Lost in all the publicity from the basketball team's NIT run, among other, uh, distractions, is the fact that the Penn State football team kicked off spring practice this Wednesday. They'll be be putting on the pads and sorting things out over the next few weeks until spring practice concludes with the Blue-White Game on April 25. So I guess we should probable devote some coverage to that. Here are the top five questions for the football team as I see them this spring.
Deon Butler, Derrick Williams, and Jordan Norwood leave Penn State as three of the most prolific receivers in Penn State history. They have been the most consistent part of the offense over the past four years. And now we have to replace all three of them at once.
This spring the most likely candidates to fill in the first team receiver roles are a walk on, a converted quarterback, a converted safety, and a sophomore that hasn't shown much to date. Graham Zug and Brett Bracket have shown good hands, but neither one of them possess elite speed. Chaz Powell has shown a good burst, but we haven't seen enough catches to determine if he has hands good enough to play receiver. Last year he mostly got the ball on end arounds, and you have to think he started as a safety for a reason.
Derek Moye has the most potential to be a play maker. He was a high school track star so you know he's fast. And he's got good size. This is a golden opportunity for him.
Of course later this summer when the freshmen come on board everything changes and guys like Justin Brown and Shawney Kersey may prove to be the next freshmen sensations.
All four starters from the Rose Bowl are gone leaving Penn State with huge questions in the last line of defense. A.J. Wallace gets one more shot to prove he was worthy of all those stars coming out of high school and will most likely lock up one of the starting cornerback spots. Drew Astorino looked impressive as the nickel back last season and has the inside track toward landing the free safety spot. After that it's anyone's guess. D'Anton Lynn, Knowledge Timmons, Andrew Dailey, Cedric Jefferies, Devin Fentress, and Nick Sukay are going to battle it out for the other two spots. Outside of Lynn who saw playing time last year as a true freshman, none of these guys have looked impressive during their Penn State careers. Many of the incoming freshmen like Stephon Morris, Gerald Hodges, and Malcolm Willis will have an excellent opportunity to see immediate playing time.
Though losing three All-Big Ten selections on the offensive line to graduation is normally a huge concern, I'm not overly concerned about Penn State's situation. Dennis Landolt should have the right tackle spot nailed down. Wisniewski is moving over to center and I fully expect him to make an outstanding field general. Deon'tae Pannell moved up to #2 on the depth chart behind Cadogen last year as a true freshman. That is highly impressive, so he should have the inside track at left tackle.
The two guard positions will be a battle between Jonnie Troutman, Matt Stankiewitch, Lou Eliades, J.B. Walton, and James Terry. I've heard good things abotu some of these guys and there is enough bodies to promote healthy competition. I think the offensive line will be ok this season, but it may take them some time to play well as a unit. Nailing down the starting five as soon as possible will be key so they can work on building that cohesion.
Penn State has to replace their top three defensive ends from last year. I'm sure the coaches expected to have Maybin and probably Evans back when they started recruiting last spring, so we got caught a bit behind the eight ball in recruiting without a ton of bodies to fill in.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say Jack Crawford will be the starting strong side defensive end. He's a freak of an athlete and saw playing time last season as a true freshman. His main competition will come from Eric Latimore, a lanky sophomore that has trouble staying healthy in his career.
The weakside end is the huge question. Right now there is Kevion Latham and a bunch of guys you never have and never will hear of. Look for Penn State to once again pluck someone from the overcrowded linebacker group and go with the standup defensive end like we ran with Tim Shaw back in 2006. Jerome Hayes is coming back but probably won't get much work this spring. Maybe Stupar and Mauti get bulked up and moved down.
This position has kind of been vacant for two years now since we had Poz, Connor, and Lee roaming the field all at the same time. Since 2006 the position has been a rotation of Ty Sales, Josh Hull, Mike Mauti, and Bani Gbadyu. This year it should be a fantastic battle to keep an eye on as Mauti, Stupar, and Mike Yancich will all fight it out to claim the spot. As I said before, look for whoever comes in second to hit the training table hard and get slid down to defensive end this fall due to the lack of depth there.
Other Position Battles of Note
Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin will compete to be Daryll Clark's backup. McGloin is going to have to really shine to beat him out though. Newsome has the higher flexibility and potential in the Spread HD offense, so the coaches are going to give him the nod if it's close just to give him more reps.
The place kicking job is also up for grabs. Anthony Fera, David Soldner and Colin Wagner will compete there.