Monday, August 6, 2012

Finally, fall camp: Penn State football primer entering 2012 preseason

The longest summer in Happy Valley is ending. Hopefully the transfers are ending soon, too. Penn State began fall camp this morning for the first time since 1950 without Joe Paterno, and the team looked very different than it did in the spring.

Let's get this out of the way: Who's no longer here who likely would have seen significant playing time this fall (listed in order of value to the team this season, asterisk denotes likely starter).
  • Jr. RB Silas Redd* (transfer/USC)
  • Sr. WR Justin Brown* (transfer/Oklahoma)
  • Jr. CB Curtis Drake* (dismissed)
  • Jr. P/K Anthony Fera* (transfer/Texas)
  • Jr. CB Derrick Thomas (left team)
  • Jr. LB Khairi Fortt (transfer/Cal)
  • So. DT Evan Hailes (retired/blood clots)
  • Sr. WR Devon Smith (dismissed)
  • Jr. TE Kevin Haplea (transfer/Florida St.)
That's essentially nine of the top 55-60 or so players on the team, and three of the top dozen or so in Redd, Brown and Fera. The loss of Redd (244 carries, 1,251 yards, 7 TD, 5.1 avg. in 2011), a supreme talent, is devastating. The loss of some others stings. Overall depth and talent have taken a hit.

Time to move on. Time for others to seize the opportunity. Entering fall practice, here's the breakdown at each position for the 2012 Nittany Lions:

1. Sr. Matt McGloin (6-1, 200)
2. So. Paul Jones (6-3, 245)
3. Sr. Shane McGregor (6-1, 200)
4. Fr. Steven Bench (6-1, 205)

Summary: Head coach Bill O'Brien's leadership, acumen and resourcefulness will be tested. Not only in dealing with the surreal situation surrounding PSU football, and with everything about being a first-year head coach, and with succeeding Joe Paterno, but in crafting a functional, competent offense with the Lions' erstwhile clear No. 1 (Redd) and No. 2 (Brown) offensive playmakers having transferred in the past week. The key at QB will be O'Brien's and QB coach Charlie Fisher's ability to recognize McGloin's assets and limitations, and finding ways to maximize the good and minimize the bad with the soft-armed QB. Also, O'Brien and McGloin (54.1 completion percentage in 2011) must forge a special connection. The former walk-on is a senior and a team leader, and for the first time is entering the fall as the No. 1 QB. If he falters and/or his relationship with O'Brien sours, it could be a loooooong season. Jones needs refinement and reps but has some excellent raw tools. Beleaguered Rob Bolden transferred to LSU. McGregor is a veteran walk-on, Bench is O'Brien's first QB recruit.

1. So. Bill Belton (5-10, 196)
2. Sr. Curtis Dukes (6-1, 242)
3. So. Zach Zwinak (6-1, 226)
3. Sr. Derek Day (5-9, 195)
4. Fr. Akeel Lynch (5-10, 195)

Summary: The position is officially called tailback in O'Brien's offense, and it's wide open with Redd's departure. Belton has played WR, Wildcat QB and TB in his brief career at PSU. Now, he's the likeliest No. 1 TB with Redd gone, though it wouldn't be surprising to see everyone on this list get at least a few carries in the first 3-4 weeks of the season before O'Brien and RB coach Charles London zero-in on specific roles. Zwinak was a FB in the past, but he looked too good running the ball in the spring, and in high school, to not be a factor toting the pigskin this fall, and he was on the post-spring depth chart at TB. True freshman Lynch considered bolting for Iowa last week; he's a well-regarded prospect. Day is undersized but a good athlete and special teams player. Dukes is a rumbling, punishing downhill runner who also apparently wanted to transfer, at least until Redd decided to leave first. Dukes has been borderline-eligible academically. In the right circumstances Dukes can be extremely effective.

1. Sr. Michael Zordich (6-1, 242)
2. So. Zach Zwinak (6-1, 226)
3. Jr. Andre Dupree (5-10, 250), Jr. Pat Zerbe (6-1, 233), Jr. J.R. Refice (6-0, 246), Sr. P.J. Byers (6-0, 254)

Summary: Will the fullback have as prominent a role as in the past? With the extra emphasis on the TE position under O'Brien, something has to give, meaning either the fullback or a receiver position will be on the sideline more. The post-spring depth chart listed only one FB - Zordich. So as long as he's healthy expect Zordich, who shared time with Joe Suhey last season, to get all snaps at FB, however many, or few, that is. He is a superb run blocker and short-yardage back, but has room for improvement in his pass-blocking and receiving skills, which, with his work ethic, he's probably accomplished this offseason. Dupree, Byers, Zerbe and Refice are veteran walk-ons who could factor in on special teams.

