Nittany Notes: Spring Speculations

A new series of questions are swirling around Penn State football now that the second week of drills are underway. gets the lowdown from our program "observers" right here.

A.J. Wallace seeing offensive reps? Is he really going to see time carrying the ball this coming season?

"Often, people tend to forget that the spring is the team's time for experimentation. Remember a few years ago when Tim Shaw was getting running back reps?" an observer noted. "[The coaches] will throw out a variety of stuff [during the spring]. I think there is an chance they could put in a play or two that have A.J. as an option, but given the corner depth situation currently [the staff] realizes they need him focused on defense."

A.J. Wallace.

As another observer said, "[Saturday] was the first significant time A.J. had seen at running back [this spring] and it wasn't even that significant. One part of it is I think they want to get a look at him to see options and the other is I think they want to screw a bit with people out there [laughing]."

Who currently leads the quarterback battle between Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin?

"Remember, Joe insists Paul [Cianciolo] is making it a three-way battle," one observer explained. "It's still so early, but I personally like what Pat has shown me; he has good management of the huddle. He's not that vocal, but he seems to command his guys. He also has a nice snap to his motion and is pretty consistent controlling his release. I don't know if it's on the film you guys have, but Pat is much better with look-offs and running through the progression. He hasn't shown that tendency to telegraph his passes where the QB locks onto the target."

Pat Devlin.

"Both guys really need work on handling pocket pressure and collapses. Daryll has hung a few guys out to dry on panic passes. The staff was starting to work check-downs and pocket motion a lot more [on Monday]."

As another observer said, "Daryll's size is a real advantage. He's physically imposing. Couple that with his vocal approach on the field and I think he puts the offense more at ease. I really like Pat's arm and he's shown some legs too. As both guys make improvements [to their games] I expect it's going to be a tough decision."

Is the offensive line as strong as it looks on paper?

The consensus among program observers is yes ... and no. "The starting line is one of the most experienced units this team has had in years," one source said. "Toss in leadership and the fact the unit pretty much understands the tendencies down the line and it's likely to be an asset for [this offense]."

Lou Eliades and Dennis Landolt

But as another observer explained, "There is a real weakness with the [offensive line] depth, though. The interior situation is OK with a core group of [A.Q.] Shipley, Rich [Ohrnberger], [Mike] Lucian and [Stefen Wisniewski]. Toss in [Josh] Marks and Lou [Eliades], assuming they pull it together, and it's a good inside group. The tackles are paper thin. though. After Gerald [Cadogan] (left tackle) and Dennis [Landolt] (right tackle) there is basically zero experience with [Johnnie] Troutman, [Nerraw] McCormack and [Ako] Poti."

Although there have been discussions of a possible player shift to shore up the depth issue, the speculated candidates — Andrew Szczerba (tight end) and Devon Still (defensive end — limited contact) remain with their current units in drills. Szczerba weighs in at less than 260 pounds right now. That, coupled with the uncertain status of projected starting tight end Andrew Quarless, means he will more than likely stay put for 2008.

What does the middle-linebacker situation look like?

"Chris [Colasanti] is a beast with a capital 'B'," an observer said. "He still gets caught at times pulling into the lane too much on a run, but the guy will take on anyone. He's gone toe-to-toe with Shipley — it looks like you're watching the Discovery Channel and they have those massive rams who smash their heads together at full speed. Chris has a lot of things you just can't coach — I think he's the next great [linebacker] here, and that is saying a ton with some of the guys on this depth chart."

Chris Colasanti.

"Not to take a thing away from Josh [Hull] — he has done some flat-out impressive things for a walk-on. But Chris is at an entirely different level," another observer said. "He's like a bigger version of a young [Dan] Connor. I am not trying to exaggerate here — he just runs over people — levels them.

"[Fans] are likely wondering why he's second team right now if he's so good. That is partly a factor of nailing down the playbook and partly one of those motivation deals. [position coach Ron Vanderlinden] knows exactly what Chris brings to the table."

Who is the better running back Stephfon Green or Evan Royster?

According to several observers, Green is tops in the speed department. But as an all-around tailback, Royster is the top dog.

Stephfon Green

As one observer explained, "Look, everyone, including myself, is dazzled by Steph's speed. It's fun to see this explosive player bust open 30-, 40-, 50-yard runs. But when you get down to who can carry the load as a feature back, who can square up, see a lane, lower a shoulder and grind out yards, Evan is the guy. He sees things in the backfield — the natural ability to recognize shifts and breaks in a defensive scheme is a huge asset to have."

We saw a vocal, active, engaged Joe Paterno from this weekend's practice. Is he always like that in drills?

"That's him," one observer said. "I mean I am not going to tell you he didn't dial it up a bit for the audience, but he's screaming, yelling and in guys' faces and teaching them technique details at practice. So you may have seen an exaggerated version, but it wasn't by too much. It's not like he comes to practice, sits on a lawn chair and sips lemonade while [the players] workout."

Joe Paterno.

As another observer said, "He's always in guys' faces and pushing guys to 'do it again, do it again.' It's not like you can just turn it on for a few hours because you have visitors there."

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