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ND: The Lions finished the season on such a high note beating LSU in the Capital One bowl. The team and the coaching staff immediately tried to figure out how to answer the questions of the coming year. Who would replace Daryll Clark? What would the new linebacking corp look like? How can the offensive line by arranged? And who is going to punt? The spring practices didn't answer a single one of these questions but we're starting to get a good indication of what this time might look like when the tee the ball up in September.
MH: It was a high, albeit sloppy way to end the year. As an aside the Citrus Bowl is tossing their "grass" for some field turf this coming year. As you pointed out, there are several questions to answer this off-season, although the spring has helped the squad take some strides towards finding the answers.
What: Annual Blue White Game
When: April 24h at 2pm ET
Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa.
TV: ESPN2 with Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and Penn State standout, Matt Millen calling the action.
Radio: Penn State Sports Radio Network
ND: A couple of years ago, we were heading into this weekend wondering who would get the starting job – Devlin or Clark. Not long before that, we had the same question about Senneca and Mills. And one doesn't have to go too far back to remember the battle between Thompson and Casey. Well, not much has changed. The Lions are faced with another QB dilemma – do you go with the consistent, smart veteran or do you go with the inconsistent playmaker? Matthew McGloin has not won the job of starting QB for this squad but he has proven to be the most accurate (albeit not necessarily accurate but just better than the other guy) and most comfortable with his reads. Meanwhile, what Kevin Newsome lacks in accuracy he makes up for in his ability to make plays with his legs. Remind anyone of a similar situation back in the late 90s?
I am expecting to see McGloin get the start with the 1st team offense. He has a terrific crop of WRs to work with too. Graham Zug, Derek Moye, Justin Brown, Brett Brackett, Curtis Drake and Shawney Kersey are all part of the receiving corp that might be the most deep group that I can remember. The Lions have speed and talent on the edge. The key is going to be the QBs having time to deliver the football and then getting the football to the right place.
The running back situation is in good shape with Evan Royster deciding to come back for his senior year. I would be very surprised if we saw Royster get into this game at all. The soon-to-be Penn State career rushing record holder has nothing to prove and has no kinks to be worked out in his game. The Lions just need to keep him healthy.
The offensive line has been something like a game of Boggle. Every few minutes, you pick up the pieces, shake them all around and see what you can build. Right now, the No. 1 line is Lou Eliades and Quinn Barham at the tackles, Stefen Wisniewski and DeOn'Tae Pannell at the guards and Klopacz at center. As we have reported on FightOnState.com's notes from last week's scrimmage, observers feel that Troutman will get worked into the mix somehow. Regardless of who is playing where, this line must gel and quickly. The Lions suffered with an inexperienced line the early part of the season and really struggled in the 2 losses. With road games at Alabama and at Iowa in the first half of the season, this line has to start executing very quickly.
MH: No doubt the biggest question coming out of spring remains who will be the quarterback to assume the reigns from Clark. The apparent answer is Kevin Newsome, who has received the bulk of first team reps this spring, and although Matt McGloin has been in the mix and shown more consistency with his arm, practice observers like Newsome's athleticism and what he can do with his legs.
The offense is expected to shift a bit, reverting back from the "running optional" offense we say for Clark to a more "mobile" set that PSU implemented under Michael Robinson in 2005, assuming Newsome stays as the guy under center. Although Newsome is not as strong or physical as Robinson, he is said to faster and more agile.
That leads us to the second question; the offensive line construction. Even if Wisniewski sticks at guard, which is up for debate, the staff tends to like the interior of this line with a Wiz-Klopacz-Pannell makeup, although Troutman is "too good to be on the sideline. So, we may see a rotation brought in ala Larry Johnson's defensive line. The biggest concern is protecting the wings at tackle, given the inexperience and need to build comfort with the young quarterback, whoever it ends up being. Barham is smaller than your typical tackle, but his quick on his feet and has the strength to pick up the rush. Eliades has experience inside at guard, but has adjusted well to tackle and for both of these guys, going up against an LJ defensive line is a great tactic to smooth out their learning curves.
Running back and wideouts are deep and have a good base of experience. In the backfield Evan Royster is the lead horse, on his way to shatter Penn State's all-time rushing record, but don't expect to see a ton of Royster during the Blue-White Game. He's been spared from a lot of action, which is a typical approach PSU takes with experienced seniors. Stephfon Green is the other guy who has a lot of experience who should help pick up the pressure for the passing game. Keep an eye on Curtis Dukes and Silas Redd in particular. Both have received strong praise and have really shown a lot of potential. Dukes is built like a linebacker, but has a good set of wheels.
In terms of wideouts Derek Moye and Graham Zug are the veterans and have given the QBs some added comfort. There's a ton of young talent though to watch, including Justin Brown, who has some great size and speed, Curtis Drake who was impressive with his legs last season and Shawney Kersey. The tight ends have to fill the void of Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler. The main battle has been between Andrew Szczerba and converted defensive end Gary Gilliam, but keep an eye out for early enrollee freshman Kevin Haplea, who has also turned heads this spring.
