Two practices in, and a million question marks to go until the 2012 season kicks off in September. But that doesn't mean it's too early to take a look at the depth chart, does it? Well, yea, it probably does, since we are just two practices into the year, the majority of the freshmen aren't on campus yet, and there is a brand new coaching staff in place. But we can make educated guesses, and begin to frame the discussions for the next five months.
Only scholarship players are listed; players like Derek Day and Pat Zerbe will see playing time, for sure, but it almost certainly won't be in a starting or even two-deep role. Additionally, the players are listed by seniority, not necessarily their current spot on the depth chart. Some roles are certainly filled despite Coach O'Brien's mandate that no one has a starting spot yet, so speculation is the fuel that will power the next few weeks as we learn more about the team under the new staff.
Matt McGloin (RS SR)
Rob Bolden (JR)
Paul Jones (RS SO)
Steven Bench (FR)
Notes: Having split snaps for the past two years, McGloin and Bolden are once again the top quarterbacks in the depth chart. Jones has been receiving praise out of practice, but he has struggled academically and has never played a snap at Penn State, which may be the bigger knock against him at this point, as both McGloin and Bolden have experience. Barring some unbelievable happenstance, Bench is all but guaranteed a redshirt.
McGloin has taken the majority of the first team snaps so far, but Bolden and Jones have each been given time with the ones. As has been stated before, Jones is really impressing folks with his raw play, but the team is still just scratching the surface of the offense. With the annual Coaches Clinic taking place this weekend, culminating in the first scrimmage of the year on Saturday, there should be more reports on how each of these guys performed. As of now, however, McGloin is probably the frontrunner for the starting gig.
Notes: Redd is the man, of this you know. He'll be on a number of awards' watchlists before the season, so the top end of the depth chart is solid. After him are a bunch of question marks, though. Dukes will be in his fourth year with little to show for it, and rumors are swirling about his future with the program - he'll sit out the spring to work on his academics. Belton was the surprise move of the offsason; he could likely be plugged into any position, but Coach O'Brien said that Belton will come out of the backfield in the new offense and has been seeing a good number of reps in practice thanks to Dukes' absence. Depending on how the next four months play out, Lynch may be forced into action as a freshman.
Notes: Here is where it starts to get tricky in depth charting a Bill O'Brien offense. The traditional Penn State fullback likely won't exist in the next offense, but that doesn't mean these types of players won't be utilized. O'Brien will be using an H-back, a fullback/tight end hybrid, so pass catching is as much a requisite as pass blocking. Unfortunately, the pass catching half of the two-headed fullback monster in 2011 is gone, but don't think that will slow Zordich down on short yardage, goal line, and special teams scenarios. Zwinak is coming off injury, but came to Penn State highly recruited, and Royer made the positional switch from DE/LB to add depth to the position. Royer was a decorated receiver in high school, so he isn't making this switch without merit. Depending on how the fullback is used, Zwinak could see time at running back, while Royer could see time at either of the tight end spots below.
Notes: Again, it's tricky to pin down a depth chart in the unknown Bill O'Brien offense. The man who oversaw a two-TE offense at New England will bring similar looks to Penn State, with the Y and F tight ends playing different roles in the offense. Whether or not these five guys will fit these two positions to Bill O'Brien standards remains to be seen, but the Y tight end is your blocking, across-the-middle type of player, while the F position is a TE/WR hybrid, a role that you can expect Adam Breneman to grow into in a few years. Gilliam and Haplea are each coming off injuries in the past couple of years, but each are the likely top dogs at each of the tight end spots (the larger Gilliam filling the Y role and Haplea being utilized as the F tight end), while the other three are unproven "rookies" without any collegiate snaps. Jesse James was an early enrollee and is apparently turning heads at spring workouts/practices.
Wide Receiver (12)
Justin Brown (SR)
Devon Smith (SR)
Shawney Kersey (RS JR)
Christian Kuntz (RS JR)
Brandon Moseby-Felder (RS JR)
Alex Kenney (RS SO)
Allen Robinson (SO)
Matt Zanellato (RS FR)
Malik Golden (FR)
Eugene Lewis (FR)
Jonathan Warner (FR)
Trevor Williams (FR)
Notes: At first glance, the first thing that stands out is the sheer number of receivers on the roster. Twelve receivers means each of the three expected positions can each go four-deep. However, it's a pretty safe bet, given the numbers here and lack of numbers in the secondary, that at least one of these guys will see a move. Additionally, only a couple of these guys (Devon Smith, Alex Kenney) can fill the Wes Welker role that many fans are excited for, so Coach O'Brien, as is the case with any new staff, will have to mold the offense around the personnel, for a couple of years at least.
