Anyone who remotely follows the Nittany Lions can tell you we lost a lot of talent on defense after the 2005 season. Three starters on the defensive line and the entire backfield are gone including 1st round draft pick Tamba Hali and shutdown corner Alan Zemitis. Replacing these players is one of Penn State's biggest question marks going into 2006. But there's good news coming out of the preseason practice. Apparently, the coaches aren't worried.
On the defensive line, three positions are set with the return of Jay Alford and Ed Johnson to anchor the DT spots. Jim Shaw has one DE spot nailed down, but the other one is reportedly up for grabs with sophomore Josh Gaines in the lead, but apparently freshman Jared Odrick is quickly making a name for himself.
The comments about his play have pointed squarely to his motor. "The coaches love his style of play, he doesn't quit -- no matter if it's a sprint, agility drill or 1v1 set, the guy pushes through it every time and never gives up," an observer explained.
The "beast," as he's been described, is in great physical shape and "has impressive endurance." Odrick has seen the bulk of his reps through this past week's practice with the defensive ends, a position which needs to see players step up. "Jared has shown a lot in the first week," one observer shared. "He sets a good base, he has the right attitude, he just needs to work on coming out of his stance more cleanly and using his hands more effectively -- the foundation is there, though."
At corner, Tony Davis figures to see a lot of throws come his way as opponents will test him before trying their hand with VHT Justin King. But there is reason for optimism there too.
His overall package of coverage skills improved greatly in the off-season thanks to his work with receivers like Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood.
Davis has good backpeddle skills and a smooth transition into his route-running. His focus this preseason is on knowing where to "play the line" in order to read shifts and motion plays. He is a "smooth runner" who "plays tough" and has the potential to be "an outstanding corner with some work."
At hero back, sophomore Spencer Ridenhour is impressing his teammates and coaches with his agressive play.
Although he has good speed and aggression, his preseason focus is on his read-react skills and tackling trechnique. "Spence needs to wrap up ball carriers more consistently -- he's got to set his whole body on takedowns and not just depend on his arms."
Ridenhour's most significant asset may be his mental approach -- "he plays crazy," an observer explained. "He's like [Sean] Lee -- he intimidates guys -- some of them think he is nuts because he is so aggressive. It's a weapon for him."
This is promising news for those of us worried the defense will not be ready for the week two matchup against Notre Dame.