ND: Much like the offense, there are some key positions that are very much up for grabs. So far, it appears that the defensive line has identified it's starters and are working well together. Devon Still has been tearing it up and is showing the type of impact that Odrick had the last few years. The big question is the depth at the tackle position. Ogbu and Still have locks on the starting roles but we'll have to wait and see what type of rotation Coach Johnson uses to get fresh bodies in there to keep the pressure on the offensive. I'm also interested to see how Sean Stanley performs. In very limited action last year, I thought he showed a tremendous amount of potential as a speed pass rusher. He could give one of the new offensive tackles some real headaches with his speed.
Mark, what really has me baffled is how more people are not talking about the secondary this year. The loss of Odrick and the loss of all three starting linebackers is absolutely huge. But, people are not recognizing that the secondary didn't really have to play much in the run game because Lee, Hull and Bowman ate everything up. That's not going to be the case this year. Even if the new linebacking group prove to be solid, the secondary will have to play a significantly bigger role in the running game than they have had to do in recent years. With Drew Astorino out recovering from shoulder surgery, we'll see Jeffries, Dailey and Sukay all playing safety. But, I'd really like to see how Hodges plays at safety. He could play either safety or linebacker. Considering the inexperience at linebacker, I think the Lions have to consider getting him on the field to add another body that can hit runners. But, we'll see what the coaches decide.
Finally, it's the linebackers. Sure, it's Linebacker U. Sure, Coach Vanderlinden and Coach Bradley are defensive geniuses. Sure, the cabinet is full of talent. But, the projecting starting lineup is also full of guys that had a chance to step up and didn't. Bani Gbadyu showed tremendous promise after the Alamo Bowl win and seemed to make mistake after mistake last year on the field. Chris Colasanti has the size and strength to be a big time player. But, his athleticism has been questioned and he never could quite compete for Josh Hull's spot. Finally, there's Nathan Stupar. In some cases, he played fantastic last year. But, there were also plays that he was out of position or took a poor angle at a tackle. Meanwhile, the Cajun Connor, Mike Maui, is still recovering from knee surgery. He will probably be the starting middle linebacker in September but he won't see any action in this game. One of the other guys will have to step up and show that they want to carry the torch of Linebacker U. If they don't then my concern about the secondary will only grow more strong.
MH: The defensive line has a tall order to replace Jared Odrick, who could be a first round pick in the NFL draft. Devon Still seems to be healthy finally and is making a run at filling that void and drawing some strong praise in the process. Ogbu is at the other defensive tackle spot and with Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore on the ends, the line has talent, the question is how it comes together.
Nirav, you make a great point about losing Lee, Hull and Bowman. All three were impressive in their own rights, although if there's a position that has the depth to put PSU fans minds at ease, it's linebacker. With guys like Bani Gbadyu, Nate Stupar, Mike Yancich, Chris Colasanti and young guns like Gerald Hodges and freshman Khairi Fortt, the unit should have the talent to reload.
The secondary has a ton of talent and with Chaz Powell moving back to corner they should be able to excel with an adequate pass rush from the front seven. Stephon Morris and Derrick Thomas are two intriguing young cornerback prospects. Although Drew Astorino has been out for the spring allowing for his to recover from shoulder surgery, he, Nick Sukay and Andrew Dailey should help with depth. Although Danto Lynn has been at corner, many think he's built to play safety, but he brings some speed and experience to the unit as well.
ND: Mark, Special Teams were a key contributor in the Lions losses to Iowa and Ohio State last year. With the Boone and Pitz moving on, one has to be very concerned about the play of this squad. Wagner is back kicking the ball. Unfortunately, Fera has probably landed himself in the dog house after another drinking related incident this spring. He was slated to take the punting role but we'll have to see how that shakes out. But, don't lose sight of the fact that Andrew Pitz provided the Lions with a ton of consistency for the last few years at long snapper. I'm interested to see who takes that job and whether they can play to the standard that Pitz set.
MH: Fera is dealing with some injuries and the doghouse, so he's likely not going to see extended action in the Blue-White Game, but the question I have, which B-W won't help answer, is the coverage team improvement. Last year it was horrid, so with so many young speedsters in the wings, hopefully they can help to bolster the coverage to give PSU an edge in field position battles.
Player I Look Forward to Watching the Most:
ND: There are two guys that I am very excited to see play. The first is Mike Yancich. We have reported on FightonState.com that he has been performing at a really high level all spring and in particular during the scrimmages. I'm not sure if he's ready to break into the starting lineup but it sure sounds like he's making his case. The other guy that has me excited is Silas Redd. His size, speed and moves can be a real asset. His numbers out of high school were astronomical. We all know that we high school to college is a big leap. But, Penn State's roster is littered with guys that performed well in scrimmages but couldn't cut it in a real game atmosphere. In the meantime, we'll see how Redd stacks up in a deep, talented RB pool.
MH: For me it's Curtis Dukes. With his size and alleged speed, Dukes has been compared to Aaron Harris. I think he's intriguing as a road-grading back that can run over guys and pick up key yardage. He needs to make sure he holds onto the ball, which has been an issue in some scrimmage work this spring though. My close second is Khairi Fortt. He's the freshman linebacker who has received some strong early praise.
ND: Blue 24 White 14
MH: Blue 21, White 10
Until next time,
Fight On State!