Take Your Marks: Offense

Brennan and Harrington size up the Nittany Lions heading into summer workouts. They tackle the QB race, the offensive line, leadership concerns and more.

Welcome to the latest installment of Take Your Marks, the occasional series where FOS staffers Mark Harrington and Mark Brennan discuss and debate topics relevant to Penn State football. In this offering they tackle the Nittany Lion offense as summer workouts begin.

OK, let's get straight to the point. Do you see Kevin Newsome, Matt McGloin or someone else as the starting quarterback come fall?

BRENNAN: Having heard good things about McGloin's performance in practice last season and during winter workouts, I went into the spring with an open mind about who will ultimately win the job. But now I'm convinced that, if he stays healthy, it is going to be the sophomore Newsome. With a reshuffled offensive line, it is imperative that the starting QB be able to make plays with his feet, and Newsome can do that. All signs point to a spread offense similar in style to the one PSU used in 2005, when Michael Robinson was a true running threat, gaining 806 yards and scoring 11 TDs on the ground. A mobile quarterback ought to help keep opposing safeties honest and make life easier for State's talented wideouts. The key for Newsome this summer is to continue to get in sync with the receivers. The focus in preseason camp will be on developing better pocket presence.

You may be wondering how someone can be so solidly behind a player who completed 5 of 12 passes for 50 yards and carried four times for minus-12 yards in the Blue-White Game. I'll point out that three of those “carries” were actually down-by-contact sacks and the fourth was a late-game scramble. In short, Newsome was not playing the offense we will see in the fall, and the defense he was facing knew that and adjusted accordingly.

HARRINGTON: I was also on the “let's see what McGloin can do” bandwagon. However, I am not sold at this point that Newsome is the guy. I was impressed with Paul Jones, and not simply because he tossed two touchdown strikes, but because he showed good pocket presence and decent awareness. Jones also showed an impressive confidence. Sure, it's only the Blue-White game, but even stepping out onto the Beaver Stadium field in front of 50,000+ fans can shake the nerves of many a player.

Newsome could run in an “Spread HD”-type offense, but you can't discount Robinson's ability to deliver a ball consistently. Robinson certainly could run, but he also kept teams honest with the threat of the pass. Newsome's motion concerns me and he seemed to struggle with routes beyond 20 yards. When he did go deep his passes were on frozen ropes and didn't generally have “touch” on them; which is why fans consistently saw him overshooting open targets on out routes. Newsome has arm strength, but needs to improve his accuracy a bit. But he was whizzing balls with a flick of his wrist. If he can zero in on his delivery, watch out.

If I am a betting man I put my money on Newsome getting the starting nod given PSU's track record and tendencies. Clearly he seems to be a favorite of the coaches at this stage and has the athleticism, but I think he'll need to become even semi-multi-dimensional to help keep defenses from stacking the box and making him win with his arm. The good news is that he has a myriad of sizable targets that could create mismatches and help him develop a consistent intermediate passing game with players like Derek Moye, Justin Brown, Andrew Szczerba, Brett Brackett and Shawney Kersey.

What about Paul Jones, the early-enrollee freshman who threw the only TD passes in the spring game?

HARRINGTON: As I said previously Jones impressed me given that it was his first go-around in Beaver Stadium. I concede that he likely still needs time getting the playbook down and polishing up his game, but for a guy who has only been on campus for four months he certainly held his own. Personally I think he has a bright future ahead of him and a redshirt may make sense to separate him from Newsome and McGloin. However, I think he clearly showed he has an arm and needs to just get some more first-team work in.

BRENNAN: By the way, if you noticed, Jones was playing against the third-team defense on both of his scores. In fact, the offense ran the same play and he threw to the same receiver -- redshirt freshman Shawney Kersey -- who was just too fast for walk-on DB trying to cover him. Jones obviously has the tools to be a good quarterback. But he is not on par with Newsome and McGloin just yet.

One last note on the QBs: the criticisms of Robinson heading into his senior season and even after a few games were nearly identical to those Newsome is facing now. Prior to engineering “The Drive” in week four against Northwestern, he had completed 55 percent of his passes on the year for 8 TDs and 6 picks. He was 13 of 31 with three interceptions and four fumbles against the Wildcats before leading the game-winning drive. Where did Robinson finish in terms of accuracy that year? How does 52.1 percent sound? That was the worst figure by a PSU starter since Wally Richardson in 1996. But Robinson cut way down on his interceptions (finishing with 10).

The point is, Robinson was not a very accurate quarterback. But people remember him as being more precise than he was because -- in the last two-thirds of the season -- he avoided making game-changing mistakes. That'll be a key for Newsome, should he win the job.

How do you see things shaking down on the offensive line?

BRENNAN: The starting unit for the last couple of weeks of spring ball was, from left to right, Quinn Barham (tackle), DeOn'tae Pannell (guard), Doug Klopacz (center), Stefen Wisniewski (guard) and Lou Eliades (tackle).

I like that the staff kept the group together on the Blue team during the spring game, to help build all-important cohesiveness. But this still looks like a real work in progress. My guess is that right side of the line will remain intact in the preseason. Over on the left, I have to believe the very talented but (so far) very undependable Johnnie Troutman is going to factor into the mix. Whether that is at guard (with Pannell possibly moving over to center) or tackle (with Barham and Pannell each sliding over one spot) remains to be seen.

That is not a knock on the senior Klopacz at center. But, thinking long term, Eliades and Wisniewski are both in their final seasons of eligibility, so -- things being relatively equal -- going with a younger player at center would prevent the Lions from having to undergo another serious O-line overhaul heading into 2011.