Given the complicated offenses run in New England, it's tough to say how much Bill O'Brien will bring to Penn State. On any given play, the Patriots could put out a five WR, empty backfield set, or they could keep it close with a two tight end jumbo package. So it's tough to say what the base offense will look like, which makes it difficult to project a Penn State depth chart. However, for the purposes of this post, we'll assume the traditional two-wide, slot WR look will be the base offense for Penn State.
Justin Brown will have one side locked down, and with Devon Smith's current troubles, that's about all we know for sure. Shawney Kersey should have the other side to lose, but he's been less than impressive in his three years at Penn State. Rightfully back on the offensive side of the ball, Alex Kenney will benefit the most from Smith's legal issues, as he'll get a chance to prove his worth in the slot, and early reports suggest just that.
Behind that, Moseby-Felder, Kuntz, Robinson (who saw a surprising amount of action as a true freshman in 2011), and Zanellato will fill in accordingly behind the two-wide receivers. Of the true freshmen, Lewis has the highest upside, and thus has the best chance to contribute early, while Williams and Golden are the likeliest targets for a position swap.
Matt Stankiewitch (C) (RS SR)
Mike Farrell (T) (RS SR)
John Urschel (G) (RS JR)
Eric Shrive (G) (RS JR)
Ty Howle (C) (RS JR)
Adam Gress (G) (RS JR)
Frank Figueroa (C) (RS JR)
Nate Cadogan (T) (RS JR)
Mark Arcidiacono (G) (RS JR)
Khamrone Kolb (G) (RS SO)
Luke Graham (T) (RS SO)
Miles Dieffenbach (G) (RS SO)
Donovan Smith (T) (RS FR)
Ryan Nowicki (G) (RS FR)
Angelo Mangiro (G) (RS FR)
Anthony Alosi (T) (RS FR)
Anthony Stanko (G) (FR)
Wendy Laurent (OT) (FR)
Notes: Like the wide receivers, the first thing that jumps out (and something that Bill O'Brien specifically mentioned at his press conference on Monday) was the abnormal amount of scholarship linemen on the roster. In case you didn't count, 17 linemen will enter camp this fall, barring any transfers.
Though every spot will technically be up for grabs over the next five months, we can make educated guesses for at least the two-deep. Both starting tackles are gone from 2011, for better or worse, but each of Mike Farrell and Adam Gress saw action in at least six games, making them the favorites to take over the outside of the line. Gress specifically drew praise from Bill O'Brien at Monday's press conference. Behind them, Nate Cadogan and Donovan Smith are the likely replacements, with many fans excited about Smith's potential for the next four years.
Down the line, and like the tackle spot, both starters are gone from the guard positions. While Johnnie Troutman will be missed, it's tough to argue that whoever replaces DeOn'tae Pannell is anything but a step up. Seeing as how John Urschel saw action in 11 games at guard last year, most in replacement of Pannell, the right guard spot is likely his to lose. On the other side, Mark Arcidiacono is a top candidate, but he is battling injury at the moment. Miles Dieffenbach is a surprise name that has circulated as one of the top backups at guard. Diff was the third-string center last season, but played guard at Fox Chapel, so the position isn't foreign to the young man who came to PSU with high potential. Eric Shrive seems like he's been at Penn State for twenty years, but he's another name that will fight for the two-deep at guard.
The only returning starter from 2011, Matt Stankiewitch is the center to beat heading into camp. Behind him, once again, is Ty Howle, who handled the long snapping duties in 2011.
The remainder of the linemen will fill in where needed, but outside of a couple players, it will be tough to break into the two-deep.
Jared Odrick Devon Still Jordan Hill is ready for his year in the sun as the next big thing to come out of the interior of a Larry Johnson-coached defensive line. While Still was eating up blockers and working his way to first-round money, Hill quietly put together a solid junior season, registering 59 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Next to Hill, both DaQuan Jones and James Terry saw action in every Penn State contest in 2011, so it's safe to say you'll see them again this year. Jones will likely get the starting nod, but if we know one thing about Larry Johnson, it's that he loves him some rotation. The only other interior lineman with game experience is Evan Hailes, who is continuing to battle blood clot issues, and may be forced out of some spring practices for medical issues. Anthony Zettel gets bumped to the two-deep automatically, but if early reports are true, this was likely a matter of time, as Zettel is impressing many with his work ethic and motor.
Of the four freshmen, one or two may see action given the depth ahead of them. Gaia and Pollard were the highest rated of the four, but with the combination of Larry Johnson and strength coach Craig Fitzgerald, and of these four could be put into action. Hailes' health will play a major role in which, if any, freshmen see action.
