Redshirt Report: Part III

With the regular season wrapped up and the Nittany Lions preparing for Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl, many fans have been asking for updates on the Class of 2007 redshirts. Check out the third part of our series.

Redshirt freshmen are essentially a second recruiting class for a program, a group that has been kept under wraps since it stepped on campus last summer (and some before that). Given that these players have not had the opportunity to contribute in games yet and have had a season to brush up their skills and conditioning, there should be a lot of excitement about them and what they can potentially contribute in 2008.

Yet the buzz around the current recruiting class typically overshadows the news about these redshirt freshmen. So we thought this was the perfect time to remind people about the terrific prospects who are already on campus working out with the team.

With a season of scout team work under their belts, we've been collecting reports on several Class of 2007 members who redshirted this year. Get a look at both the strengths and areas of improvement for some of these players as they work to make an impact on the Nittany Lion squad in coming years.

Andrew Szczerba, Tight End, 6-foot-6, 255 pounds

A player who "looks the part," Szczerba has seen his practice reps this season at tight end, primarily with the scout team. He "has progressed well, picking up the role quickly."

Speed: "He has surprising speed for his size," one observer said. Despite the big frame, he gets low and "comes out of his stance with one quick, fluid motion."

Another observer commented on his movement saying, "He has great control for such sheer size. His burst off the line is tough to contain. The younger guys will try to jam him and just get knocked off their saddle."

Hands: Perhaps the strongest asset of his game are his receiving skills. He's received consistent praise for his catching ability and "ridiculous hands," as one observer put it earlier this season.

As another target, Szczerba "could be a solid complement to Andrew Quarless or Mickey Shuler. However, the need for his size could be felt elsewhere."

Blocking Szcerba's sheer size makes him a tough assignment to match up on. He has focused on his blocking fundamentals and has shown good agility and movement with his feet. His biggest area of focus has been on picking up the rush off the snap and setting his feet to engage. "He moves well, he just needs to get more consistent on holding his block and moving with his [assignment]," one observer said.

Eric Latimore, Defensive End, 6-foot-6, 270 pounds

A grayshirt and redshirt, Latimore has had an impressive season, moving up late in the year to see some second-team reps at defensive end. Latimore has impressive quickness off the snap for his massive size. The staff expects him to be an impact player come spring.

Technique: Originally described as "raw," Latimore had refined his technique under Larry Johnson to leverage his athletic ability. "His rushing skills have been strong since he arrived [on campus," according to one observer.

"He's been working on shedding blocks. If he can get the rips down consistently to break away on the corner, he and Maurice Evans could be a scary combo."

Size: His size and speed are "impressive" and he "could really be a weapon in a year or two," as one observer shared. A towering player, Latimore has had to work on lowering his center and widening his base. "The tall guys have to work hard to get comfortable in the stance," said one observer.

"A lot of them will move their feet back to get down, but that hurts the leverage you can pick up. You have to get wide and low and that means boosting the strength in the thighs and back. Eric has worked hard to get this down."

Attitude: "He has a great frame, but I think he's a year away," an observer said earlier this season. When asked again recently, the same observer said, "He's moving right along. He really understands that he has had work to do to get better and he is doing the work necessary. That's half the battle with a player most of the time."

Overall: Latimore's size and speed combination are "rare" and many expect him to be part of the primary defensive end rotation in the spring.

Jon Ditto, Tight End, 6-foot-3, 227 pounds

Ditto enrolled at Penn State in January of 2007 hoping to get a jump on his freshman season with the Nittany Lions. However, an injury to his left shoulder midway through spring practice required him to undergo surgery to correct the problem. For the next six months and the better part of the season Ditto focused on rehab and getting healthy once again. He has gotten back into practice in the latter part of the season.

Size: Ditto has good height, although the injury took him off track to add the weight necessary to play tight end effectively. According to observers, "Jon can get off the line pretty quickly and has good hands, so [the coaches] don't want to stack him to the point that it slows him down. However, he needs to at least approach the 240-245 [pound] range to get into the role and manage a block."

Hands: Ditto averaged 17.5 yards per catch during his senior season at Gateway High, pulling in 29 balls for 508 yards. "We only got to see him [practice] for short period [last spring]. Since he's gotten back he has shown he can pull in the ball, but on the foreign squad he's often asked to block more than catch."

Blocking: Ditto's lack o size has made blocking a challenge for him. "He's giving up around 45 pounds to a guy like Maurice Evans. The way these guys fly into the pocket, there are times when he has gotten leveled. That is part of the reason his shoulder got messed up early on. He needs to add some mass to manage the pick-up better."

Overall: A good potential target, Ditto has to "get back on track" from the injury standpoint. Currently he is doing "OK," but needs to add size and refine his game and understanding of the position to make an impact.

Drew Astorino, Defensive Back, 5-foot-10, 180 pounds

Called a "pure athlete" in "the mold of Ethan Kilmer" by observers, Astorino may be the most underrated redshirt in the program. Astorino led his high school (General McLane) to the PIAA state championship in both football and basketball last year. He was the Pennsylvania AAA Player of the Year and a Big 33 selection. Astorino has seen time this season at both safety positions on the scout team.

Athleticism: Astorino has "great endurance and an impressive physique," one observer said. "He's certainly not the biggest guy out there, but he's tough, aggressive and plays through whatever comes at him."

Many observers feel Astorino could have contributed on special teams this year if he had been given the opportunity. "The staff discussed him helping out on kickoffs, but it was pretty late in the season," an observer explained. "He's a tough customer, though. I see him making a move to add depth at safety this [coming] off-season."

Approach: Astorino is described as a "heads-down," "scrappy" and "fired up" player. As one observer told us, "He's a fighter — an underdog who goes all out and has something to prove. He loves to compete and throws everything he has at you."

Many observers feel this is an edge that could help him make an impact on the team. "I compare him to Ethan Kilmer. Ethan is a littler bigger and stronger, but no one counted on him to come out and make the impact he did. Drew has the potential to do that on his attitude alone." In fact, Astorino earned a coveted travel slot to the Indiana game for his outstanding practices this season.

Fundamentals: Astorino played quarterback, slot back and defensive back in high school, which helped him get acclimated to the safety position at Penn State. He has focused on grasping the playbook and understanding the role of the safeties in PSU system.

Described as "raw" with his technique, he has worked with Brian Norwood and Tom Bradley to improve his reads, pursuits and tackling.

Overall:He is "very coachable and realizes he has to put in the extra effort to surpass the guys around him who may have more natural ability." Astroino is considered an "under-the-radar player who could really turn some heads in coming years if he keeps it up."

See our previous Redshirt Reports:

Redshirt Report: Part I
Redshirt Report: Part II

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