HARRINGTON: I agree on PSU looking to a younger center. I was not sold the staff would keep Wisniewski at guard, but it looks like they like him there where he certainly excels. Troutman is too good to keep on the bench in my view and would add a lot to the interior of the line.

Pannell is intriguing at center and got some solid snap work in this spring, but center is a tall-order job that has a ton of responsibilities throughout the course of a game. I don't doubt Pannell has the physical prowess to handle the duties, but does he have the skills for the read and communication aspect of the role?

Klopacz has shown consistency in the middle, but the question is will the staff solve for the short or long term here? Right or wrong, I think they are squarely focused on 2010 and not worried about what the future needs are at this point.

What or who was the biggest surprise on offense during the spring?

HARRINGTON: We know Penn State's wideout situation ramped from dire to spectacular in short order a few years ago. It's amazing just how deep the unit has become and that is thanks in part to the young wideouts who showcased their skills this spring. We had heard postive spring practice reviews of wideouts like Kersey and Brandon Moseby-Felder, but the young wideouts on the whole came out to play.

The depth of this unit along with the multi-dimensional looks they have with speed (like Curtis Drake, Devon Smith and Kersey) and size (like Derek Moye, Graham Zug and Brown) make this an exciting aspect of the team to watch heading into 2010. This could also play a huge supporting role in helping to develop the game and confidence of whichever young quarterback who gets the starting nod.

BRENNAN: I did not realize how deep Penn State was at tailback. Even with veteran Evan Royster seeing limited reps (because he doesn't need them) and Brandon Beachum missing all workouts (recovering from an ACL injury), State still was loaded at running back.

Junior Stephfon Green set out to prove he was durable in the spring and did just that. He emerged from the drills completely healthy. We already know what he bring to the table athletically. Redshirt freshman Curtis Dukes is big and fast. Early enrollee Silas Redd is super quick and has great vision. Even Old Dominion transfer Hykeem Brodie impressed, running with a nice combination of speed and power.

Besides quarterback and offensive line, which we've already discussed, what is your biggest positional concern for the offense?

BRENNAN: PSU is obviously loaded at wideout and tailback. Fullback is another matter, though. I know that is not a focal point of the offense any more. But having only one experience, reliable fullback (Joe Suhey) playing at the end of spring ball had to be a concern. Redshirt sophomore Michael Zordich was supposed to provide support for Suhey -- or even push him for the first-team job -- but he was knocked out of action after his second off-field incident in less than a year. I have no doubt he'll be with the team next season provided he stays out of trouble until then. But you have to believe his climb out of Joe Paterno's doghouse is going to be an arduous one. This has opened up a huge window of opportunity for freshman Zach Zwinak, who is set to arrive this summer.

HARRINGTON: I think tight end is a major point of concern. Losing two tight ends in the NFL draft in Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler, PSU is looking to rebuild the position with young prospects Andrew Szczerba, Garry Gilliam and possibly true freshman Kevin Haplea. Szczerba saw primarily clean-up time in 11 games in 2009, when he had exactly one catch for six yards.

Making up for the combined 52 catches for 625 yards and five touchdowns between Quarless and Shuler will be no small feat for the young tight ends.

Which offensive player do you see making the strongest push for All-America honors?

HARRINGTON: My choice is Evan Royster. Sure he's not the glamorous back or the big bruising workhorse who generally catches the eye of the talking heads or award voters. However, if he manages to have a consistent, healthy season and break Penn State's all-time career rushing mark that should translate into significant national press. He needs 419 yards this year to break the record and over his first three seasons has averaged 993 yards, so we'll see.

BRENNAN: I'll take a chance here and say junior receiver Derek Moye. Though he'll be relying on a new QB to get him the ball, Moye has great size and speed, and has really improved his strength. He caught a team-high 48 passes and scored six TDs last season, averaging better than 16 yards per catch, and you really got the sense he was only scratching the surface of his ability. Moye had a knack for the spectacular last season. If he becomes more consistent on normal plays, he will have a monster year.

With captain Daryll Clark gone, who do you see stepping into the leadership role(s) on offense?

BRENNAN: To me, this is the most serious area of concern on offense. During interviews in the week leading up to the spring game, the players themselves admitted there is no single person taking up the leadership reins. Rather, it is a group effort, they explained. That set off alarm bells for me. Usually, when everyone is being relied on for leadership, that means nobody has stepped up as a real leader.

Though primed to become PSU's all-time leading rusher, Royster wasn't even available to be interviewed prior to the Blue-White Game, which tells you something about his willingness to be the or even a face of the program.

Wideout Brett Brackett probably has the best leadership skills on the team right now. But he has his hands full fighting for playing time, and it is difficult to be a vocal presence in the huddle when you are not on the field for the majority of plays.

The two best candidates to emerge in this role are:

1). Wisniewski, who is now a senior, but -- after playing alongside A.Q. Shipley, Rich Ohrnberger, Gerald Cadogan and Dennis Landolt in the past -- is being looked to as THE guy on the line for the first time this season. The Academic All-American has the smarts to pull it off. But does he have that in-your-face personality?

2). Moye. Until this season, he was worried about getting comfortable with his role in the offense. Now he is established. Moye is intelligent, is not afraid to show some emotion on the field and already has a strong resume.

HARRINGTON: I think we will see more individual unit leadership than overall offensive leadership. For the offensive line I certainly agree with Wisniewski as the front man. I also think you'll see Moye and Zug take charge of the wideouts. In terms of other names, I would not count out Newsome. Practice observers say he is a natural leader and he has great charisma. Another guy who may not make the biggest impact on the field, but has shown to be a take-charge type is Brackett. I think we'll see Brackett help to direct the offense and pull the unit together as well.


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