Wide Receiver
1. Jr. Shawney Kersey (6-1, 199)
1. So. Allen Robinson (6-3, 199)
2. So. Alex Kenney (6-0, 193) 
2. Jr. Brandon Moseby-Felder (6-2, 188)
2. Jr. Christian Kuntz (6-4, 222) 
2. RS Fr. Matt Zanellato (6-3, 195)
3. Fr. Eugene Lewis (6-2, 181)
3. Fr. Malik Golden (6-1, 185)
3. Sr. Evan Lewis (5-10, 180)

Summary: As a unit there is little game experience and virtually no measurable collegiate production - Kersey's 5 catches for 108 yards last season make him the leading returnee -  but there is some ability here for new coach Stan Hixon, an NFL and BCS-level coaching veteran, to work with. The transfer of Brown to Oklahoma makes Kersey and Robinson the most likely starters, and the departure of Smith gives Kenney a better opportunity to play at slot receiver. Robinson looked good in the spring. Kersey has speed and can make difficult catches. Moseby-Felder and Kuntz have been around a few years and should finally figure into the playing rotation. Zanellato is a mystery at this point. Lewis and Golden are two of the most impressive incoming freshmen on video, and with their athleticism they could contribute on special teams.

Tight End

1. Jr. Garry Gilliam (6-6, 277)

2. Fr. Jesse James (6-7, 265)
3. Jr. Matt Lehman (6-7, 247)

1. RS Fr. Kyle Carter (6-3, 241)
2. So. Dakota Royer (6-1, 223)

3. Sr. Brian Irvin (6-3, 241)
3. Fr. Brent Wilkerson (6-3, 245)

Summary: This is famously where O'Brien's style will be most evident, as he frequently will incorporate two TE sets and utilize TEs extensively in the passing game. He identifies two different TE positions, a 'Y' and 'F,' with the Y being the bigger target and the F more mobile. As offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots and their superstar TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez last season, O'Brien had incredible success (it didn't hurt that Tom Brady was the QB). Gilliam, who is emerging as a team leader, has overcome injuries, and with his massive frame will provide a comforting target. An inch taller and nearly as big is James, the lone true freshman to enroll in the spring. He's expected to play this fall. Lehman, a walk-on, also is a huge target. Carter has been under-the-radar every step of the way until he suddenly emerged atop the depth chart post-spring ahead of Haplea, who transferred last week. Royer was a touted LB out of high school who switched positions after O'Brien was hired. Irvin is a walk-on whose chances of ever playing increased with Haplea's transfer. True freshman Wilkerson looks athletic on tape. 

Offensive Line
Left Tackle
1. RS Fr. Donovan Smith (6-5, 310)
2. Jr. Nate Cadogan (6-5, 283)
3. So. Luke Graham (6-4, 273)

Left Guard
1. So. Miles Dieffenbach (6-3, 286)

2. Jr. Mark Arcidiacono (6-4, 283)
3. RS Fr. Angelo Mangiro (6-3, 287)

1. Sr. Matt Stankiewitch (6-3, 295)

2. Jr. Ty Howle (6-0, 298)
3. Jr. Frank Figueroa (6-3, 303)

Right Guard
1. Jr. John Urschel (6-3, 287)

2. Jr. Eric Shrive (6-6, 312)
3. RS Fr. Anthony Alosi (6-4, 292)

Right Tackle
1. Jr. Adam Gress (6-6, 306)

2. Sr. Mike Farrell (6-6, 276)
3. RS Fr. Anthony Alosi (6-4, 292) 

Summary: O'Brien has been praiseworthy of what in recent years has been a much maligned offensive line unit. This year initially was not expected to be good, with four starters departed, but expectations are rising under new coach Mac McWhorter, a coaching veteran. Stankiewitch is the lone returning starter, but Urschel, who graduated this spring in three years, has a lot of game experience and is very highly regarded. The other three projected starters have played very little or none for PSU, but all appear capable. Dieffenbach and Smith were touted recruits, and Smith in particular has generated a lot of optimism. Gress was the talk of the offseason after making huge improvements in the weight room and on the spring practice field to snare a starting position. Arcidiacono at LG behind Dieffenbach, and Farrell at RT behind Gress, headline the backups with a shot at playing time. Mangiro might be the center of the future after Stankiewitch, the lone senior, graduates. The OL could evolve into a strong point by 2013.

