Sunday, November 29, 2015

Penn State end-of-spring report

It wasn't the best of springs for the Penn State football team.

Penn State end-of-spring report


It wasn't the best of springs for the Penn State football team.

The weather was a problem, so bad that the Nittany Lions didn't make their first trip outdoors until the final day -- Saturday's Blue-White Game -- and even that was called three plays into the third quarter because of heavy rain.

Injuries were another issue. No fewer than 19 players sat out the Blue-White Game because of injuries or as a precautionary measure due to past injuries. That included Philadelphia area players Pete Massaro (Marple Newtown) and Curtis Drake (West Catholic). Massaro will miss the fall with a torn ACL, and Drake, who has a broken left leg, is a "longshot" to be able to play in 2011, according to coach Joe Paterno.

Of course, all the outside attention in the spring went to the quarterback position, where Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin, who combined to start all 13 games in 2010. are neck and neck for the starting job. That could change to just "neck" if Bolden decides to transfer after the end of the spring semester.

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So let's take a look at the other areas on offense and defense and see how they stack up going into the start of preseason practice in August:

Offensive line -- The Lions lost three seniors from last year's O-line, including potential NFL draft pick Stefen Wisniewski. The five first-teamers for the spring game were tackles Quinn Barham and Chimi Okoli, guards Johnnie Troutman and John Urschel, and center Matt Stankiewitch. Okoli became a starter last year after Lou Eliades suffered a season-ending knee injury at mid-season, and Urschel and Stankiewitch are the new starters.

Paterno said he and his staff did a lot of work with the linemen on individual techinque, and will school them in the preseason on how to block different looks given by the opposing defense.

"I think we made a lot of progress," he said. "We're not home free. There's a lot of little things that we have not gotten into. There's a lot of blitzes and a lot of stunts and different looks, that we've not gotten involved in. ... When we had time, we tried to get some guys to work with each other so that they get a feel for each other. We have a chance to be OK."

Wide receiver/tight end -- Derek Moye (concussion), Shawney Kersey (concussion) and Christian Kuntz (collarbone, knee) all were sidelined for the spring game.

Moye will team with Justin Brown and Devon Smith to give the Lions three outstanding receivers this season. Kersey, Kuntz and Brandon Moseby-Felder, who scored the only TD in the Blue-White Game, provide depth. Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno also had a word of praise for Brian Friend, a sophomore walk-on, who got noticed filling in for the injured players.

Tight end, right now, is a mess. Garry Gilliam (knee) and Andrew Szczerba (back) are questionable for the fall. Kevin Haplea, who saw time as a freshman last year, has little experience and 286-pound Nate Cadougan, who filled in last year after sliding over from tackle, could have to move over again.

Running back -- While it's unknown if Paterno will designate a featured back or operate on a running back-by-committee basis while looking for Evan Royster's replacement, what is known is that he wants someone in there who can block and pick up blitzes.

"We have some guys that are not particularly good blockers and have got to improve their blocking before I can really get excited about them," he said, "particularly their pass blocking, with everybody doing all the stunts and the blitzes that you see these days. But as far as running with the football, two or three kids are pretty good."

Silas Redd, who averaged 5.7 yards per carry as a freshman last season, will battle it out with senior Stephfon Green and junior Brandon Beachum, who missed last season recovering from a torn ACL. Joe Suhey and Michael Zordich are solid at fullback.

Defensive line -- The primary concern is at defensive end. Massaro is out for the season. Seniors Jack Crawford (St. Augustine Prep, N.J.) and Eric Latimore sat out the spring with injuries. Paterno gave looks to sophomore DaQuan Jones, a defensive tackle last season, and redshirt freshman C.J. Olaniyan.

Paterno said Crawford and Latimore should be fine in the fall. Junior Sean Stanley also should see plenty of time if he can stay out of trouble off the field.

The Lions seem to be set at defensive tackle with senior Devon Still and junior Jordan Hill, a pair of 300-plus-pounders with potential, backed by Jones and junior James Terry.

Linebackers -- This could be a position to watch, and we don't mean that in a bad way.

The Nittany Lions can throw three terrific athletes out there -- middle linebacker Michael Mauti between Gerald Hodges (Paulsboro), both juniors, and sophomore Khairi Fortt. Senior Nathan Stupar sat out much of the spring with a hamstring injury but he'll be in the mix for a starting job in August.

"I think it's a good group of linebackers," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "Obviously, it's a very athletic group. They can really run. Mike is getting better every practice and he's getting confident. You can tell when people are getting better because they become tougher, they're looking to make big hits."

Secondary -- All four projected starters, corners D'Anton Lynn (back) and Stephon Morris (concussion) and safeties Drew Astorino (hamstring) and Nick Sukay (pectoral), sat out Blue-White day. Senior Chaz Powell, who will compete for a corner spot, did play.

Senior Andrew Dailey and sophomore Malcolm Willis got plenty of experience last season filling in for injured players. The Lions could receive another boost with the return of sophomore Derrick Thomas, who spent much of last season in Paterno's doghouse.

"You've got to go through things to really understand things," Thomas said. "It's a learning process and I'm trying to work my way up and get past some of those bumps I had in the past. Everything is cool now."

Kicker/punter -- The Lions lost two-year starter Collin Wagner snd need a new kicker. Anthony Fera would appear to have a leg up (sorry) on the job but it seems that Paterno wants him to remain as the team's punter.

So when the Lions come to camp in August, true freshman Sam Ficken will have a legitimate chance to win the job. With two other punters on the team in Alex Butterworth and A.J. Firestone, maybe Fera will get a shot as well, but Paterno was not asked Saturday about the kicking situation.

--Joe Juliano

Inquirer Staff Writer
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About this blog
Joe Juliano has been a staff writer for The Inquirer for 30 years, covering covering Penn State football, Villanova basketball and other college sports, along with golf and the Penn Relays. This is his seventh season on The Inquirer’s Penn State beat. He previously covered the Nittany Lions for United Press International from 1976-84.

Joining Joe this season is Erin McCarthy, an intern for The Inquirer and a junior at Penn State majoring in print and digital journalism. This is Erin's first season on the Penn State football beat. She previously spent two summers as an Inquirer summer intern on the Pennsylvania and South Jersey desks. She is also an editor for the Daily Collegian, the university's student newspaper. A Delaware County native, Erin graduated from Episcopal Academy.

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Joe Juliano Inquirer Staff Writer
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