SIX PACK: Rising to the Occasion

We crack open another six pack, this one focusing on unproven players who must step up in 2009.

Summer may not officially start for a week or so. But here in Happy Valley, the dog days have settled in. Spring practice for the Penn State football team is in the rearview mirror and the Nittany Lions are now enduring the drudgery of off-season workouts.

But as a fan, there is no reason you can't enjoy Penn State football 12 months out of the year. With that in mind, we've come up with the perfect way to combat the dog days — with a series of six packs.

In each installment of this series, we crack open a key issue facing the Nittany Lion football program.

Six unproven players who must rise to the occasion in 2009.

A.J. Wallace, CB: With all four starters gone, Wallace must step up and play up to his abilities. He has good size, great speed and an improved technique. Now he has to bring it all together and finally hammer down a starting job, which figures to be as much about attitude as anything else. Reports from off-season workouts suggest he has turned the proverbial corner, and that's vital to the senior becoming a reliable shutdown corner.

DeOn'tae Pannell, LT: Gerald Cadogan is off to the NFL, so all eyes have been on Pannell as the heir-apparent at left tackle. Penn State has no experience behind starting quarterback Daryll Clark, and that means opponents will be going after him with everything they've got. It also means the Lion line must keep Clark on his feet and healthy. Pannell, who will be counted on to cover Clark's blind side, has drawn raves from observers for his run blocking but must improve his pass protection. That's a tall order for a true sophomore.

Jack Crawford, DE: Speaking of true sophomores, Crawford is another youngster who will be relied on heavily. With the team's three best defensive ends all gone, Crawford must emerge as a consistent, reliable pass rusher. He has the size and speed to do it. Gaining experience will be a key, especially since he has only been playing the game for a few years. It will help that PSU is stacked at defensive tackle and linebacker.

Collin Wagner, K: A redshirt junior, Wagner emerged from spring ball as the likely successor to record-setter Kevin Kelly. Observers say his consistency gave him the edge over strong-legged early enrollee Anthony Fera and walk-on David Soldner. But while Wagner was clutch in the spring, it remains to be seen how he handles money kicks under real pressure. He has attempted one career field goal (making a 40-yarder last season) and is 5 for 5 on extra point attempts, but all of those boots were done in mop-up duty.

Chaz Powell, WR: With three athletic wideouts gone, at least one receiver must step up as a home-run threat to ease the pressure on the running game. Powell has the athletic ability to do that not only as a pure pass-catcher, but also as a runner on end-arounds and out of two-tailback sets. In limited action as a redshirt freshman in 2008, Powell averaged 18.5 yards per catch, 9.2 yards per carry and 28.8 yards per kickoff return, clips that all topped those of lauded multi-purpose threat Derrick Williams.

Lou Eliades, RG: Like Pannell, Eliades will be another new starter on the offensive line. Unlike Pannell, he can't be considered a new face in the mix up front. Eliades arrived at Penn State amid significant hype in 2006 but three years later is still looking to emerge from the shadows. Sure, he took over at right tackle when Dennis Landolt was hurt in the Rose Bowl. But prior to that, he had logged 166 snaps in the 2008 season (less than 14 per game). Injuries and a lack of consistency have hurt Eliades to this point of his career. Now a redshirt junior, he must step up to help the graduation-depleted offensive line.


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