Friday, December 9, 2011

The Very Early Sneak Peek at Penn State Football 2012

While all the news out of State College is related to the ongoing Sandusky scandal and its collateral outcomes, for many Nittany Lion football players the 2012 season begins now, during bowl preparation

Football coaches consider preparation for mediocre bowl games to be the start of the next season.

The additional practice time might be the best thing about the bowl game; teams that don't go to a bowl miss out on a few extra weeks of practices. A good month of practice and/or a strong performance on game day provide a springboard into the next season.

Did someone say next season? Well, the Nittany Lions don't even have a head coach for next season (the search continues ... ). And they're likely to have an entirely new coaching staff.

They're also likely to lose several committed recruits, and have more players transfer than usual this offseason due to the impending coaching change and Sandusky scandal (which, as long as Sandusky doesn't plead guilty and go away, will continue to be brutal front-page news).

And there's still the bowl game to play Jan. 2 vs. Houston (once everybody gets over the disappointment of getting a raw deal and stuck with the bottom-tier TicketCity Bowl). And then Signing Day, and spring football practice, and the spring game, and ...

Yes, there are a lot of things to be far more concerned with right now regarding Penn State football than the on-field personnel for next season.

But RFBS is taking a peek forward anyway.

For many up-and-comers who have played little, such as LB Mike Hull, DT Evan Hailes, DE C.J. Olaniyan and DB Adrian Amos - and all of the redshirting freshmen such as OLs Donovan Smith and Angelo Mangiro, and DEs Deion Barnes and Anthony Zettel - the 2012 season begins now. There is a lot of intriguing potential. And many question marks as 14 starters graduate.

(all stats from 2011 season unless otherwise noted)
Projected 2012 Penn State depth chart - OFFENSE

1. Paul Jones (So.)
2. Matt McGloin (Sr.)
3. Skyler Mornhinweg (true Fr.)
4. Shane McGregor (Sr.)
  • The skinny: No QBs graduated. Rob Bolden needs a fresh start and is likely to transfer. McGloin has underwhelmed in two years of significant playing time. Jones, who sat out this season to concentrate on academics, is entering his third spring at PSU and is a good bet to seize the starting job. If HS senior Mornhinweg honors his commitment to PSU, he could get a chance to play early.

1. Silas Redd (Jr.)
2. Curtis Dukes (Jr.)
3. Brandon Beachum (Sr.)
4. Derek Day (Sr.)
  • The skinny: Backup Stephfon Green graduated. This could be a huge position of strength next season, though PSU will need to sign a couple of RBs to offset the lack of depth. Perhaps WR Bill Belton could play RB in a pinch. Redd (1,188 yards, 5.2 avg, 7 TD) is an All-American candidate, Dukes looked good in a flash of action at midseason, and sadly Beachum once again must overcome a serious injury (broken leg) if he wants to return for his fifth year. Day, a walk-on, plays a lot on special teams.

1. Michael Zordich (Sr.)
2. Zach Zwinak (So.)
3. Andre Dupree (Jr.), Pat Zerbe (Jr.), P.J. Byers (Jr.)
  • The skinny: Co-starter Joe Suhey graduated. Zordich is a fiery team leader, special teams player and good blocker, but fumbles and dropped passes plagued him in 2011. Zwinak has been relatively nonexistent his first two seasons for a pretty big recruit. Unless he's overwhelmed or has off-field issues, he'll be the backup FB and play some. Zordich and Zwinak - the Z boys - should be special teams stalwarts as well. Dupree, Zerbe and Byers are walk-ons battling for backup duty.

1. Mike Farrell (Sr.)
1. Donovan Smith (RS Fr.)
2. Adam Gress (Jr.)
2. Nate Cadogan (Jr.)
3. Ryan Nowicki (RS Fr.)
3. Patrick Christie (So.)
  • The skinny: Starters Chima Okoli (RT) and Quinn Barham (LT) graduated. Farrell has looked good in spot duty at RT, but he has spent four seasons on the bench. Smith impressed right away as a true freshman and will have a shot at LT along with Cadogan and perhaps Gress, two veterans. Expect one or two other scholarship players to move to tackle, either from the defensive line or interior offensive live, and Nowicki could play guard. 

