Nittany Notes: Backup Impact Part II

Late last week we reviewed the defensive backups the coaches are looking to to provide depth and support at various positions. In this segment we look to the offensive players who, though not expected start, will play integral roles in the success of the unit. Get the lowdown on who they are in this installment of Nittany Notes.

Before we jump into this report, here is an update on the current practice situation for Penn State:

The team wrapped their two-a-day sessions this past week and held their final scrimmage this past Wednesday. Basically from the team's perspective preseason is over.

This coming week will work like a typical game week, since the season kicks off next Saturday. The team will have regular preparation practices with the Scout Team assigned to play the role of Florida International. There are also added film sessions to the schedule.

Currently, the team is scheduled to have Monday off, but observers indicate that this is subject to change "depending on what Joe [Paterno] feels suits them best; rest or work."

The players are "so anxious to get on with the season," one observer said. "They're just sick of facing each other and are ready to get it going."

Last week we reviewed the Defensive Backup Impact Players. Now, with the 2007 season approaching fast, the starting offensive unit is nearly set. But who are those non-starters who the offensive coaches are looking to to play integral roles. Here are five projected reservers practice observers feel will be important to the success of the defense.

Chris Bell: Bell has "settled down" this off-season. As one observer said, "Physically Chris was there last year, but he wasn't focused on making the adjustment to the game. He had a bit of an attitude [as a freshman] which didn't sit well with some around the program, but he gets it now."

Bell has "showed off his skills" in the preseason scrimmages, seeing the bulk of his reps as the Z receiver, however has also seen some inside work at the X spot, making some big plays and proving he is a quick, big target. Although "he's very fluid and squares his shoulders back to the QB," he has been working on refining his route running and using his body better, to "box out his coverage so they can't get in there."

Bell has received significant instruction from veteran Jordan Norwood and observers feel he is ready to make a significant contribution to an already solid wideout corp.

Brett Brackett: The aspect of Brett Brackett that stands out with every observer is his size, which has provided him with the ability to create mismatches out of the slot. This off-season Brackett has added impressive upper-body strength. As one observer told us, "Last year he didn't fit into his frame too well, but now he's filled into it and has the strength to shed a defender."

Through the preseason sessions he has seen his time in the slot seeing primarily second team, with some first team work at times. Out of the inside Y slot he runs intermediate routes like curls, hitches and post-flat runs.

"Out of the slot, he's tough on defenders," and observer said. "There hasn't been a guy who has consistently handled him. (Dan) Connor (at middle linebacker) probably did the best the few times they have matched up by jamming him at the line," another observer explained. "But, seriously he is tough to cover."

This preseason he has worked on "maintaining a visual connection with the QB" since he typically runs very shot, quick routes. This season he is expected to play a "posession role and get some red-zone work" in the receiver rotation.

Lou Eliades: All preseason practice Eliades has been the guy challenging both Rich Ohrnberger and John Shaw at the left and right offensive guard positions, respectfully. As such, Eliades has been getting work primarily on the left side, but has also been asked to pick up the right in case of need.

Observers feel he has the ability to play either side, but that his "speed, aggression and overall agility off the line" gives him an edge on the left "weak side" of the line.

Eliades is a big reason as to why one practice observer told us, "We'll be stronger in the middle of the line than we've been in years." As another observer shared, "He's got the things you can't teach. He's plays [upset] and can turn it on and off."

Another observer explained, "he tears into the drills." Eliades has focused on getting "his center down on every snap to really exploit his ability," and improving how to "engage with his hands" and "use them for containment." However, with observers stating they are surprised he is "only a redshirt freshman," Eliades is viewed as a bright spot on the offensive line and vital one for depth.

Nerraw McCormack: A junior college newcomer to the team, McCormack has used this preseason to improve "understanding his role, particularly on a pull or roll." However, he is said to be "physically there and can impact the line with some technique adjustments and a grasp of the playbook."

Described as "mobile and massive." He not only "looks the part," but gets "out of the blocks quickly" and "gets that low bend in his knees." With his "impressive size," McCormack has seen his preseason reps at left tackle in an effort to progress him to the point where he can add depth to the position manned by converted guard Gerald Cadogan.

Now upwards of 295 pounds, observers feel that McCormack's frame could handle a significant weight increase. With questions surrounding the depth of the tackle positions observers feel that McCormack has the physical ability to make a push for the second-team left tackle spot, but it "comes down to consistency." As another observer explained, "There's a mad rush on the weakside coming from most defenses, so you have to handle a barrage of pressure." And according to another observer, "Left tackle is a tough, vital job, so we'll see what he can do if he gets some playing time."

Mickey Shuler: One player who was expected to play a backup role, but was thrust into the starting job over the past week or so is Mickey Shuler. With Andrew Quarless demoted in practice and expected to miss significant playing time early this season due to a team violation, Shuler has stepped in to take the bulk of the first team tight end reps.

"Mick is not as big or quick as Quarless, but he provides a target and can handle a block pretty consistently," one observer explained. Shuler's strength is with his pass-catching ability though. "He has a good set of hands. He sets his target and looks the ball in."

Shuler has been working on managing getting off the line "cleanly" and "he is focused on shedding his coverage." Observers don't feel he is nearly the weapon Quarless proved to be last year, "but if he can set and hold a block and catch the ball for pick-ups here and there -- that is all they really need him to do. We're not asking him to be a superstar," one observer told us.


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