How will the quarterback situation play out?
MH: If you look at the signs it sure seems like the starting job is Daryll Clark's to lose. Between a handful of significant snaps in the Alamo Bowl, a flashy new Spread HD offensive scheme being tossed around and the fact he was getting the bulk of first-team Drill 6 snaps in the winter, Clark appears to be the chosen one, at least in position coach Jay Paterno's eyes. Pat Devlin should get his shot, but given the clues, I'd bet Clark gets and holds the starting job into the Coastal Carolina game.
MB: There are a couple of things working against Clark, in my view. First, he really had no chance to prove himself as a passer in game situations in 2007, and reports from practice last season suggested he was even more erratic than Anthony Morelli. Second, the 40-yard dash time he posted in the off-season was said to be more in line with the team's linebackers than offensive skill players. Whether his charismatic personality and leadership skills are enough to offset those issues remains to be seen. Devlin didn't run during Penn State's off-season Pro Day due to a minor injury, but it is difficult to believe he would have been much slower (if at all) than Clark, who turned in a hand-timed 4.8 and change. And while he didn't get as many first- or second-team snaps as Clark in practice last season, he is said to be a much more precise passer. I'm not saying Devlin is a lock to start, by any means. But I believe this race is much more wide open than some others think. Devlin is every bit as equipped as Clark to run a spread offense.
What about the defensive line rotation?
MH: With Phillip Taylor and Chris Baker suspended and expected to miss the bulk of spring drills and Jared Odrick sidelined with an ankle injury, the depth of the tackle positions is suspect. Currently the unit has Abe Koroma and Ollie Ogbu starting with Tom McEowen and newcomer Chima Okoli backing them up. The ends are deep, but the interior will need some reinforcements to shape out the rotation that Larry Johnson likes to run.
MB: Penn State has recruited extremely well along the defensive line in recent years, but legal issues and injuries have left the Lions thin up front this spring. The two starting tackles from the Alamo Bowl -- Baker and Taylor -- are both suspended from the team. Meanwhile, tackle Odrick (dislocated ankle) and end Jerome Hayes (ACL) figure to see little if any action this spring while recovering from their respective issues. There are still some very talented players having at it this spring, led by All-Big Ten end Maurice Evans. But the rotations you see in the Blue-White Game will be very different than what you are likely to see when the regular season rolls around.
How will Justin King be replaced?
MH: Whether you feel King had a strong or weak showing last season, his departure leaves a significant void that must be filled. With A.J. Wallace and Lydell Sargeant manning the starting corner spots, there has been talk that corner-turned-safety Tony Davis could see a shift back over to corner. Willie Harriott is back with the squad despite an earlier suspension, but word is he is still considering a transfer. Devin Fentress is another backup who, like Harriott, is not the biggest guy around. The depth problems here must be addressed this spring.
MB: This is not all that complicated to me. Wallace will emerge as State's top cover corner. He showed flashes of that in the Alamo Bowl, and has even taken over King's No. 1 jersey this spring. The other corner will be either Sargeant or Davis. Whoever loses that battle will become the defense's primary nickel back. I agree that depth is a real concern here. D'Anton Lynn will have a chance to move quickly up the depth chart as a true freshman.
Who will man the middle?
MH: Penn State loses another linebacker legend with the departure of Dan Connor. So who takes over inside? The coaches have been talking about possibly moving Sean Lee to the middle. Why? He's the type of player position coach Ron Vanderlinden loves playing the defensive quarterback position -- smart and experienced with instincts. However, Lee's speed and tackling technique should keep him out on the wing. As one observer said, He's so aggressive and fast that he has the ability to close off that wide open flat. If Lee doesn't make the move, watch for Chris Colasanti, who backed up Connor last year and learned a ton from him to emerge in the role.
MB: Lee is staying put for the very reasons you mention. He's just too good at OLB. Former outside 'backer Josh Hull got first-team reps at MLB early in the spring, which makes a lot of sense to me. Hull has plenty of game experience and can hold down the position until Colasanti is prepared to take over. I think the stuff about the MLB being the quarterback of the defense is not as big a deal as it used to be. In 2005, then-outside linebacker Paul Posluszny called most of the defensive formations.
What about the offensive tackle situation?
MH: Another shallow position, the offensive tackles have two experienced starters in Gerald Cadogan and Dennis Landolt and then a whole lot of question marks. Nerraw McCormack and Johnnie Troutman look the part, but have zero experience. Ako Poti has consistently struggled picking up the role. That leaves a lot of questions about the backups. There has been speculation that Lou Eliades and/or Josh Marks could get a look outside, but even if that were to happen, which is questionable at this stage, Marks has no experience and Eliades has had chronic injury issues. There's also been a buzz about a position shift from the defensive side of the ball or from tight end, with Devon Still and Andrew Szczerba, among others, but those seem to be on hold at this stage.
MB: Penn State has been known to move defensive linemen recovering from knee injuries over to the offensive line, so the Still thing is a possibility. Don't count on anything happening with Szczerba, though. The suspension of projected starting tight end Andrew Quarless leaves PSU a little thin at the position in the spring, and the staff is said to be impressed with Szczerba's ability to block and catch the ball. I've heard good things about Troutman's long-term potential.
Will Chris Bell make an impact?
MH: At this point he has a good amount of work ahead of him to even make the field. Between off-field and in-classroom issues, Bell needs to buckle down and get it together. In the meantime, one player who seems poised to step into the position Bell has vacated is Derek Moye. Moye has been impressive since his arrival on campus and runs tight routes, shows sharp technique and has a good step, one observer said. Moye was impressive last year taking a coveted travel spot on the limited 70-man roster for the Michigan game despite being a redshirt. I'd keep an eye out for Moye.
MB: Bell continues to drive the coaching staff nuts. On one hand, his size and athletic ability would seem to portend great things on the field. On the other hand, just when he seems to be turning the proverbial corner into becoming a real contributor, his inability to focus -- on the field and off -- knock him down. You can only hope for his sake that the latest wakeup call works.
Is Stephfon Green really that good?
MH: The reports out of practice have been positive and some experts have certainly hyped the abilities of Green. There is no question he is fast. In fact Green ran an hand-timed 4.25-second 40-yard dash in the winter and with an admitted renewed attitude and a reduction in pouting, he has the tools to be great. What Green needs to continue to work on is to refine his technique and reads to supplement his speed. He needs to not just put it in top gear every snap, but understand how the right angle selection or how use a block can bust things open, an observer said.
MB: I don't much care about the experts. I'll go along with Dan Connor and Justin King on this one and say, yes, Green is the real deal. They know talent when they see it. He is PSU's first home-run threat out of the backfield since Larry Johnson, that much is certain. What remains to be seen is whether he can handle the other important jobs asked of the tailback, like protecting the quarterback and catching the ball out of the backfield.