Amidst all of the hoopla of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the Women's NCAA Basketball Tournament, and the Penn State wrestling team bringing home the national championship this past weekend, there was another event that occurred that went rather unnoticed. For the first time in months the Penn State football team got together and went through some organized drills. Spring practice has arrived.
This is always an interesting time of year. By the very nature of the college game, every team has obstacles they need to overcome. Players graduate. Recruiting plans don't always work out. So everybody has holes to fill, and in most cases it's not exactly clear who is going to fill them.
This year all during spring practice we're going to highlight one player per day that has to step up this spring. These may be redshirt freshmen that haven't seen the field yet, or they may be journeyman seniors that have not been major contributors to this point. But in every case we'll outline what we think the play is capable of bringing to the field and why it is imperative they step up their game. Today I'll start with linebacker Gerald Hodges.
Hodges burst onto the Penn State scene immediately after he gave his verbal commitment in December 2008. One month late he was enrolled and taking classes on the Penn State campus. Penn State had just gotten wholloped by USC in Rose Bowl and everyone was talking about Taylor Mays, the Trojan's huge safety that was destroying wide receivers with his physical play. Many people were hoping Hodges could fill that role for the Nittany Lions whose own secondary had just been embarrassed.
Upon arriving on campus Hodges immediately drew high praise for his physical condition by program observers. Many people said he didn't "look like a freshman." He started out his career at safety, and saw immediate playing time on defense and special teams when the season began. But midway through the season a rash of injuries at the linebacker position forced the coaches to move Hodges to outside linebacker where he has played ever since.
Hodges didn't see much more playing time in 2009 as he adjusted to his new position. But in 2010 it was assumed he was a lock for a starting role as Penn State needed to fill all three starting linebacker positions due to the graduations of Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman, and Josh Hull. In the preseason the analysts of the Big Ten Network gushed over him as they took in a practice session. Expectations were high. Bani Gbadyu got the start over Hodges in the first week, but Hodges saw a lot of playing time and finished with 4 tackles and 1 TFL. It appeared it was just a matter of time until Hodges took over.
But then on the opening kickoff against Alabama in week two, Hodges suffered a broken leg that derailed his season. He returned against Minnesota after missing four games, but it was obvious the coaches were careful with him as he played back into shape.
This season Penn State has two linebacker vacancies to fill after losing Gbadyu and Chris Colasanti. Hodges should be 100% healthy now. He's not new to playing linebacker anymore, so he should understand his assignments. There are no more excuses. Gerald Hodges needs to step up.