BRENNAN: We had heard good things about redshirt freshman linebacker Navorro Bowman. Heading into spring drills, however, I didn't expect him to lock down a starting position. Yet for all intents and purposes, that's exactly what he did, passing veteran Tyrell Sales for the outside spot vacated when All-American Dan Connor moved to the middle.
It is difficult to believe that as recently as 2003, Penn State had one of the worst groups of linebackers in the Big Ten. But starting that season with then-true freshman Paul Posluszny, and continuing with Tim Shaw, Dan Connor and Sean Lee in subsequent years, the program made a commitment not only to recruiting better athletes at the position, but also to playing them early in their careers if they proved themselves.
Bowman, who moves extremely well and carries enough weight (228 pounds) to handle the role of an every-down player, is the latest example of that philosophy at work.
HARRINGTON: Bowman was a surprise, but what about Abe Koroma? The redshirt freshman — a virtual unknown recruit — came in and declared himself a likely starter at defensive tackle. With Jay Alford headed to the New York Giants and Ed Johnson gone, many saw the position as a potential liability for the defense. However, with Koroma stepping up, along with Phillip Taylor and converted defensive end Jared Odrick, the unit looks to have depth, albeit young.
Koroma has a nice mix of power, agility and technique and leveled assignments at times. As one observer told us, He gets off the line smooth and bursts through the gap. He often draws a second blocker, which opens things up.
Perhaps it should not be surprising that Koroma is emerging so early given the success position coach Larry Johnson has had with the line.
HARRINGTON: By this point perhaps we should expect to hear people will alleged inside information about the program spread misplaced rumors about unlikely position switches every spring.
We could understand how Tim Shaw seeing time at H-back came up, since the staff briefly considered it a couple years ago. But since then, it has gotten ridiculous. Deon Butler was supposedly headed to defensive back in the spring of 2006 after leading the team in receiving the previous year.
Before that, receiver Mark Rubin was said to be destined for flex tight end, even though PSU was not using a flex tight end and Rubin was clearly too small to play any tight end spot. Speaking of tight ends, this year a story floated that former quarterback Brett Brackett was moving to flex tight end. The coaching staff never even mentioned it to him this spring, instead allowing him to transition to wideout.
But also this year, we heard the mother of all ridiculous supposed position changes: quarterback Daryll Clark to linebacker.
If that is in the works it seems to be news to defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who addressed it in early April, saying, I don't think so. That's not been talked about. I tease him all of the time about playing defensive end, but he just looks at me and laughs. There's no discussion about that happening, I don't know where that rumor started.
Stay tuned for the Pat Devlin to safety strawman to make an appearance.
BRENNAN: Given that something crazy seems to happen with the Penn State football team every spring, maybe The Fight should not have been entirely unexpected. But certain elements of the incident, where six Penn State football players were charged with felonies in connection to an April 1 brawl in a downtown State College apartment, definitely surprised me.
One was the way District Attorney Michael Madeira dragged star cornerback Justin King's name through the proverbial mud. Charging King was either a stunt to generate more publicity for the case, a tactic to try to force King to turn on his teammates or some combination of the two. Whatever the plan, it failed miserably. The DA's office cited insufficient evidence when withdrawing the charges minutes before King was supposed to face his preliminary hearing. We're assuming the same lack of evidence existed when King was charged a week earlier.
Couple this with Madeira's ham-handed approach to the Scott Paxson case a year earlier, and it is easy to see why some contend the DA is going out of his way to target PSU football players. Nobody is saying Penn State football players are perfect, or that they did nothing wrong with respect to The Fight. It's just that the unfair treatment of King raises very fair questions about the overall operation of the DA's office.
Anyway, I figured the physical coverage of spring practice would end with the April 21 Blue-White Game. But nearly two weeks later, on May 4, I spent the entire day at the preliminary hearing for the five players whose charges were not withdrawn. Three — Jerome Hayes, Lydell Sargeant and Tyrell Sales — were all cleared by a judge. Two others — Anthony Scirrotto and Chris Baker — were bound over for trial. Speaking of which
KEY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
BRENNAN: What will become of Scirrotto, an All-Big Ten pick at safety last fall who appeared to be a slam dunk to start this season?
