Sunday, December 2, 2012

The very early sneak peek at Penn State football 2013: The offense

With no bowl to prepare for despite a winning season, Penn State can get a head start on 2013. What might the Lions look like on the field next season? This post takes a look at the offense.

Penn State moves into the next phase of the post-Sandusky world in 2013.

The shock of the sanctions is behind, and the scholarship limits begin. The Lions are allowed to sign just 15 in February. It is the first of four years with such a restriction (2013-16).

The 65 total scholarship limit doesn't start until 2014 and lasts through 2017, but PSU almost was under that mark this past season. The Lions had 67 scholarship players for most of 2012, so the 65 limit is not really going to have an impact until the final year (2017), since PSU can add just 15 scholarships each year through 2016 anyway.

Also, all transfer restrictions on Penn State players are lifted again by the NCAA from the end of this season until the start of next season, so PSU might incur more offseason attrition than usual.

So what will the Lions look like on the field next season? Who will be in the lineup when PSU takes the field against Syracuse at the Meadowlands on Aug. 31? A sneak peek at the offense, with some best-guesses - and assuming no one transfers:

Projected 2013 Penn State depth chart
(all stats from 2012 unless otherwise indicated; key departures listed in italics)


1. Tyler Ferguson (So.)
2. Steven Bench (So.)
3. Christian Hackenberg (true Fr.)
4. Austin Whipple (true Fr.)
4. D.J. Crook (true Fr.)
starter Matt McGloin graduated
  • The skinny:  Juco star Jake Waters bypassed PSU and committed to Kansas State on Dec. 13, and the next day the 6-5 Ferguson, a Juco prospect from California with three years of eligibility remaining, committed to the Lions. He'll be in Happy Valley for the spring. Bench has the experience edge with a year in O'Brien's system, and he is a good athlete and viable option. Hackenberg is the elite recruit but he won't arrive until the summer. Hackenberg could possibly redshirt, or possibly be the opening day starter and never look back. These three form a solid nucleus at the position, though the lack of age separation between them means next year at this time it's likely one will be looking to transfer. Whipple and Crook are run-ons from New England who enrolled early in January along with Ferguson.
1. Zach Zwinak (Jr.)
2. Bill Belton (Jr.)
3. Curtis Dukes (Sr.) tranferring
4. Akeel Lynch (Rs Fr.)
5. Richy Anderson (true Fr.)
6. Deron Thompson (So.)
reserves Michael Zordich, Derek Day graduated
  • The skinny: Zwinak, Belton and Dukes all have experience. Considering how little Dukes played in 2012 though, it wouldn't be surprising if he didn't come back, and some are speculating Belton might seek another school also due to his minimized role late in the season. That said, Zwinak (203 att, 1,000 yds, 4.9 avg, 6 TD) and Belton (60-263-4.4, 3) should compete for the top spot in the spring; Zwinak must cure fumbling problems, Belton must improve practice habits and durability. They could form a thunder-lightning duo, but O'Brien seems to prefer having a No. 1 option each game. Lynch is next in line after Dukes and should be a regular on special teams coverage units and possibly returns. Anderson, who enrolled early in January, likely will redshirt unless there are injuries or he excels at returns, and he also could get a look at slot receiver. Walk-on Thompson has played special teams. Fullback barely exists in O'Brien's offense, but several walk-ons, some TEs and Zwinak can play there in a pinch. 

Offensive Tackle
1. Donovan Smith (So.)
1. Adam Gress (Sr.)
2. Nate Cadogan (Sr.)
2. Eric Shrive (Sr.)
3. Anthony Alosi (So.)
3. Kevin Blanchard (So.)
4. Andrew Nelson (true Fr.)
starter Mike Farrell graduated
  • The skinny:  Smith (6-5, 316) has the left side locked down after a successful albeit injury plagued 2012 season. Gress' (6-6, 311) playing time diminished as 2012 progressed but he's the favorite on the right side to replace Farrell, who beat him out for the job. Cadogan has been around a long time and played sparingly, and he'll be the top backup on both sides, most likely. Shrive (6-6, 305), a guard entering his fifth season, could move to tackle in a pinch and is listed at both spots. No one else has pierced the depth chart in their career. Alosi (6-4, 287) and Blanchard, a towering (6-7, 311) former walk-on, are entering their third year at PSU. Alosi could figure at DT or at G. Nelson (6-5, 270) has good feet but like almost all true freshman probably needs time in the weight room and system before challenging for playing time.