Defensive Line

Left End
1. Sr. Sean Stanley (6-1, 247)
2. So. C.J. Olaniyan (6-3, 250)
3. So. Brad Bars (6-3, 237)

Left Tackle
1. Sr. Jordan Hill (6-1, 298)

2. So. Kyle Baublitz (6-5, 270)

Right Tackle
1. Jr. DaQuan Jones (6-3, 317)

2. Sr. James Terry (6-3, 317)

Right End
1. Sr. Pete Massaro (6-4, 263)

2. RS Fr. Deion Barnes (6-4, 248)
3. RS Fr. Anthony Zettel (6-5, 255)

Summary: Holdover DL coach Larry Johnson Sr. will be challenged in 2012, as the defensive tackle position is paper thin. Hill (59 tackles in 2011, best on the defensive line) is highly productive and a gamer, but after that it's all relatively unproven players in Jones, Terry and Baublitz. There is room for a true freshman here, though the most likely one, Jamil Pollard, opted last week to enroll at Rutgers. Offensive linemen Luke Graham and Anthony Alosi could end up back at DT if injuries strike. Things are more promising at DE. If Massaro is fully recuperated from major knee surgery in 2011, he and Stanley should form a very good pass-rush tandem and could get 6-8 sacks apiece. Barnes, Zettel and Olaniyan were big recruits, and Bars is a rugged scrapper and special teams contributor. Zettel could possibly help at DT


1. Sr. Gerald Hodges (6-2, 233)

2. So. Mike Hull (6-0, 213)

1. Jr. Glenn Carson (6-3, 238) 

2. Sr. Michael Yancich (6-2, 240)

1. Sr. Michael Mauti (6-2, 239)

2. RS Fr. Ben Kline (6-2, 224)
3. Sr. James Van Fleet (6-0, 219)

Summary: Best position on the team and has been for years under longtime LBs coach Ron Vanderlinden. At this point Mauti is known more for being an outspoken, beloved team leader and too-frequently injured player than an All-American candidate. That will change dramatically if he stays healthy; he is a flat-out stud, excellent in all facets of the game. So is Hodges (All-Big Ten, team-high 106 tackles, 4.5 sacks in 2011), whose pass-rush and tackling skills are outstanding. Carson (74 tackles) is very solid if unspectacular in the middle. Yancich has been around forever and made little impact. Hull flirted with transferring, but when Fortt departed first, it meant the fiery Hull is the first LB off the bench and virtually assured a starting spot in 2013-14. Hull also is a possibility at safety, where PSU has serious depth issues. Van Fleet is a veteran special teams contributor.

Defensive Backs

Left Corner
1. Sr. Stephon Morris (5-8, 188)
2. So. Jesse Della Valle (6-1, 187)

Strong Safety
1. Sr. Jake Fagnano (6-0, 201)

2. Jr. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (5-10, 201)

Free Safety
1. Jr. Malcolm Willis (5-11, 205) 

2. Jr. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (5-10, 201)

Right Corner
1. So. Adrian Amos (6-0, 209)

2. Jr. Mike Wallace (5-9, 195)

Summary: New defensive coordinator Ted Roof and new secondary coach John Butler will be trying to cobble together success from a unit that lost all four starters to graduation. The additional loss of very capable CBs Drake and Thomas is huge. Amos, impressive in spot duty as a true freshmen, will stay at CB, when otherwise he might have slid over to strong safety. Fagnano is a walk-on who has played sparingly the past two years and now suddenly steps into a huge role alongside Willis; technically no starters return, but Willis and the fleet Morris have some starting experience and are clearly the most experienced returnees. Along with Amos, they provide a trio of players with proven talent (all three hail from Maryland). Obeng-Agyapong could play in nickel packages and will challenge Fagnano. There's plenty of room here for true freshmen to have an impact, if any of them are up for it. Della Valle is another walk-on who had a good spring to crack the depth chart. Wallace has never pushed for playing time. There are a number of walk-ons on the roster listed at safety or cornerback.

Special Teams

1. Jr. Alex Butterworth (5-10, 198)

1. So. Sam Ficken (6-3, 180)

2. Sr. Evan Lewis (5-10, 180)
3. RS Fr. Matt Marcincin (5-10, 174)

Sr. Matt McGloin (6-1, 200)

Sr. Evan Lewis (5-10, 173)

Kick Snapper

Jr. Emery Etter (6-1, 223)
Jr. Ty Howle (6-0, 298)
Sr. Michael Fuhrman (5-10, 214)

Kickoff Returner

So. Adrian Amos (6-0, 209)
So. Bill Belton (5-10, 196)

Punt Returners

So. Bill Belton (5-10, 196) 
So. Alex Kenney (6-0, 193)

Summary: The specialists are in complete disarray due to the transfers (Fera, who handled punting and kicking very well last season, and Brown, who was the No. 1 punt returner) and injury (Howle, who has handled snaps on placements the past two years). Butterworth has punted some for PSU, but he wasn't even listed on the depth chart behind Fera after the spring. Ficken and Lewis, a former walk-on receiver, struggled at kicker at the start of last season before Fera became eligible. It's doubtful Belton will return both punts and kickoffs if he's the No. 1 TB, so true freshmen such as WRs Lewis and Golden and RB Lynch could figure here, or WR Kenney, CB Morris and some others.

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