Penn State Football: 4 Starting Position Battles to Watch for 2013
Penn State fans have several things to look for heading into the 2013 football season. One major area to watch will be who the coaching staff uses to replace some big holes left by graduation.
Quarterback Matt McGloin, linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti and defensive linemen Sean Stanly and Jordan Hill all leave some big shoes to fill. A mix of experienced players and others who will be completely new to the program will be called upon to step up at certain positions.
The Nittany Lions will have the luxury of solidified starters returning at wide receiver, tight end, running back, on the offensive line and in the secondary. Those positions should provide a solid framework for the 2013 version of Penn State Football.
There will be several key battles for starting jobs heading into spring practice. Fans will want to keep an eye on the following four positions to see who ends up as the main guy when the new season kicks off.
Top QB recruit Christian Hackenberg will likely be given a redshit for 2013.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
2012 Starter: Matt McGloin
In the mix for 2013: Steven Bench, Tyler Ferguson, Christian Hackenberg
The graduation of quarterback Matt McGloin leaves a big hole at that position heading into 2013. Last year's backup Steven Bench, junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson and top quarterback recruit Christian Hackenberg could all battle for the starting role.
This should be the position battle that's most interesting and most important to fans throughout spring practice.
While there's no doubt Hackenberg has the biggest upside, Penn State may be wise to redshirt him for the 2013 season. The 4-star recruit told ESPN that his father wants him to redshirt to better learn under Bill O'Brien, but he's not sure what he wants to do yet.
Assuming that O'Brien gives the true freshman a year to learn, the fight to be the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback will be a two-man race.
One would think that Bench has the best opportunity to start. He already knows head coach Bill O'Brien's system and saw the field briefly in two games last season in relief of McGloin.
Ferguson, the junior college transfer, has an entire year of starting experience under his belt. The quarterback played one year at College of Sequoias in California. He played in 10 games and threw for 2,614 yards with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
The battle to be the starter at Penn State will certainly be fierce and may not be settled until closer to the regular season.
2. Defensive End
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
2012 Starter: Sean Stanley
In the Mix for 2013: C.J. Olaniyan, Anthony Zettel, Garrett Sickles
Half of the defensive line will be up for grabs in 2013. Defensive end Deion Barnes and defensive tackle Da'Quan Jones will be sure starters, but the other two starting spots on the line could go to several players.
The end position opposite of Barnes should be claimed by C.J. Olaniyan. The redshirt junior played in nine games last season and recorded 15 tackles and a sack. His 6'3" 248-pound frame gives him good size on the edge.
Anthony Zettel, who also saw significant playing time in 2012, will present the biggest competition to Olaniyan for the defensive end job. Zettel had a great season, making 15 tackles and finishing tied for third on the team with four sacks.
There is a chance that the redshirt sophomore could see time at defensive tackle if the coaching staff decides that depth is needed there. However, Kyle Baublitz, who played in six games last season, should have the open defensive tackle spot wrapped up to start the year
4-star defensive end recruit Garrett Sickels may also earn himself playing time on the outside.
3. Running Back
Eric Francis/Getty Images
2012 Starters: Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak
In the Mix for 2013: Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, Akeel Lynch
This battle is not about finding a replacement, but rather choosing between two capable backs.
When the 2012 regular season began, Bill Belton seemed to be a lock for the starting running back position. However, an injury in Week 1 that caused him to miss the next three games opened the door for someone behind him.
That man was Zach Zwinak. The sophomore fullback took full advantage of his expanded playing time at running back.
In Week 4 against the Temple Owls, he broke out for 94 yards on 18 carries. That surprising performance was followed up the next week at Illinois where Zwinak ran for 100 yards and found the end zone twice against the Illini.
When a healthy Bill Belton finally returned, he was never really able to get going. Aside from a 103-yard, three touchdown performance against Iowa, his season was a major disappointment. Belton finished the year with just 263 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
While the 2013 starting job seems like it is Zwinak's to lose, a re-dedicated Belton could present an interesting case during spring practice.
Redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch will certainly add depth at the position and could see a fair amount of playing time as the season goes on.
4. Outside Linebacker
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
2012 Starters: Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti
In the mix for 2013: Mike Hull, Ben Kline, Nyeem Wartman, Gary Wooten
The Nittany Lions will notice a huge hole at the linebacker position in 2013. Senior leaders Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges combined for 204 tackles, five interceptions and three-and-a-half sacks in 2012.
Mike Hull, who replaced Mauti in the final game of the season, seems to have a lock on that starting spot heading into next season. He was fourth in the rotation last year and made 58 tackles with four sacks.
The replacement for Hodges isn't as clear. Ben Kline, who will be a redshirt sophomore next year, will likely start the offseason as the starter since he has more experience than anyone else. Kline appeared in every game during the 2012 season, making 18 total tackles.
Wartman was on the depth chart as a true freshman last season before suffering a knee injury in Week 2 and missing the rest of the year. He has the skill to play either middle or outside linebacker.
Wooten, also a true freshman in 2012, was on the scout team and did not play in any games. However, when O'Brien was asked about him during an interview, he stated that he sees a bigger role for Wooten in the future.
It will be tough for the Nittany Lions to ever replace the production and leadership of Hodges and Mauti. But the guys following in their footsteps will certainly try to do just that next season.