Nittany Notes: Position Battles

With preseason practice underway, the Nittany Lions are looking to answer questions about specific positions for the 2007 season. We take a look at some of the key battles that are already unfolding.

OK, so (barring injury) it is no secret who will start at quarterback, tailback, middle linebacker and a host of other positions at Penn State this fall. Yet while many jobs are all but wrapped, there are a few key areas where the coveted first-team status is still up for grab. Read on for more:

GUARD
Ohrnberger vs. Shaw vs. Eliades

With veterans Rich Ohrnberger and John Shaw vying to maintain their starting jobs, Lou Eliades is likely to make a push here.

"What Lou lacks in experience he makes up for in intensity and an eye for detail with his play," one observer said. "He's meticulous with his fundamentals — he's too good not to be in the mix. If I were John [Shaw] or Rich [Ohrnberger] I'd be busting my tail to keep my job. The guy plays [darn] scary."

Many fans are assuming Eliades and Ohrnberger will battle it out for the starting spot on the left side, as they did for most of the spring. But don't think Shaw, a converted tackle, is in the clear. Ohrnberger is a physical presence who has been held back by mental mistakes. If he gets his game together, it will be difficult to keep him off the field.

In any event, Penn State has three quality guards. Experienced depth at the positions beyond that is a concern, though.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Koroma vs. Taylor vs. Odrick

One of the more intriguing areas to watch in the preseason is defensive tackle. With questions remaining about Chris Baker's status due to off-field issues, it appears three players will be in the mix for the two starting spots.

Phillip Taylor and Abe Koroma came on strong in the spring and they look to be the favorites to start. However, as one observer explained, "don't count out Jared Odrick. The guy is tenacious, has added size and is getting comfortable with his shift (from end to tackle)." If Baker clears up his off-field issues and gets back into the mix "we'll be looking at one heck of a two-deep," one observer opined. Ollie Ogbu will also be in the mix and Tom McEowen is methodically working himself back into playing shape following an off-season ACL injury.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
Sales vs. Bowman

Clearly Dan Connor and Sean Lee own the inside and one outside 'backer positions. As for the third spot — the other OLB position — it will likely come down to a preseason spar between veteran Tyrell Sales and newcomer Navorro Bowman.

"Bowman's speed and agility really [helped him] to make an impact in the spring," one observer shared. "He needs to nail down his tackling technique — really wrap up, which he is working on with Danny [Connor] and Sean [Lee]." However, Sales' "poise," "leadership" and "level head" are said to be "a big-time asset to the defense." As another observer said, "Look, Sales has the size, but he is not as fleet-footed as Bowman. You can't count out his experience, though. He's smart on pursuit angles, but needs to continue working on his reads."

BACKUP DEFENSIVE BACKS
Perretta vs. Timmons (RC)
Ganter vs. McBride (FS)

Although some expect a battle between A.J. Wallace and Lydell Sargeant at the cornerback spot opposite Justin King, Wallace's experience, speed and overall "explosiveness," seem to make him a tough candidate to knock off the starting board. With corners King and Wallace and safeties Anthony Scirrotto and Tony Davis, the big preseason tilts will likely be between backups Brenden Perretta and Knowledge Timmons (at corner) and Jason Ganter and Travis McBride (at safety).

In both cases you have an upperclassman, seemingly with the experience edge, vs. younger player who has the edge in raw ability. Perretta has some game experience, but Timmons has a three-inch height advantage and is dramatically faster. Timmons' big issue has been in controlling that speed. If he can get a handle on it he could step in as the backup to King. If not, watch for Perretta to stick in the role.

Ganter saw limited action in five games in 2006, with no tackles to his credit. McBride "has a good burst from center field and makes reads well." He's been working his angles, but seems to have the overall edge in play and ability. It will come down to his grasp of the playbook.

BACKUP QUARTERBACK
Clark vs. Devlin

With Anthony Morelli at the helm of the offense, the question here remains "Who will back him up?"

Between Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin, you have two dramatically different types of quarterbacks. "Clark's versatile — he's big and when he runs he'll lower a shoulder and pick up yards. He has a good arm, but will need to work through his progression," an observer explained. "Sometimes he waits too long on breakdowns, he seems to want to pass."

Devlin made a good impression running the scout team last season and by "playing the role of Erik Ainge (Tennessee's QB) better than Ainge." Devlin "makes smart decisions" and has good vision, doing "well in peripheral drills." He is "consistent" with his intermediate passing game but "is sporadic with the long ball." As one observer said, "He is closer to Morelli in his style of play, which could help him win the job."

BACKUP RUNNING BACK:
Kinlaw vs. Royster vs. Carter

As Austin Scott works to take advantage of his final shot at Penn State, the question remains as to who will spell him. Again, you have the experienced veteran vs. the talented youngster in Rodney Kinlaw and Evan Royster/Brent Carter.

The consensus seems to be that Royster is the main challenger to Kinlaw to back up Scott because of his size, agility and ability to "hit a hole and run low." Kinlaw's main concern should be staying healthy, which has been an issue throughout his career. Kinlaw's speed is his greatest asset, but consistent struggles with backfield hits and negative yardage runs could prove too difficult to overcome. Watch for Kinlaw to start as the backup until Royster makes his push.

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