Would it really be summer in Happy Valley without a little depth chart prognostication? I don't think so.
Jeff is going to dive into the offense with
Wednesday's Thursday's companion post to this one. Today we'll touch on the defense. Will everything be exactly correct, matching what you'll read on the premium message boards? Of course not. The main reason for that is because I'm not telling you what the depth chart is right now, or even what it will be eventually.
In this post, I'm going to take the best educated guesses I can as to how each position should shake out by the time we see this team take the field. So take a chill pill before you go screaming "OMGZTHAT'S NOT RIGHT!"
|Starters||Eric Latimore||Devon Still||Jordan Hill||Jack Crawford|
|Primary Backups||Sean Stanley||James Terry||DaQuan Jones||CJ Olaniyan|
|Reserves||Kyle Baublitz||Evan Hailes||Mikel Berry||Deion Barnes or Shawn Oakman|
This unit was devastated last season by injuries, going without two of its most experienced defensive ends--Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore--for huge chunks of the schedule. Compounding the issue was Sean Stanley's behavioral mishaps that caused him to miss a few games. Naturally, that led to the defensive line playing younger and less-talented players. That's not an insult, otherwise they would have been in the starting lineup, no? Now, to this year.
The starters look to be back at 100 percent. Hopefully they can stay that way. Crawford and Latimore are the obvious starters going into fall camp. This group would have been dynamite had Pete Massaro not torn his ACL in the spring. The loss of Massaro will sting a lot, but how much depends on the backups. This is a theme you'll see throughout today's post.
Defensive tackle might be a little better set than the ends, but the loss of Ollie Ogbu leaves one spot open. Now, we were saying the same thing before last year after Jared Odrick graduated. Maybe it won't be so bad, particularly since Devon Still developed nicely into a full-time starter last season, and Jordan Hill will have a year of significant playing time under his belt. Behind them, the James Terry and DaQuan Jones were very raw in 2010. I really like the reliability of Terry against the run, while Jones has pure athleticism. It would be nice to finally see Evan Hailes on the field this season.
As for the freshmen, like Shawn Oakman, Deion Barnes and Jordan Kerner, we'll have to wait and see which one(s) break through to the rotation during fall camp. But I'd bet at least two of them play in 2011.
|Starters||Gerald Hodges||Michael Mauti||Nate Stupar|
|Primary Backups||Mike Hull||Glenn Carson||Khairi Fortt|
|Reserves||Dakota Royer||???||James Van Fleet|
It's really weird that I can't think of who the third middle linebacker will be this fall. Last season, there were at least four guys who could have played the position. But Chris Colasanti is gone. And Mike Yancich was moved to tight end to mitigate the injury issues there. So that leaves us with Mauti as the very obvious starter (and captain candidate?), with Carson his very obvious backup. But who's in reserve? Penn State has been overloaded at linebacker the past few seasons, but this year, one of the spots might have been flushed out a little too much. We'll see where this goes. Regardless, I'm comfortable with the situation at middle linebacker, even if it's just these two guys.
The outside spots are the opposite of the 'Backer lineup. Hull could likely start for more than half the Big Ten defenses, but he'll be behind Hodges this year. Can they possibly split time with Hodges? Yes, but not much. Royer is a defensive end with a linebacker's body. He might get some time as a stand-up defensive end, but that's just one of those spring/summer experiments that we hear about every year. Still, it could happen.
The Fritz linebacker spot has two guys that are remarkably equal in terms of what they bring to the field. Stupar has been a fantastically consistent linebacker for Penn State the last three seasons. He's earned the position, and not because he's a senior this year. Stupar proves his value on the field. But Fortt was sharing time with him in the spring, and definitely has more raw talent than Stupar. Fortt is going to be a true sophomore this fall, but he's about equal with a redshirt senior. I can't talk about the linebackers without mentioning my favorite backup on the team, Van Fleet. It's almost a travesty that this kid hasn't gotten a scholarship yet. He's worked ridiculously hard on special teams and in limited time on defense. Van Fleet scored the game-changing punt block touchdown against Indiana last season.
|Starters||D'Anton Lynn||Nick Sukay||Drew Astorino||Stephon Morris|
|Primary Backups||Derrick Thomas
||Malcolm Wilis||Adrian Amos||Chaz Powell|
|Reserves||Mike Wallace||Jacob Fagnano||Stephen Obeng-Agyapong||Alex Kenney|
It's time to worry about the defensive secondary... in 2012.
This year, though, it's time to get excited. Lynn, Sukay, Morris, Powell and Astorino are all veterans who are very gifted at what they can do together on the field. There's not much to analyze with Lynn, Sukay or Astorino. But it's interesting to see how the other corner spot--the one being fought over by Powell and Morris--has been developing the past few months.
Morris has the flash, but is still honing his skills as a cornerback. He still gets beat occasionally, while regressing a bit last season in his tackling abilities. I do like his chances of locking down the starting role this year, or at least splitting equal time with Powell. Powell, on the other hand, is the guy who hasn't been allowed to settle in anywhere on this team. The coaches had him go from defense to offense, back to defense then offense again, and now finally is stable on defense. He's a really good athlete, who deserves his chance to hunker down and play one position.
The big question mark here is Thomas. He's supposedly back and in good standing with the team. But we know that doesn't mean much when it comes to getting time on the field before one team is up by four touchdowns. Thomas is a great prospect who was able to play right away last season as a freshman. I'd love for him to get time this year as the fourth corner, mostly on 3-CB nickel packages.
Willis started the second half of the season, playing really well down the stretch. I wouldn't be surprised if he is the first safety in line to take the field when Penn State goes with its 3-Safety nickel package.
The rest are what they are. Adrian Amos will be a true freshman, but with the lack of quality depth, he could very well see time early on special teams and in mop-up mode against the Indiana States and Eastern Michigans. And Alex Kenney is listed as a corner on the official roster. I've been calling him a corner for months now. It would make sense for him to start out there until the situation gets fixed lower on the depth chart.
Stay tuned for Jeff's look inside Penn State's offensive depth chart.
[**Damn right I'm going to use my own photos when I can. I didn't do all that work last season for nothing.]