The 2011 season starts today. I know that may seem odd, especially with the yet to be announced bowl game looming (hopefully on January 1), but the foundation for the 2011 season will be set during these bowl practices and continue on into the Spring.
Playing in a bowl game is not the honor it once was. In today's bowl landscape, if you are 6-6, chances are you are going bowling. If you believe a 6-6 team should be bowling is a discussion for another day. We are hear to talk about practice (man).
Most teams use bowl practice to prep for the following season. It's during these practices that players will switch positions, either on a permanent or temporary basis, in preparation for the following season. Penn State struggled to a 7-5 record this season. The number one culprit was the defense. It's been touched on all year long. The defensive line can't get consistent pressure on the QB. The linebackers are a step slow (no matter which direction they were going), and the defensive backs are inconsistent and don't create turnovers.
Much has been made of Penn State's 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes. We've already seen members of the 2009 class show what they can do (Curtis Drake, Devon Smith, Stephon Morris - the 2009 version, Sean Stanley, Malcolm Willis, Justin Brown) and some of the 2010 kids (Silas Redd, Robert Bolden, Khairi Fortt). Well it will be during these four weeks that the redshirted kids of 2010 and the 2009 backups get an opportunity (their first of three) to crack the two deep for next season.
Five Players Penn State needs to step up during bowl practice:
1. Robert Bolden - QB: Bolden became the first true freshman to start a season opener during the Joe Paterno area. Fans were excited that the coaches were going to play the "best option", regardless of their age. Bolden had an up and down season, and though he did show promise, he also showed he needed to improve his decision making (7 INTs). It's easy to forget that he walked off his high school graduation stage in June and onto Penn State's campus - no spring workouts, no time in the weight program, minimal exposure to the playbook. Bolden showed he has the physical tools and, thanks to the local and national media, poise. Plugging in Bolden for a series or two during the final games would have been a mistake. These bowl practices are his first real chance to regain his starting position. Put will Mr. Moxie himself (McGloin) let him.
2. Kevin Newsome - QB?: When Newsome committed in 2008, fans rejoiced. The loss of Pat Devlin stung, but the highly touted, but raw Newsome would fill in our QB hole. Most assumed he would sit behind Daryll Clark and then assume the starting spot in 2010. Well that didn't happen, not even close. Newsome is an outstanding runner, but as a passer, his mechanics, field vision, and pocket patience leave much to be desired. With the emergence of Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin, Newsome quickly fell to third on the depth chart. And with Paul Jones coming off his redshirt season, third can quickly turn to fourth. So what does Penn State do with Newsome? Because of the depth at his current position, many fans think Newsome will take the Devlin and Jeff Hostetler route and transfer to another school. Another option, if Newsome wishes to remain a Nittany Lion would be a position change. Newsome has great size (6-2, 220) and speed, which makes a position change possible. Penn State is stacked at WR and RB, but CB, S, or LB could be an option. A dark-horse position would be defensive end, ala Brad Scioli (converted QB to TE to DE). Newsome still has a redshirt season to use. He could take that time to bulk up or learn his new position.
3. Mike Hull - LB: Penn State has been spoiled with athletic, instinctive linebackers. 2010 showed we do recruit mortals every once in a while. Chris Colasanti was a great kid, waited his turn, and kept his nose clean. Being a hard worker is great, but Chris was a step slow and not nearly as quick as diagnosing a play as a MLB needs to be. Hull took his redshirt in 2010, and I hope he ate plenty of protein and carbs to bulk up his 211lb frame. Hull could potentially provide the speed necessary to eliminate any black holes in the middle of our defense, especially on passing situations. Hull should start tackling Cutis Dukes early and often, especially if he is going to have any chance of stopping Alabama's Trent Richardson (something Penn State didn't do so well with in 2010).
4. Evan Hailes - DT: Halies has been a BSD favorite ever since this video hit youtube:
Hailes, already listed at 307lbs, took his redshirt season in 2010 to turn some of that baby fat into pure Larry Johnson, Sr man muscle. The defensive line was pretty lackluster all season long. Ollie Ogbu struggled to be "the man" without Jared Odrick taking on the double teams. Devon Still had his moments, but was not consistent enough in his first year of real playing time. Hailes will have to work his way into the rotation, which shouldn't be a problem considering the lack of success the defense had in 2010. Halies needs to show enough promise in the winter to prove to the coaches he can be relied on next season.
5. Miles Dieffenbach - C: Penn State will again be rebuilding their offensive line in 2010. The entire right side of the line and center are finished at Penn State. Doug Klopacz was serviceable at center, regardless of the vomit inducing tattoos on his left arm. Dieffenbach will battle Ty Howle for the vacated Klopacz spot. Miles has the desired size (6-3, 290) and was heavily recruited out of the Pittsburgh area. Penn State hasn't had a freshman anchor the offensive line since Joe Iorio did it as a true freshman walk-on in 1999. Dieffenbach and company will need to be firing on all cylinders from day one, especially with a question mark at QB. Silas Redd is a different type of runner then Evan Royster. He has more moves then Brandon Ware at the Old Country Buffett and his running style will allow the offensive line to get away with things they weren't able to with Royster at RB.