Today is the start of Penn State's spring practice. To the college football junkie this is like taking a whiff of second hand smoke off the crack pipe. It's a time for hope and debate, but nothing gets settled on the field and at the end of the 15 allotted practices you just find yourself wanting more. Hopefully, if Joe Paterno woke up in a good mood today, we'll get a press conference this afternoon and a lot of our questions will be answered. But don't count on it. With Joe's future and contract situation up in the air and half the defense residing in the doghouse I suspect the program will be on lockdown until opening day. And if we do get a press conference I'm sure every question will be answered with some version of "Aw heck, I dunno guys."
So since spring practice is always full of more questions than answers, here are the five biggest questions BSD sees on the board this year in no particular order.
What is the linebacker situation?
In 2006 Paul Posluszny moved from outside linebacker to the middle. In 2007 Dan Connor made the switch to middle linebacker. Could it be Sean Lee's turn in 2008?
The idea is floating around out there, but nobody can confirm or deny it. You need a strong leader in the middle who can diagnose plays and call them out to the defense. Lee certainly fits this bill, but the question is would he be best suited there? And who would replace him on the outside?
Tyrell Sales and Navorro Bowman are both in Paterno's doghouse which puts us a little bit thin on experience if they don't play. We have a ton of young talent with Nate Stupar, Andrew Dailey, Mike Zordich, and Mike Mauti, but only Josh Hull and Bani Gbadyu have any experience. On the inside we have Chris Colasanti who cracked the two deep lineup late last year and saw considerable playing time. Everyone agrees he has the football smarts and the athletic ability to make a major contribution this year. So I'm thinking it makes sense to leave Lee on the outside and name Colasanti the starter on the inside. Josh Hull played admirably last year when Sales and Bowman both went down, so I'm completely comfortable with him on the field. I think this gives us the best set of linebackers we can get on the field until Bowman comes back.
Who is going to step up to provide depth in the secondary?
Justin King is gone. Knowledge Timmons and Willie Harriott can't seem to stay out of the doghouse. That means A.J. Wallace is now the man responsible for stopping the opponent's best receiver. Lydell Sargeant will play the opposite corner after starting most of last year before losing his job to Wallace. But who will claim the #2 spots behing these guys? And who will play the nickel? Devin Fentress? Drew Astorino? Don't be surprised to see true freshman D'Anton Lynn seeing considerable playing time early. I almost wish we still had Brendan Perretta hanging around. Almost.
The situation at safety isn't much better. Anthony Scirrotto is locked in as a starter at Hero. Tony Davis will most likely line up at free safety, but he has trouble staying healthy. He platooned there with Mark Rubin last year. Rubin is a converted wide receiver. He's a good hitter and tackler, but I question his top end and change of direction speeds. All three of these guys are seniors playing in their final year. So somebody needs to step up as credible backups this spring.
By all accounts redshirt freshman Nick Sukay is making decent strides behind Scirrotto. This will be an important spring for him to establish his place in the pecking order. At the other safety all eyes will be on redshirt freshman Chaz Powell. But I suspect we'll see a few more bodies moved over to the secondary from the offense to boost depth.
How's that rehab coming?
Penn State was ravished by injuries last year. Devon Still had to have reconstructive knee surgery before the season started. Jared Odrick had his season end prematurely on a broken ankle against Indiana. Jerome Hayes went down with an ACL tear. Lou Eliades sat out most of the year with a foot injury.
Chimaeze Okoli Quinn Barham suffered a season ending broken ankle on the scout team. (Ed. note - My bad!) Tom McEowen suffered a knee injury last spring and was never 100%. All of these guys will be counted on to come back and make major contributions in 2008. It's important they do so. And it's important we not beat ourselves up too much this spring and emerge as healthy as possible.
Who will claim the #2 running back spot?
Evan Royster is the odds on favorite to win the starting job after an impressive freshman year where he carried the ball 82 times for 513 yards and 5 TD in backing up Rodney Kinlaw. But you have to question his durability after sitting out a few games with nagging injuries like thigh bruises and ankle sprains. That's why it's important that someone step up as a viable second option to rest Royster and keep him fresh.
Brent Carter appears the logical choice. He was called in to duty against Michigan State when both Kinlaw and Royster went down. On the final drive he carried the ball three times for 23 yards before Jay Paterno and Anthony Morelli decided we needed to take the ball away from him and try to throw it into the endzone. It probably cost us the game. Not that I'm bitter or anything. Ok, maybe I'm still a little bit bitter. The point is that Carter looked good in the role.
But keep an eye out for Stephfon Green. The former high school track star reportedly lit up the first team defense in his time on the scout team last year. The coaches thought long and hard about burning his redshirt last year when Austin Scott was suspended and the injuries to Kinlaw and Royster started to pile up. But when it became obvious that 2007 was going to be a disappointing year they decided to build for the future instead of risking injury to the freshman. Now he's had an off season to grasp the play book and put on some pounds in the weight room. Look for Green to make an immediate impact in 2008.
What was the other thing again?
Help me out here. There was one other thing. What was it? Dammit. I hate when I can't remember things. Oh yeah. That's right. The QUARTERBACK SITUATION.
This spring should feature our first open quarterback competition in nearly a decade (we're not calling it a "quarterback controversy" yet). Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin will be fighting it out to replace Anthony Morelli at the helm.
Clark served as the backup last year completing 6-of-9 passes for 31 yards. He's a dual threat quarterback as he proved in the Alamo Bowl rushing 6 times for 50 yards and a touchdown. He's a thick player standing 6'2" and 232 lbs in the mold of Michael Robinson. But some say he lacks the speed to be an electrifying homerun threat like a Michael Vick or Steve Slaton. What observers say is Clark's real strength is his presence in the huddle and command of the team. But then the observers said the same thing about Anthony Morelli too. Though this time the confidence doesn't seem as fabricated to me.
Pat Devlin was a high school phenomenon in southeastern Pennsylvania where he set state records for passing. Angels blew their trumpets in central Pennsylvania the day he decommitted from Miami to play for Penn State. But then we all know what happened the last time the Nittany Lions got the best quarterback prospect in the state. So, yeah. Thus far Devlin has been quietly lurking on the sidelines much like Morelli did his first two years. He has one career pass attempt that fell harmlessly to the turf against Florida International. Other than that nobody has seen him do anything other than hand the ball off to Brent Carter against Temple. But the ever suspicious "internet rumors" suggest he's got a cannon arm and clearly throws the ball better than Clark.
So the main question becomes which guy is better suited for Jay Paterno's new "Spread HD" offense? Question 1a is how come these guys didn't see more playing time last year? How great can these guys be if they couldn't push Morelli for playing time? If Clark is a natural leader and Pat Devlin could hit a pimple on Charlie Weis' ass from 80 yards away, why were we forced to ride the Morelli train right over the cliff? It's becoming a real pet peeve of mine how Jay Paterno and this coaching staff repeatedly refuse to develop these quarterbacks before they are named the starters.
It should be an interesting spring as always.