Notes: Heading into 2011, it was Jack Crawford and Pete Massaro. After Massaro suffered another knee injury, it was Crawford and Eric Lattimore. By opening day, it was Crawford and Sean Stanley as the starting ends. Massaro, back once again for his final year, will step into Crawford's open spot and hold down the edge of the line with Stanley. Massaro, widely regarded as the team's best edge rusher, was sorely missed last year. Behind those two, Baublitz and Olaniyan will see plenty of reps. Baublitz played in all 13 games last year, and Olaniyan got into six contests. Barnes and Bars round out the three-deep, with Barnes turning heads in camp with his athleticism. Unfortunately, Kerner is recovering from a knee injury as well, and will ease back into things. The loss of Shawn Oakman hurts the depth a bit, but he was reportedly still in a very raw playing shape, both physically and mentally, so the loss isn't too great. Schwan will likely use his redshirt in 2012.
Notes: The three opening day starters return for the Nittany Lions in Mauti, Hodges, and Carson. Nate Stupar filled in admirably when Mauti went down with another knee injury, but his services have moved on. Journeyman Yancich has struggled to find a home his entire career, and can probably be put at the end of the three-deep for a number of positions. Fortt saw considerable action last year, and will likely be rotated into the lineup with regularity, especially if/when Ted Roof moves to an agressive scheme that requires more athleticism on the field. Hull has been a special teams guy for a couple of years, seeing sparse action at linebacker, but has reportedly come along well over those two years mentally, and should be poised for a more involved year. Kline should find a home in the two-deep based on sheer numbers, unless Wartman can come in and impress early. Either way, with only eight linebackers, five of which are in their last or second to last years of eligibility, getting the younger guys some playing time will be crucial. Any of Mauti, Hodges, Carson, and Fortt could be your opening day lineup.
Notes: Every starter from the 2011 secondary is gone, so it's time to reload the usually strong defensive backfield. Huh? Oh, right. Well, the days of Cover-3 are behind us, at least on a regular basis anyway. The Ted Roof defensive scheme will likely involve more man-cover, with aggressive corners at the line of scrimmage. Do any of the players that Roof inherited fit that role? Again, it's tough to say, so Roof may have to adapt for a couple of years until he gets his guys in the system.
Morris and Amos are the likely Game One starters, with Amos impressing many as a true freshman last year. He saw action in 12 games, even starting against Iowa when D'Anton Lynn was held out for medical reasons. Likewise, Morris started a couple of games and played regularly in the majority of them. Behind them is a whole mix of issues, unfortunately. Curtis Drake has made the switch from wide receiver to shore up some of the depth issues; Derrick Thomas has been in and out of so many doghouses that he doesn't really have a mailing address right now; Mike Wallace hasn't seen any meaningful action in three years; and DaQuan Davis is a true freshman. If Thomas can get his stuff together, he's probably your third (and maybe even second, if Morris can't get his tackling in order) cornerback. Drake could end up being a world-class cover man, but there is just no data on him, so it's tough to gauge his potential. Wallace and Davis are question marks - the former probably won't crack the two-deep, again, while the impressive freshman may be forced into early action.
Notes: Four safeties, including two freshmen? Well, this is going to be fun. By default, SOA (free) and Malcolm Willis (hero) are the starters, backed up in spring practice by Ham Sandwich and Traffic Cone. Luckily, Lucas has had a year of prep school, so he should be slightly closer to playing shape by the time he gets on campus, and Kiley fits into the two-deep automatically. To be honest, if Derrick Thomas can get his act together, it wouldn't surprise to see Adrian Amos, originally recruited as a safety, move to middle of the field, flanked by Thomas and Morris. Then again, the defensive backfield as a whole is in such a tight spot numberswise, nothing would really surprise anyone. This is also the one position where a walk-on (Ryan Keiser) may actually see some meaningful playing time.
As expected for a Penn State football team preview, the defensive front seven and running game are the clear strengths of this team. The quarterback position, for a third year in a row, is an unknown, while the secondary is a sparsely populated void that could really use some depth. On the opposite end of the spectrum, no less that 71 players will be vying for a spot on the offensive line, so anything less than quality production from these players will be a disappointment.
If you were keeping track of the numbers, Penn State will head into the fall with 83 players on scholarship. This allows Coach O'Brien a couple of free scholarships to give out to deserving players for one year. This practice has been used in the past, both at Penn State and around the country, rewarding hard-working players entering their last year with a scholarship (provided there are some available).
As the practices go on, and we get a better picture as to who is playing with what team, this depth chart will begin to take better shape. Hopefully by the Blue/White Intrasquad scrimmage in April we'll have a full picture of what the chart will look like in September. We'll cover these positions at least once more before the fall, so fret not...you'll see these analyses again (and again, and again).