1. John Urschel (Sr.)
1. Miles Dieffenbach (Jr.)
2. Ty Howle (Sr.)
2. Eric Shrive (Sr.)
3. Angelo Mangiro (So.)
3. Anthony Stanko (Rs Fr.)
4. Brendan Mahon (true Fr.)
reserves Mark Arcidiacono and Frank Figueroa graduated
  • The skinny: Urschel (6-3, 307) and Dieffenbach (6-3, 300) had successful first seasons as starters, with Urschel recognized as All-Big Ten. Howle (6-0, 298), who also is listed below at center, could challenge Dieffenbach for the starting LG position. Shrive played occasionally in 2012 and should be a competent backup. Mangiro will push for time at guard and center; he is likely to start somewhere. Stanko (6-4, 307) and Mahon could be the starting guards in 2015. Arcidiacono, who was praised by O'Brien and competing for a starting position last spring before injuries wiped out his 2012 season, apparently will forego his final season of eligibility, as will Figueroa, who never threatened to play. Mahon (6-4, 318) has college-level size. 

1. Angelo Mangiro (So.)
2. Ty Howle (Sr.)
3. Miles Dieffenbach (Jr.)
4. Wendy Laurent (Rs Fr.)
starter Matt Stankiewitch graduated
  • The skinny: There appear to be multiple promising options here to replace All-Big Ten center Stankiewitch, with Howle, Mangiro (6-3, 291) and possibly Dieffenbach leading the way, and maybe even standout guard Urschel. The guess here is Mangiro. Since he is a sophomore in 2013, PSU could have two more years of continuity at center after that, and it would free up the veteran Howle to be the supersub across the middle three OL positions, as well as holding down long snapper duties. But its just a guess at this point. Laurent was an unheralded recruit but O'Brien has praised him. There are numerous possibilities at center and guard for next fall, and expect OL coach Mac McWhorter to experiment with a few of them in the spring.

Wide Receiver
1. Allen Robinson (Jr.)
1. Brandon Moseby-Felder (Sr.)
2. Trevor Williams (So.)
2. Alex Kenney (Jr.)
3. Matt Zanellato (So.)
3. Eugene Lewis (Rs Fr.)
4. Malik Golden (Rs Fr.)
4. DaeSean Hamilton (true Fr.)
4. Richy Anderson (true Fr.)
reserves Christian Kuntz and Evan Lewis graduated
  • The skinny: No position sustained as many significant, and unexpected, losses in the 2011-12 offseason as WR, but after Robinson's electric, breakout, record-setting Big Ten WR of the Year 2012 campaign, who remembers that? Moseby-Felder proved a nice complement on the other side. Kenney's once-promising career is passing him by. It's unclear why the talented speedster doesn't contribute more. Williams showed flashes as a true freshman and has a bright future. Zanellato seems to have the tools, but in very limited chances in 2012 he dropped a few passes. Kuntz, a big target who never cracked the rotation, apparently is foregoing his final season of eligibility. Lewis was a top recruit and touted star of the scout team this fall - he will be hard to keep off the field - and Golden also earned praise while redshirting. Hamilton is a recent commitment with nice credentials. Anderson might get a look at TB first.

Tight End
1. Kyle Carter (So.)
1. Garry Gilliam (Sr.)
2. Matt Lehman (Sr.)
2. Jesse James (So.)
3. Adam Breneman (true Fr.)
3. Brent Wilkerson (Rs Fr.)
reserve Brian Irvin graduated
  • The skinny:  The one-year transformation at this position was remarkable, from modest depth and talent to a cornucopia of both. O'Brien prefers to employ two TEs (an "F" and a "Y") rather than a FB or third WR, and he utilizes the TEs as weapons. Carter (6-3, 247) became an overnight star, though injuries derailed him the final few games and he could spend much of the spring recuperating. The giant James (6-7, 264) looks like the second Andrew Quarless, Lehman (6-6, 258) has great hands and run-after-catch ability, and Gilliam (6-6, 262) is a blocking load with decent hands. Breneman is returning from a serious knee injury but is a big-time talent. Wilkerson seems to have all the tools needed to contribute.

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