If the legal process plays out without a plea bargain, Scirrotto, who faces felony counts of burglary and criminal trespass, figures to go to trial in early August, at the soonest.
And how will Penn State's ever-vigilant Office of Judicial Affairs impact the overall situation?
Both seem to be more pressing than any on-field questions facing the program at this moment.
HARRINGTON: What kind of offensive line will Penn State field? With some element of stability with A.Q. Shipley at center, the line has more questions than answers, with veterans Gerald Cadogan and John Shaw making shifts (Cadogan from guard to left tackle and Shaw from tackle to right guard), plus questions about newcomers Dennis Landolt (RT) and Lou Eliades (LG).
And what of Rich Orhnberger? Can he master the mental side of his game? So many questions, but PSU fans should be used to this by now.
NEEDED TO PRODUCE AND DID
HARRINGTON: I'll go with quarterback Anthony Morelli. By all accounts he stepped up, took charge of the huddle, fought off reporter's questions about his ability to read defenses and showed an all-around greater confidence in his abilities in the spring.
Chances are that how Morelli goes, so goes the offense. Coming off a significant Outback Bowl win over a ranked Tennessee squad and a solid spring outing, he is building on some positives, which is about as much as any fan can ask at this point in the off-season.
BRENNAN: I'll go with Cadogan, who is tasked with replacing four-year starter Levi Brown. Cadogan has the long frame (6-foot-5, 313) and quick feet to handle the position. And in the spring he showed that, while not at Brown's level, he is prepared to be THE man at left tackle. For what it is worth, I was also impressed by the way he stepped up as a leader, addressing the crowd of 71,000 at the Blue-White Game about the tragedy at Virginia Tech a few days earlier.
NEEDED TO PRODUCE AND DIDN'T
BRENNAN: I'm still not sold on the backup tailbacks behind Austin Scott. And as injury-prone as he's been throughout his career, that could mean trouble for the running game. From reports we received and what we were able to glean from the Blue-White Game, Rodney Kinlaw is the same back he's always been. That is to say very fast but not necessarily quick to the hole. Tailback has never seemed to be a natural position for him. If given the chance, I'm hoping he proves me wrong, because he's definitely been a team player throughout his career. And from everything we've heard redshirt freshman Evan Royster just is not yet consistent enough to be an every-down back.
HARRINGTON: My eyes are set on the punting situation. Losing Jeremy Kapinos is the most significant blow no one seems to be talking about. Jeremy Boone has been inconsistent at best, hitting a 50-yarder on one attempt and shanking it on the next. Incoming freshman Ryan Breen will have a significant opportunity once he arrives on campus this summer to make an impact if he can show he is as good as his high school resume indicates.
MAIN AREA OF CONCERN HEADING INTO THE PRESEASON
HARRINGTON: Running back, pure and simple. As you pointed out, Austin Scott has a less-than-stellar track record with staying healthy and with questions about the backups — Kinlaw has been inconsistent, and Royster and Carter have zero experience — the running back situation is a major area of concern. Couple this with the questions about the offensive line and the backfield situation becomes that much more troubling.
BRENNAN: The talent is finally in place to field strong starters at every position on the offensive line. But with all of the shuffling that went on in the spring, chemistry is a serious issue, especially with two monster games (Notre Dame and at Michigan) in the first month of the season. Depth on the O-line is a worry, too. The Lions have three strong guards, so they should be fine there. But they are very thin in terms of top-level talent and experience at center and tackle.
QUICK HITTERS (short answers)
PSU'S REGULAR-SEASON RECORD IN 2007
PROJECTED BOWL GAME
HARRINGTON: The What's In Your Wallet? (Capital One)
BRENNAN: Cap One
HARRINGTON: Michigan (mental), Wisconsin (physical)
NEXT All-AMERICAN NOT NAMED DAN CONNOR
HARRINGTON: Justin King
BRENNAN: Justin King
FINAL SEASON FOR JUSTIN KING?
DOES THE MICHIGAN STREAK END?