1. John Urschel (Jr.)
1. Eric Shrive (Jr.)
2. Angelo Mangiro (RS Fr.)
2. Mark Arcidiacono (Jr.)
3. Frank Figueroa (Jr.)
3. Khamrone Kolb (So.)
  • The skinny: Starters Johnnie Troutman (LG) and De'Onte Pannell (RG) graduated. Arcidiacono, Mangiro and Shrive, once a top recruit, all could be competing for the LG spot opposite Urschel at RG. Urschel has impressed in spot duty and along with Matt Stankiewitch, the returning starter at center, appears to be the most likely starter on the rebuilt offensive line. 

1. Matt Stankiewitch (Sr.)
2. Ty Howle (Jr.)
3. Miles Dieffenbach (So.)
  • The skinny: No starters graduated. One of the deeper positions on the team, with Stankiewitch starting the entire 2011 season and Howle very experienced as the long snapper. Dieffenbach was a highly regarded recruit and might get a crack at guard. 

1. Justin Brown (Sr.)
1. Curtis Drake (Jr.)
1. Shawney Kersey (Jr.)
2. Devon Smith (Sr.)
2. Brandon Moseby-Felder (Jr.)
2. Bill Belton (So.)
3. Allen Robinson (So.)
3. Matt Zanellato (RS Fr.)
3. Christian Kuntz (Jr.)
4. Ryan Scherer (Sr.)
4. Evan Lewis (Sr.)
  • The skinny: Starter Derek Moye graduated. Though the No. 1 receiver is departing, this is one of the deepest positions on the team, with several quality players deserving more targets than PSU's ineffective passing game has provided. Brown (34 catches, 448 yards) is not fast but he has big-time potential and one more year to prove he is an All-Big Ten caliber player. Drake finally should be fully recovered from his broken legs. Kersey has speed, size and hands but has languished on the bench in favor of Smith (23 catches, 353 yards). Belton, Moseby-Felder and Robinson all had limited opportunities in 2011 (combined 8 catches) but could crack the playing rotation.

1. Kevin Haplea (Jr.)
2. Garry Gilliam (Jr.)
3. Brian Irvin (Sr.), J.D. Mason (Sr.), Kyle Carter (RS Fr.)

  • The skinny: Starter Andrew Szczerba graduated. This position has degenerated since Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler departed after the 2009 season. Haplea and Gilliam have some talent and need to step up, and if anyone else would like to challenge them, great. Gilliam missed all of last season with a knee injury, and Haplea didn't do much as the backup to Szczerba in 2011. OT Nate Cadogan always could return to TE, and anyone buried on the DE depth chart could too.

Projected 2012 Penn State depth chart - DEFENSE

1. Sean Stanley (Sr.)
1. Pete Massaro (Sr.)
2. Deion Barnes (RS Fr.)
2. C.J. Olaniyan (So.) 
3. Kyle Baublitz (So.)
3. Brad Bars (So.)
4. Shawn Oakman (RS Fr.)
4. Jordan Kerner (RS Fr.)

  • The skinny: Starter Jack Crawford and co-starter Eric Latimore graduated. Stanley has a big-play knack (4.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles) and will start full-time if he takes care of business off the field, while the other starting spot (and the backup to Stanley), should be a battle between Massaro, Barnes and Olaniyan. Massaro's promising career was derailed by a second major injury (knee) and he missed 2011. Baublitz (6-5, 275) and Oakman (6-7, 260) have intriguing size, while Bars, at 226 pounds, ultimately could end up at LB.

1. Jordan Hill (Sr.)
1. DaQuan Jones (Jr.)
2. James Terry (Sr.)
2. Evan Hailes (So.)
3. Anthony Zettel (RS Fr.)
3. Anthony Alosi (RS Fr.)
3. Luke Graham (So.)
  • The skinny: Starter Devon Still graduated. It's an epic drop off from Big Ten defensive player of the year Still to Jones (7 tackles). But Jones is likely to share time with Hailes, Terry and perhaps Alosi and Zettel alongside Hill (in the position that booted-from-team Brandon Ware should have occupied in his senior season 2012). It will be tougher sledding at NT for the productive Hill (58 tackles, 8 for loss, 3 fumble recoveries), who is accustomed to defenses focusing on Still. PSU has commitments from numerous DLs, so reinforcements are coming, though they might not have much impact in 2012. And many commitments might bail out due to the Sandusky scandal and coaching change. Expect the defensive line performance to nose dive in 2012, despite the presence of Hill and Stanley, because DEs Crawford and Latimore, and especially DT Still, were a major physical presence.

