Penn State Football: 10 Things to Work on over the Summer
This should be a tricky season for the Nittany Lions as they have a new head coach and will begin a new season without Joe Paterno by their side.
Penn State returns a total of 10 starters, and it should be an interesting year as they begin a new chapter in their great history.
Although we still may be months away from college football kicking off, fall camp is right around the corner. Penn State just finished spring ball a few weeks ago, but not every question is answered in just a couple of weeks.
With the regular season inching closer, here are 10 things that the Nittany Lions must pay attention to in the summer.
Penn State didn't land the most talented recruits in the country, but they do have a deep class and a few players that could contribute in a big way for them.
Wide receiver Eugene Lewis could provide depth at a position that isn't exactly deep for this team. Tight end Jesse James could do the same as well, with head coach Bill O'Brien looking to use the position a lot more than the Nittany Lions are used to.
Penn State lost several starters during the offseason, but the fall is when these young players arrive and could help contribute right away on the football field.
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Penn State finished third in the Big Ten with 31 sacks last season, but they'll have to replace majority of that production with Jack Crawford, Eric Latimore, Devon Still and Nate Stupar all graduating during the offseason.
Good thing is that Sean Stanley and Jordan Hill do return, but replacing half of last year's sack total can't be an easy task.
The Nittany Lions are hoping to get back Pete Massaro who suffered a torn ACL. That would help with some of the depth, considering he finished the 2010 season with 37 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
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If you think the defensive line needs work, the offensive line is even worse shape, as the only returning starter is center Matt Stankiewitch. There are seniors that are expected to become starters such as Adam Gress and Mike Farrell, but the depth is seriously lacking on this unit.
Despite the concerns, Farrell believes that this unit will be just fine.
"I've seen more consistency and guys being more focused every day," Farrell said (via Philly.com). "We've always had a hardworking group the last couple of years on the offensive line, but there's a lot of excitement and competition."
It's going to take a while to see just how this unit pans out, and who's starting where.
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Bill O'Brien is the former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, so you know the tight end position will play a big part of this offense.
"We've got a great group of tight ends who are learning a new system," O'Brien said (via LehighValleyLive.com). "I don't know how many times we called it today, but we like to spread the ball around in this offense. We had success with it the last two years in New England."
Penn State has a lot of talent at the tight end position in Jesse James, Garry Gilliam, Matt Lehman and Brian Irvin. Gilliam is expected to be the starter this season, but recovering from a knee injury has many feeling a little optimistic about his recovery.
All of these players lack full-time experience as pass catchers, and it's going to be interesting to see how they make the transition.
Can the Secondary Step Up?
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Much like the offensive and defensive lines, the Penn State secondary will also lack experience this season. In fact, the Nittany Lions lost all four starters last season due to graduation. Things aren't terribly bad though, with Malcolm Willis and Stephon Morris returning, but other players must step up to help fill the defensive backfield.
Look for players such as Adrian Amos and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong to be those guys. Amos is making the transition from corner to safety, and likes the switch.
"It's what he wanted to play, but this kid has it all," Cornerback Stephon Morris said (via Philly.com). "Trust me. He's going to make a whole lot of plays in 2012, this Amos."
The young secondary played well in the spring game, intercepting the quarterbacks five times, but they'll need to keep that type of consistency up all year to experience success.
Back-Up Running Backs?
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There's no question that Silas Redd is the starter for this Nittany Lions team. He rushed for over 1,000 yards last year and scored seven touchdowns. He will once again be the focus of this offense and will be counted on heavily throughout the year.
But who backs him up?
Curtis Dukes was held out of the spring game to focus on his academics and is a question mark heading into the fall. Bill Belton had a fantastic spring game, rushing for 50 yards and a touchdown, but is a converted wide receiver. Things may come down to true freshman Akeel Lynch when he arrives on campus this fall.
The Nittany Lions must find some depth in their backfield.
Adjusting to the New Playbook
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Having an offensive head coach in Bill O'Brien must be a breath of fresh air for an offense that scored less than 20 points a game last year. But with that comes a new playbook and a bunch of headaches for these young players.
“If you give them a whole playbook, it’s an intimidating playbook,” O’Brien said (via StateCollege.com). To put that in perspective, last year’s NCAA manual ran 434 pages."
I think it's safe to say that if these players aren't doing homework, their heads are stuck in that monster of a playbook.
“That’s why you can’t hand that playbook to a 17-year-old kid coming in from high school,” he said. “It’d be ridiculous to think he could learn all that.”
This may take a while, and much longer than this offense actually has.
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Last year, the Nittany Lions were ranked 96th in the country in passing yards. They enter this season with the same prospects in Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones, neither of which have stood out throughout spring ball.
Although that hasn't stopped head coach Bill O'Brien from making a decision, which is expected to be announced sometime this month.
“You can’t waste time, in my opinion, with a quarterback battle during training camp,” O’Brien said (via Trib Live). “We’re not a wishy-washy place. We’ve got to make decisions and some people aren’t going to be happy with the decisions, but that’s our job. It’s about the team, and we’re doing what’s best for the team.”
During the spring game, the three quarterbacks combined for 19-42 on their throws, threw for two touchdowns and five interceptions.
This decision should be interesting.
Putting the Past in the Past
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One of the toughest things for this team moving forward is putting the past beyond them. Head coach Bill O'Brien will likely experience many questions about the ongoing sex scandal that features former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky. He'll also likely get compared to Joe Paterno at times and the pressure could surely become to much for a first-year head coach.
The Nittany Lions will enter the year with many questions and off-the-field issues that other teams simply won't have to deal with. In order to be successful, the coaching staff and the players must focus on the season and not let those distractions get to them.
Getting off to a Fast Start
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One of the best ways to silence some of those critics and to put those distractions on the back burner is to win football games. Penn State plays a talented Virginia team Week 2, and that would be a huge win and momentum builder heading into the rest of the schedule.
The bulk of Penn States schedule comes at the end of the year, but distractions are a lot less likely to affect a team when you're winning. Now, if the program gets off to a bad start early on, this season could be over before it even had a chance to get started.