Penn State Football: Top 10 Players for the 2012 Season

Randy ChambersAnalyst IJune 7, 2012

Penn State Football: Top 10 Players for the 2012 Season

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    Penn State has gone through a lot of changes in just the last few months. There is a new coaching staff in place for the first time in forever, and a lot of the players from a year ago are no longer around, either.

    The Nittany Lions only return nine starters from last year, including only four on the defensive side of the ball.

    With that said, who are the most important players heading into the 2012 season?

    The defensive depth is a serious issue—mainly the secondary, which seriously lacks experience. The offense is also an area of concern, as only one offensive lineman returns and there is no concrete answer at the quarterback position.

    With so many questions surrounding the Nittany Lions' season, here are the top 10 most important Penn State players for the 2012 college football season.

10. Free Safety Malcolm Willis

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    Although Willis is entering his senior season, he doesn't have much experience under his belt.

    Sure, he has played in 25 games the last two seasons, but he has only started a few games throughout his career.

    Still, that is more than the majority of the rest of the members of the Nittany Lions secondary, and that is why Willis is on this list.

    He must step up his production and become a leader to such a young defensive backfield.

    Willis has a great combination of athleticism and strength and is a sure tackler (87 tackles in the last two seasons combined). The senior will have an increased workload this time around, and he must embrace it for this secondary to pan out nicely.

9. Defensive End Sean Stanley

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    Sean Stanley is one of the more experienced players on this defense, having three productive seasons under his belt.

    Last season, he led the team with three forced fumbles and finished tied for second on the team with 4.5 sacks.

    With this defense really lacking experience, particularly in the secondary, it is extremely important that players like Stanley can generate solid pressure up front.

    Basically, this has to be the best season the senior has ever played at Penn State if this defense is going to hold up.

8. Punter/kicker Anthony Fera

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    Why is a punter on this list?

    Because he is both the Nittany Lions' punter and placekicker.

    And considering that Penn State doesn't have an offense that is going to knock your socks off, it is going to need Fera and his leg quite a bit this season.

    He was largely responsible for Penn State being ranked third in the Big Ten, averaging a little over 40 yards a punt last season. Fera also made 82 percent of his field goals.

    You will likely see this senior quite a bit.

7. Wide Receiver Justin Brown

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    Justin Brown was the second-leading receiver on this team last year, hauling in 35 passes for 517 yards and two touchdowns.

    His production will have to drastically increase with Derek Moye no longer on the roster for this offense to lean on.

    Brown has great size at 6'3", 215 pounds and runs terrific routes. Being one of the most experienced players on this offense is key as well.

    He has to take advantage of this opportunity and emerge as the No. 1 wide receiver on this offense.

6. Defensive Tackle Jordan Hill

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    Jordan Hill has been a solid player on the defensive line the last two seasons and will have to take his game to another level, replacing former Nittany Lion Devon Still.

    Hill finished last year with 59 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

    Although we are not even in fall camp yet, head coach Bill O'Brien really likes what he has seen from the senior and says he is one of the best players on the roster.

    “He’s got great explosiveness, really good hands and built-in leverage. More important than that, he’s a phenomenal kid. One of the definite leaders on our team.” O'Brien said (via victorybellrings.com).

5. Center Matt Stankiewitch

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    Penn State had the best offensive line in the Big Ten last season, only allowing 14 sacks on the year.

    That may change this season, as the Nittany Lions only return one starter on the offensive line, and that is center Mike Stankiewitch.

    This will be the senior's toughest season yet, as he will have to make sure everyone is on the same page and the more inexperienced players know what their assignment is.

    Stankiewitch has been named to the Rimington Trophy watch list, which goes to the best center in the country.

    If he can make this revamped offensive line work this season, he will without question deserve that award.

4. Cornerback Adrian Amos

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    Amos saw limited action as a true freshman and finished the season with 13 tackles, four broken-up passes and an interception.

    He also returned a couple of kickoffs, averaging 20 yards per return.

    He was recruited as a safety and played the position well throughout spring practice, but once the depth chart was released, Amos ended up back at cornerback.

    It is still early, and the sophomore may still get a shot at his more comfortable position, but this kid has the talent to play any position in the defensive backfield.

    He has solid size at 6'0" and 200-plus pounds, and he is a physical player. He also has a lot of speed to cover a lot of ground and is solid in run support.

    Regardless of where Amos ends up come September, he is a key member to a thin secondary.

3. Quarterback Matt McGloin

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    Despite horrible quarterback play last season, Matt McGloin has been named the starter for this season.

    He completed 54 percent of his passes for 1,571 yards and eight touchdowns last year, while throwing five interceptions.

    There is really no other way to put it—the Nittany Lions must get more production out of their quarterbacks if this season is going to be successful.

    Being ranked 96th in the country in passing yards is not going to get the job done and puts way too much pressure on the running game.

    McGloin has to step up for this offense to succeed.

2. Linebacker Gerald Hodges

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    Penn State is known for producing great linebackers, and Gerald Hodges is the definition of that.

    He received first-team All-Big Ten honors last year and led the team in tackles with 106.

    He came to Penn State expecting to play the safety position, but he seems to have made an effortless transition to linebacker.

    Hodges is a playmaker and has a great combination of athleticism and speed. He is also a leader on and off the field, having been named to the Lott IMPACT Trophy watch list.

1. Running Back Silas Redd

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    We know that the Nittany Lions have a solid defensive unit, but the offense has shown no signs of turning things around.

    The quarterback play is still terrible, and this is a team that struggles mightily to put points on the board.

    Silas Redd is a breath of fresh air and will likely be the workhorse of this offense again this season.

    Redd rushed for more than 1,200 yards last season and scored seven touchdowns. He rushed for more than 100 yards six times last season, and the Nittany Lions won all six of those games.

    When your quarterback play isn't up to par, you need a solid running game to bail you out. Redd fits the bill and will be the key to success on offense.