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Big Ten Roundtable Springs Eternal

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Hear ye! Hear ye! The honorable host of this blog has called the Big Ten Bloggers to order and requested their presence to answer questions of his bidding. Watch the google feed on the sidebar to keep up to date with their responses. Next week I'll compile their answers into a single post with lots of links and stuff. Here are the questions with my take from the Penn State perspective.

I love spring. Flowers blooming. Birds chirping. Bones breaking. ACL's tearing. List the injuries your team sustained and describe their impact on 2008.

The loss of Sean Lee is devastating to our team. Any time you lose an All-American player that probably would have been on the short lists for the Lombardi, Bednarik, and Butkus awards it's a big loss. But the deeper impact to the Nittany Lions is that Sean Lee was the heart and soul of the defense. He was leader on a defense that features a lot of underclassmen. Thanks to decent recruiting in recent years we'll find a fast young stud to plug in without a problem, but nobody knows who is going to keep everyone focused on the field when things start to go bad.

Other than Lee, Penn State escaped the spring in pretty good health. A.J. Wallace lost some teeth while hot dogging it in one-on-one drills and not strapping his chin strap. He'll be fine after a few thousand dollars of dental surgery. Let that be a lesson to you young players out there. Jared Odrick is back from his broken ankle, and Jerome Hayes indicates he'll be recovered from his ACL tear in time for the season. So we came out in pretty good shape.

Break down the major position battles going on with your offense.

We're fortunate in that we only have to replace two starters, Anthony Morelli and Rodney Kinlaw. Junior Daryll Clark and Sophomore Pat Devlin are fighting it out for the quarterback position. Neither guy stepped up and claimed the job hands down during the spring, but both guys are looking very good. Clark is one of them there dual threat quarterbacks all the kids are raving about these days. Devlin is more of a traditional drop back passer, but he has good mobility and Penn State likes to use him in the rolling pockets as we saw in the Blue White game. Nittany Nation is pretty evenly split as everyone is taking sides in this battle, but personally I think we'll see both of them play and we'll be ok with either guy.

Replacing Rodney Kinlaw seemed a forgone conclusion after he looked impressive last season in rushing for over 500 yards as a freshman. But another redshirt freshman broke onto the scene this year with some electrifying runs during the spring scrimmage games. Stephfon Green is lightning in cleats, and he's going to get a lot of carries this year and take a lot of teams by surprise. Don't be surprised if Paterno keeps him under wraps until the Illinois game in week 5.

The other interesting position battle happened at right guard. Mike Lucian played well there last year, but true freshman Stefen Wisniewski got considerable playing time. This spring Wisniewski played so well the coaches couldn't ignore him any longer. The ever shady program "observers" say Wiz is the most fundamentally sound lineman on the team. The first team spot was given to Wiz, and Lucian has been moved to center to back up A.Q. Shipley.

You knew this was coming. Break down the major position battles on defense.

On paper you look at the starters you lost and think all we have to do is replace Dan Connor, Justin King, and the injured Sean Lee. But truthfully there are position battles going on all over the defense due to the coaches shuffling players around.

The defensive line features eight guys at defensive tackle that are probably good enough to start for any team in the Big Ten. Odrick, Ogbu, Koroma, Okoli, Still, and McEowen make a great rotation. If Chris Baker and Phil Taylor come back it's going to be sick. Penn State rotates their defensive linemen so these guys will all see playing time. We'll have fresh bodies in the middle the entire game.

We never really settled on a replacement for Paul Posluzney last year. After Dan Connor moved inside the vacated outside spot was a platoon of Navorro Bowman, Josh Hull, and Tyrell Sales. Bowman was held out of spring practice due to his legal issues. So it looked like our linebackers were going to be Lee, Hull, and Sales with Hull in the middle. Then Lee went down so we have another void to fill. The first team linebackers in the spring game were Hull, Sales, and Bani Gbadyu. But sophomore Chris Colasanti is too good to keep off the field. He's been pushing Josh Hull for playing time in the middle and may beat him out before the season is over. And if Bowman comes back he's going to push both Sales and Gbadyu, so the linebacker situation is still far from settled.

In the backfield we're pretty thin at corner with Justin King leaving and Knowledge Timmons on suspension. So this spring the coaches moved Tony Davis back to cornerback where he played in 2006 leaving the free safety spot to Mark Rubin. A.J. Wallace has one corner spot locked down, but Davis and Lydell Sargeant are going to fight for the other one. The loser will probably get put in the nickel slot, which is a very significant role in the Penn State defense as more teams go to the spread offense.

Who are the unknown kids on your team that will be household names come December?

It's getting harder to keep running back Stephfon Green under wraps. He's been running with the second team all through the spring and breaking off 40 and 50 yard runs against the first team defense. He gives Penn State the outside running threat we've been lacking the past few years. Royster is still the main man, but Green is going to get 10-15 carries per game.

If the Blue-White game is any indication then freshman tight end Andrew Szczerba is going to be a significant part of the offense. He's 6'7" tall and has great hands. He's got the speed to break down the seam and he can go up and pull down the ball.

On defense I'm looking for Chris Colasanti to have a breakout year. It seems like our great linebackers all breakout in their sophomore year. See Poz, Connor, and Lee. Colasanti broke into the two deep rotation toward the end of last year as a true freshman including seeing significant playing time against Ohio State.

How would you describe the general mood around your program? Are you gearing up the tailgate party for a conference title run or do you get the impression there are going to be a lot of empty seats in your stadium this year?

There is a wide range of emotions surrounding our fan base right now. Some believe we're a pathetic program and will continue to be that way until Joe leaves. They want a national championship and they want it now. Others think life is just Peachy Paterno and they are content to win eight or nine games and go to nice bowl games every year. But overall the mood for 2008 is pretty optimistic. We're returning a lot of players and we have a lot of young talent getting better. We think this is the year we'll end the streak against Michigan, but the way Ohio State completely dismantled us in Happy Valley last year has really demoralized us. We're pretty certain we're a few years away from being competitive with them. We think we have a chance to be the second best team in the league, but almost nobody thinks we stand a chance against Ohio State. The readers can correct me if I'm wrong.