Take Your Marks: Surprises

Mark Harrington and Mark Brennan chime in on the positive and negative head-turners from Penn State's preseason practice sessions. Why should you be excited? Why should you be concerned? Check out this installment of TYM for details.

Welcome to the latest installment of Take Your Marks, the occasional series where FightOnState.com staffers Mark Harrington and Mark Brennan discuss and debate issues concerning the Penn State football program. Today, they tackle surprises out of the Nittany Lions' preseason camp.

POSITIVE SURPRISES

MARK HARRINGTON

Vested Interest: It appears the experiment of bulking up Derrick Williams as a potential tailback is over. Shedding nearly 20 pounds, Williams' dedication could re-introduce the home-run aspect to his game that was missing against everyone except Temple last season. Aside from hitting the off-season conditioning hard to get his sleek, shifty style of play back, Williams continues to wear a 25-pound weight vest when he's not practicing. He alone has the ability to add another dimension to the offense to make big plays or serve as a decoy for opposing defenses. Brennan Comment: Does this count as a surprise at Life For Life and in the preseason?

Tall Order: Shifting from quarterback to wide receiver is generally not an easily adaptable task unless your name is Michael Robinson. However, Brett Brackett has emerged as a 6-foot-6 target for Anthony Morelli. His sheer size creates challenging mismatches for linebackers and safeties. Though he needs to work on his snap burst, his receiving skills could make him a consistent check-down target and possession receiver to a passing game already loaded with talented pass catchers. Brennan Comment: I'm just glad the alleged move to tight end never happened.

Green Pass-tures: There has been a lot of buzz about freshman running back Stephfon Green since we first reported that he took a screen pass 75 yards for a touchdown in an early preseason scrimmage. Though he missed half of his senior season in high school with a broken leg, he still managed to lead his team with 56 points and 665 rushing yards. At PSU, he's shown incredible speed and shiftiness along with the ability to run inside or out. Brennan Comment: People are going to like a lot of things about this kid. He has an outgoing personality, too.

MARK BRENNAN

Class Act: The overall talent level in Penn State's true freshman class came as a bit of a surprise even to the Nittany Lion coaching staff. The program is in much better shape talent-wise than it was a couple of years ago, so I doubt any of the position players will be pressed into immediate, significant action. But expect this group to make a real impact as it moves along through the program. More immediately, it ought to do a great job filling spots on the foreign team and giving the starters good competition in practice every week. Harrington Comment: Wow, way to get specificr. At least toss readers a bone and let them know Chris Colasanti, Nathan Stupar, Josh Marks and Stefen Wisniewski are a few of the rookies turning heads.

Golden Rule: Having talked to him in the media room on many occasions, I've always liked PSU receiver Terrell Golden. Though he's never been a focal point of the offense, he has always conducted himself extremely well in interview situations, coming across as the consummate team player. Meanwhile, fellow players always seemed to talk about how helpful he was. I figured he'd make a good captain some day, but wondered if it would happen because he has been a complementary player throughout his career. So I have to say I was pleasantly surprised that the senior was elected a captain. It tells me his fellow players understand that leadership isn't always about simply generating big numbers on the field, but also about putting the best interests of the team before the individual. Harrington Comment: Having been mentioned as a possible captain throughout the off-season, Golden has made a mark with his teammates.

Great Scott: OK, so maybe that is an overstatement. Maybe “Good Scott” is enough. Or “Healthy Scott.” Anyway, knock on wood, because as of this moment, the senior tailback has looked good and … dare I say … injury free in the preseason. I'm also hearing positive things about the running back position in general, particularly that fellow senior Rodney Kinlaw is finally feeling comfortable there and has stayed healthy himself. So before I'm accused of jinxing these star-crossed veterans, let's move on. You should really keep your reply short. Harrington Comment: Ditto. Brennan Comment: Nice. Bring up a guy who is still recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in the spring.

NEGATIVE SURPRISES

MARK BRENNAN

Out of Line: It is not that Penn State's Andrew Quarless and Willie Harriott were cited for underage drinking. After all, how many of us engaged in the same illegal behavior while we were in college? The real issue was when they were nabbed — in the middle of the night during preseason practice AND after head coach Joe Paterno read the entire team the proverbial riot act to stay in line following the off-campus fight incident last April. It was just lousy timing all the way around. Here's hoping both young guys learned from their mistakes. Harrington Comment: What's more important is that the team collectively has forgiven them. The coaches seem to be heading in that direction too.

Injury Bug: With lots of talent but not much experience, it was key for Penn State to stay healthy along the defensive line in the preseason. But it didn't happen, especially at tackle. Promising rookie Devon Still was lost for the year to an ACL injury. Big Phil Taylor sustained a minor knee injury that — coupled with an inability to keep his weight down — set him back several weeks. And Abe Koroma, after playing well most of the preseason, limped off with a broken foot that is expected to cause him to miss at least the first month of the season. There are still several capable tackles available; just not enough to run the kind of rotation position coach Larry Johnson prefers. Harrington Comment: If I had to choose one coach who can manage the adversity, though, it would be Johnson. If these issues occurred on the offensive line it could be utterly devastating.

Passing Out: Though Penn State has a boatload of quarterbacks on scholarship, questions remain about the quality of depth behind Morelli. Backups Darryl Clark and Paul Cianciolo combined to connect on just 18 of 35 passes in 2006, and reports out of preseason camp suggest neither is overly impressive. There are positive reports on redshirt freshman Pat Devlin, but he has yet to see his first live game action. I really wonder if Penn State can hang with a ranked opponent without Morelli at the helm. Harrington Comment: I suspect the most intriguing man on the squad among fans will remain the backup quarterback, as he has been over the last decade or so.

MARK HARRINGTON

Run Around: The positive reports tailback Evan Royster received while redshirting last year have tapered off somewhat this preseason. Royster made a big impression as a true freshman, even earning a coveted traveling spot despite redshirting. That's not to say he isn't performing in practice, but that “dominating” style he showed last year has been sporadic this time around. Brennan Comment: Poor kid hasn't even played a game and he's already being called a has-been.

Depth Charges: The starting offensive line appears to be set. But the backup situation is a major concern for the coaching staff. Very few linemen beyond guard Rich Ohrnberger and perhaps tackle Nerraw McCormack have emerged as consistent, serviceable reserves. We've heard true freshmen Wisniewski and Marks are among the more physically impressive backups. While that bodes well for them, it makes one wonder what PSU will do should the line be stricken with injuries before the two rookies can absorb the playbook and learn the blocking schemes. Brennan Comment: A lack of depth on the offensive line? Hasn't this been an issue for a decade now?

Safety Dance: Depth at safety is another brewing issue. With veterans Anthony Scirrotto and Tony Davis at strong safety and free safety, respectively, the backup situation has not developed as the coaches had hoped. Mark Rubin and Cedric Jeffries are vying to spell Davis and Nick Sukay and Jason Ganter are after the No. 2 spot behind Scirrotto. With Travis McBride kicked off the team recently for academic issues, perhaps Spencer Ridenhour was too rash with his decision to transfer to UMass. Brennan Comment: Ridenhour made the right move. He was a tweener at the major-college level — not quite big enough to play linebacker and not quite fast enough to play safety.

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