1. Gerald Hodges (OLB - Sr.)
1. Michael Mauti (OLB - Sr.)
1. Glenn Carson (MLB - Jr.)
2. Khairi Fortt (Jr.)
2. Mike Hull (So.)
2. James Van Fleet (Sr.)
3. Michael Yancich (Sr.)
3. Ben Kline (RS Fr.)
3. Dakota Royer (So.)
  • The skinny: Starter Nate Stupar graduated. If Mauti comes back at close to 100 percent from his second ACL injury, this will be one of the best LB corps in America. Again. Same as every season since 2004. Fortt (31 tackles, 4 for loss) is just too good to be a backup, so he'll play a lot behind both Carson (74 tackles, 2 forced fumbles) and Mauti - unless he starts ahead of them. Hull also is an eventual first-rate player, though probably not until 2013. Hodges is the lead dog after a stellar, All-Big Ten 2011 season (team-high 97 tackles, 10 for loss, 4.5 sacks) but there's an outside chance he opts for the NFL draft this spring even though he doesn't turn 21 until January.  

1. Stephon Morris (Sr.)
1. Derrick Thomas (Jr.)
2. Alex Kenney (So.)
2. Mike Wallace (Jr.)
  • The skinny: Starters Chaz Powell and D'Anton Lynn graduated. Adrian Amos could move from CB - where he was so impressive in spot duty as a true freshman in 2011 - to safety for 2012. Which would ensure Morris gets his old starting position back, and he should play well. Thomas seemingly had a lifetime pass to JoePa's doghouse, but with Paterno gone he needs to seize the opportunity to fulfill his potential. Kenney and Wallace have been around awhile and will push for playing time, with both being prime possibilities in nickel and dime packages. Some true freshman also could get a chance to play in nickel and dime packages.

1. Adrian Amos (So.)
1. Malcolm Willis (Jr.)
2. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (Jr.)
2. Jacob Fagnano (Sr.)
3. Ryan Keiser (So.)

  • The skinny: Starters Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino graduated. Amos was not a particularly highly regarded recruit, but he was PSU's best freshman in 2011. With his size (6-0, 205) and instincts he could easily slide from cornerback to safety, where there seems to be more of a need. Willis has played well as a top backup and substitute starter the past two years, with 79 total tackles in 2010-11. A Willis-Amos tandem has mouth-watering potential if it survives some growing pains; the drop-off to the backups is significant.

Projected 2012 Penn State depth chart - SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Anthony Fera (Jr.)
2. Sam Ficken (So.)
3. Evan Lewis (Sr.)

1. Anthony Fera (Jr.)
2. Alex Butterworth (Jr.)

  • The skinny: No starters graduated. Fera is The Man for placements (14-17 FGs), punts (42.0 avg. ) and kickoffs (10 touchbacks) again in 2012. If he were to lose any of those jobs (or if the coaches did not want him doing them all), he most likely would cede punting - if Butterworth can continue developing and do better placing the ball inside the 15 yard line, or if the new coach employs rugby-style punting.

1. Ty Howle (Jr.)
2. Emery Etter (Jr.)

1. Adrian Amos (So.)
1. Shawney Kersey (Jr.)
2. Devon Smith (Sr.)
2. Curtis Drake (Jr.)
3. Bill Belton (So.)
3. Alex Kenney (So.)
3. Stephon Morris (Sr.)
  • The skinny: Starter Chaz Powell graduated. Kersey needs to touch the ball more so maybe he gets that chance here. Smith, despite his road-runner speed, averaged a paltry 10.4 yards in four kickoff returns. So hopefully Kersey gets a shot. Amos averaged 21.2 in six attempts as the No. 2 returner behind Powell. The blazing-fast Morris has never had an opportunity to be a primary kickoff returner.

1. Curtis Drake (Jr.)
2. Adrian Amos (So.)
3. Justin Brown (Sr.)
3. Bill Belton (So.)
3. Devon Smith (Sr.)
3. Alex Kenney (So.)
  • The skinny: Reserve Derek Moye graduated. It'll be interesting to see if the new coaching staff views Brown in this role; he was probably the biggest (6-3, 215) punt returner in America (26-194-7.5 avg.), and he'll be the No. 1 receiver next season. A safety is always the default punt returner in punt-safe alignment, and you could do a lot worse than Amos in that role. Drake needs to touch the ball more, has sure hands and can make big plays, so he is the leading candidate to supplant Brown.

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