

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...

Nittany Notes: End Game (8/16/06)

Though the Nittany Lions are only a few sessions into contact drills in pads, defensive line stability is starting to develop.

With the departure of Tamba Hali and Matt Rice to the NFL, both defensive end positions have been of paramount concern this off-season. The upperclassmen in the mix include Jim Shaw, Josh Gaines, Jed Hill and Michigan transfer Chris Rogers.

Jim Shaw: Shaw's strength is his power and ability to "dominate on a bull rush." He "pops" out of his stance and "releases incredible force off his initial surge." The senior has improved his footwork and ability to get low to provide leverage on assignments. Seeing action in eight games last season, he is the among the favorites to land a starting role and has seen a majority of his reps on the right side of the line. Shaw missed the early part of the 2005 season with a leg injury and has said he did not feel 100 percent until the...

Nittany Notes: OL Work (8/15/06)

Right Guard: Although Robert Price has been the starter this off-season, the coaches have shifted over Rich Ohrnberger from left guard. Ohrnbeger has a two-inch height advantage on Price according to the media guide but appears to be much taller when you see both athletes in person. Each tips the scales at about 298 pounds.

Ohrnberger has the "build you want in a lineman," he is solid and "downright nimble" for his size. He is pushing Price hard and observers say he is "incredibly hungry" for playing time. He has also been compared to Shiply in terms of intensity and it is said the two get along well.

"Rich had some issues when he...

Nittany Notes: Lions Start Making Contact (8/14/06)

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...

Nittany Notes: Suddent Impact (8/11/06)

With the light T-shirt and short sessions wrapping up and the pads going on Saturday, some Penn State players have come out of the gate "fast and hard" and turned heads in practice.

The staff currently feels it has a "good problem" on its hands, according to one observer, with multiple athltes shining in practice and "coming to play." Here's a look at a few players who are expected to make an early impact thanks to their preseason performances so far.

Chris Bell: A player who exudes "confidence," Bell has "shown maturity and respect for his role in the program." As one observer explained, "He sees what the program is all about; Lift For Life showed him he has work to do to refine his physical game, but he isn't scared of competiting head on with the veterans."

At 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, Bell has shown good technique with his hands on receptions in Drill 6 sets early on. He is improving his route running, but "plays the ball — he's always looking to get to the ball, rather than waiting for the ball to get to him."

Bell has been working on his ability to get off the line and make crisper cuts, an essential component to the timing routes QB Anthony Morelli depends on. He's aggressive, but is...

Nittany Notes: Passing Judgement (8/10/06)

In terms of the quarterbacks, the starting job is all but locked up, however here is a rundown of how some of the quarterbacks have looked:

Anthony Morelli: Coming off a 13-for-16, 191-yard and no interception effort in April's Blue-White Game, Morelli's arm continues to be the strongest aspect of his game. "He has such a sharp delivery of the ball; he steps into his passes and has shown consistently fluid mechanics," a practice observer explained.

Morelli has been working on three- and five-step drops as well as rollouts and checkdown passes. As another observer said, "The offensive line looks like it could be good, but without really knowing yet the coaches want him to be able to get out of any breakdowns."

Morelli has been particularly strong on "intermediate...

Nittany Notes: 3-4 Work (8/9/06)

In fact, earlier this week the FOS TAP board was discussing the personnel requirements needed for the PSU defense to run a 4-3/3-4 shift at the line of scrimmage. It's one thing to shift between the 4-3 and 3-4 between snaps, but to run a shift on the line typically requires a defensive end/linebacker hybrid who can manage either role — in both pass-rush or pass-coverage situations.

Though the Nittany Lions had only two preseason practice sessions under their belt as of this writing, there have been some interesting developments regarding the 3-4. Keep in mind that it is early in the preseason, but middle linebackers Tim Shaw and Jerome Hayes each have participated in drills as defensive ends.

As one observer explained, "It's early, but the coaches realize they have a truckload of...

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