Take Your Marks: Post-Camp

Harrington and Brennan tackle a series of issues facing the Nittany Lions coming out of double-sessions.

Welcome to Take Your Marks, the occasional series where FOS staffers Mark Harrington and Mark Brennan discuss and debate the latest news and issues pertaining to Penn State football. In this installment, they tackle where the Nittany Lions stood coming out of preseason camp.


Brennan: Even with sophomore Michael Mauti lost for the season to a torn ACL, Penn State's linebacker corps shapes up as one of the best in the nation. The return of a healthy Sean Lee and an apparently re-refocused Navorro Bowman, 2008 starting middle 'backer Josh Hull, and a wealth of young talent, “Linebacker U.” appears to be in good hands for the foreseeable future.

Harrington: I have to go with overall leadership. With Lee and quarterback Daryll Clark leading the way, the Lions have an array of players who have stepped up on both sides of the ball. On defense, Jared Odrick, Bowman and Drew Astorino have all played important roles for their respective units. On offense, aside from Clark, Evan Royster, Stefen Wisniewski and Brett Brackett are getting it done. So the depth of leadership has been a major strength.


Harrington: With youth and inexperience throughout, the secondary is a group with tremendous potential but many questions marks. Add in the fact that veteran corner A.J. Wallace may miss a game or two as punishment for skipping classes, and this unit becomes even younger. To start the season, at least, it appears the first-teamers will be Astorino and Nick Sukay at safety, and Knowledge Timmons and D'Anton Lynn at corner. That group made a grand total of three starts last season, all by Astorino.

Brennan: As things stood coming out of double-sessions, Penn State had three new starters on the offensive line from last season's senior-laden group. Both of the returning starters had changed positions -- Dennis Landolt from right to left tackle and Wisniewski from right guard to center. And Wisniewski is coming off some mystery injury (he declined to address it at Media Day) that caused him to skip July's Lift For Life Challenge. While the projected first unit has reportedly stayed healthy and worked on all-important chemistry to this point of the preseason, there are still enough questions to make this the primary area of concern as the opener approaches.


Brennan: Place-kicker Collin Wagner. Kevin Kelly's replacement has frequently said he feels more pressure kicking in front of Joe Paterno than he does while in front of big crowds. Unfortunately, that won't be an either/or proposition once the season arrives. If, as expected, Paterno returns to the sideline after spending most of last fall in the press box due to a hip injury, Wagner will feel the pressure of Paterno and the crowd. And it'll only be worse on the road. We hear Wagner was erratic the last time he was asked to make “pressure” kicks before camp broke. That's never a good sign.

Harrington: The return game. With veterans Graham Zug, Royster and Astorino in the mix, the jury is still out as to whether the coaches will unleash the big-play potential of speedy true freshman Devon Smith. Among the fastest players on the squad (he clocked a sub-4.3 40), Smith could be a major weapon in the vital battle for field position. But the verdict is still out as to whether the coaches will feel comfortable handing the responsibility over to a true freshman.


Harrington: With the departure of another key player in Abe Koroma (who transferred to Western Illinois, the defensive line has seen a ton of talent leave Happy Valley in recent years. However, the unit still boasts impressive depth with players like Jack Crawford, Kevion Latham, Eric Latimore outside and Odrick, Ollie Ogbu and Chimaeze Okoli inside. Plus, the return of Jerome Hayes could give the unit a nice boost.

Brennan: Considering the graduation losses at the positions -- three of the top four pass-catchers in school history -- I'm going to go with wideout. Everyone had a pretty good feel for the returning players: veterans Brett Brackett and Zug each made a handful of clutch catches in 2008; redshirt sophomores Derek Moye and Chaz Powell both have breathtaking athletic ability. But I doubt even the coaching staff expected the true freshmen to be as good as they are. Justin Brown, Curtis Drake, Shawney Kersey, Christian Kuntz and Smith all have enough talent to make an impact in 2009. That is going to make for some difficult decisions as the time draws near to determine who will redshirt. For a coaching staff, that's a nice problem to have.


Brennan: I'll go with the obvious and say Mauti's knee injury. He tore the ACL in his right knee in mid-August. Mauti has great size and athleticism, and in his short career to date has shown the smarts to play all three linebacker positions. Fortunately, he has a redshirt available, and with Lee and Hull both in their final seasons of eligibility, it will be good that Mauti returns with sophomore eligibility in 2010. In the short term, however, this stinks, especially for the player.

Harrington: Mauti's injury definitely gets the nod, but I also think the issues with Koroma, which led to his departure, were disappointing. Koroma was once a diamond in the rough — a few years back, Larry Johnson saw his film and was in his car the next day to offer the Milton Hershey lineman before anyone else could uncover him. Unfortunately, due to off-field issues he never became a polished product. It's another in a recent rash of defensive line disappointments for PSU.


Harrington: Punter Jeremy Boone. The All-Big Ten honorable-mention selection saw action in all 13 games last season and got PSU out of some tough spots with his leg. It seems like the Nittany Nation is once again taking a solid punting game for granted. Boone should be a major weapon for the Nittany Lions this season.

Brennan: Redshirt sophomore Nate Stupar has been lost in all of the talk -- positive and negative -- about the other linebackers. But it's been my experience that guys who have a knack for making big plays on special teams ultimately show that same talent when they are given a chance at their normal position. Larry Johnson Jr. was the perfect example. Stupar was a head-hunting, punt-blocking special-teams force as a redshirt freshman. Look for more of the same this season, and for him to expand his play-making skills to the defense if given the chance.

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