With Jimmy Kennedy, Michael Haynes and Anthony Adams off to the NFL, who do you see stepping up on the defensive line? In particular, what does the one returning starter, John Bronson, bring to the table?
Bronson is a very big and well proportioned defensive end. He's physically very strong. Bronson was coming on late last season and I have absolutely no reservations about him at all. He might not do exactly what Michael Haynes did last fall (play at first round draft pick level), but he'll be pretty good. The other defensive end spot will probably be just as good. Jonathan, we actually have the best overall depth of personnel that we have had here in years. The other end spot will feature a trio of players. Sam Ruhe, coming off an injury, looked good, but not great, two years ago and was Ohio Division 5 player of the year in high school. Matt Rice is a 6-6, 265-pound kid who will be a redshirt sophomore this year. He's physically very gifted, very strong. Lavon Chisley is a 6-7, 270-pound kid with very long arms. He's fast enough to play linebacker and we used him to drop back on zone blitzes last fall. he played wide receiver in high school if you can believe that.
At defensive tackle we have a number of very special, if unproven, players. One of the two guys that will probably start is 6-6, 310-pound Levi Brown, a very athletic kid for his size. Brown looks like he's 25 already. Levi is better at this stage than Jimmy Kennedy was—keep in mind, Kennedy was overweight for three years at Penn State. Levi will eventually be a big time player in this league. Hard to say how good he'll be this year though. Brown had 30 offers in high school and played in the national high school all star game with both Tamba Hali and Jason Alford, and with your defensive tackle Anttaj Hawthorne. Tamba Hali played last year as a true freshman. He and Jason Alford are two New Jersey kids who were offered by just about everyone. Miami, FSU, Ohio State, Michigan, you name it, they offered these guys. Hali is 6-2 and maybe 280 pounds. We are trying to bulk him up right now. He is cat quick for a DT. Alford is 6-5 and maybe 280 pounds. He too is exceptionally quick. We have another redshirt freshman this year named Ed Johnson who was rated the No. 4 player in Michigan when he came out. He too is in the 6-3 280-pound range. These guys are all very quick. We are concerned about size at the tackle spot. Brown can stuff the middle, but can the others handle your big guards for example? We don't know yet.
How would you assess the Nittany Lions kicking game?
Very good here. We have a kid in Dave Kimball who puts 80 percent of his kickoffs thru the end zone. Robbie Gould is a good field goal kicker. Redshirt freshman Jeremy Kapinos was hitting some high punts that came down 50 yards beyond the line of scrimmage in the spring game so he looks good to go.
What do you see as the biggest questions for Penn State heading into camp?
In no particular order: Getting the new offensive line to gel. Timing and team work are critical elements to fielding a good line, we don't know if we have that just yet.
Mills' shoulder injury. How quickly will a tailback emerge? Which second receiver will make the tough catch when you need a first down?
Can the lighter defensive tackles plug the run? If not, how well will our linebackers play fighting off combination blocks? Who will emerge opposite Richard Gardner at the other corner spot? By the way that will either be redshirt freshman Maurice Humphrey or redshirt sophomore Allen Zemaitis.
Finally, I know it is early, but I have to put you on the spot. Where do you think Penn State will finish in the Big Ten this season and what will be the Nittany Lions final record?
I hate this kind of question as I know I stand a very good chance of being wrong no matter what I say.
We don't play Michigan this year. I think Iowa will fall back to earth to some degree. Wisconsin should be better this fall. Ohio State is just loaded. Purdue has a lot going for them. Those teams and Penn State are the best teams in the league. We play four games against the other top teams I just named, and we play Illinois, MSU, Indiana, and Northwestern.
I fully expect us to beat Illinois, MSU, Indiana and Northwestern. I think we should beat Iowa, but I have said that before and been burned as we have lost three very close games - two in OT - to the Hawkeyes. If we split those four we will go 6-2, so that's what I'm going with.
Out of conference we have Temple, Boston College, Nebraska (which is down), and Kent State. We have three wins there. The Nebraska game is in Lincoln and, even though they are down, I'll call that a loss. So mark me down for 3-1 out of conference and 9-3 overall.
If we beat Nebraska in Lincoln, with a healthy Zack Mills, then things can get interesting.