As the spring semester begins in Happy Valley, Bill O’Brien’s football team will be getting ready to begin spring practice.
Along with returning players, a handful of recruits who signed early will be able to take part in the preseason practices.
For some newcomers at Penn State, an early start working with the team can prove to be key in winning a starting job.
After a solid 2012 season, O’Brien’s team will need to fill holes left by seniors graduating.
Here is a glimpse at how O’Brien might be able to fill those holes: a projection of the depth chart heading into the 2013 season.
1. Tyler Ferguson
2. Steven Bench
This competition will be under the biggest microscope in Happy Valley.
After Matt McGloin won the starting job in the summer of 2012, O’Brien stuck with him throughout the year.
Although sticking with McGloin boded well for Penn State, it now leaves the Lions with two scholarship quarterbacks with a combined eight throws in Division I football.
Not to say Ferguson and Bench aren’t talented—they simply lack experience.
Although Bench will be heading into spring practice as the favorite after being in O’Brien’s system for a full season, Ferguson has the tools to win the job.
If Ferguson picks up the offense quick enough, his arm should be able to win him the job.
Ferguson has shown a strong arm and his height is a big part of his upside over Bench.
Again, this will be a close competition, but I think Ferguson comes into the preseason at the top of the depth chart.
1. Zach Zwinak
2. Akeel Lynch
The season Zach Zwinak had in 2012 is one of the main reasons why he will start at the running back spot.
He isn’t necessarily the best athlete or the fastest out of Penn State’s running backs, but Zwinak is a tough, proven runner.
Behind Zwinak, Akeel Lynch will get a chance to step up into a new role.
O’Brien has said that Lynch has a great future at Penn State, and that bright future may begin in 2013.
So, now it’s time to ask, “Where does Bill Belton fit into all of this?”
Belton struggled to find success in 2012 as an every-down back, and with Lynch set to gain some playing time, Belton shouldn’t be used as one.
Belton should be used as a hybrid running back/wide receiver, and that is exactly why he isn’t in the top two on the depth chart.
Expect to see Zwinak pounding the ball and Lynch being used as a change of pace for the Penn State offense.
1. Allen Robinson
2. Trevor Williams
After his 2012 season Allen Robinson will be going into 2013 as one of the top wide outs in the Big Ten.
If there was ever a guaranteed starter, it’s Robinson. He proved himself last season and will only be a junior in 2013.
Behind Robinson will most likely be the young Trevor Williams.
Williams got small amounts of playing time in 2012, and with only 10 catches, he wasn’t able to standout or earn a starting job.
Penn State has a strong core of wide receivers, though, and Williams will still get to see the field even though he is behind Robinson.
1. Brandon Moseby-Felder
2. Malik Golden
Brandon Moseby-Felder finished the 2012 season stronger than he started it.
Moseby-Felder was the third-leading receiver for the Nittany Lions with 31 catches for 437 yards and one touchdown.
In 2013, Moseby-Felder will be challenged for the second receiver spot with Williams, Eugene Lewis and Malik Golden all gaining a year of experience with O’Brien.
But 2013 will be Moseby-Felder’s senior season, and I don’t see him surrendering his starting spot in his final year.
That being said, Golden is another young, talented athlete who will be vying for a bigger role in the offense.
Moseby-Felder may be on the top of the depth chart in the beginning of the season, but look for Golden to get better with experience.
1. Eugene Lewis
2. DaeSean Hamilton
After redshirting his freshman season, Eugene Lewis might be a major surprise this season.
Lewis was Penn State’s top recruit in the class of 2012 but disappeared into the shadows of a redshirt season.
The receiver from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., is quick and knows how to make plays on the ball.
If Lewis doesn’t win the second receiver spot, he will be Penn State’s third receiver.
Behind him is incoming freshman DaeSean Hamilton.
If O’Brien doesn’t redshirt Hamilton, the 6’0” wide receiver from Mountain View High School will have a chance to make a splash.
Hamilton was given a four-star rating by ESPN’s Recruiting Nation and a scout grade of 81.
Like I said earlier, the Lions are deep at wideout and you should not sleep on these two receivers.
1. Kyle Carter
2. Jesse James
It isn’t a secret that O’Brien knows how to utilize his tight ends.
Both Kyle Carter and Jesse James were freshmen last season, and both found success.
Carter obviously was the biggest name at tight end for the Lions, and in only nine games, Carter caught 36 passes for 453 yards.
Although James is talented as well, with five of his 15 receptions going for touchdowns in 2012, Carter will be the top guy here.
1. Matt Lehman
2. Adam Breneman
Although Adam Breneman will be coming into the 2013 season as the top tight end in the nation, he has a steep hill to climb on the depth chart.
Not only will Carter and James be seeing time, but Matt Lehman also has proven himself as a worthy starter.
Lehman was Penn State’s fourth-leading receiver last season, flashing a reliable set of hands.
Heading into the 2013 season, expect O’Brien to go with the more experienced Lehman over Breneman.
But don’t be surprised to see all four tight ends in the mix, because all four have good hands and athleticism.
1. Donovan Smith
2. Nate Cadogan
Donovan Smith, an original member of the "Supa Six," will need to develop into an anchor on Penn State’s offensive line.
Smith will start at left tackle, protecting the blind side of whomever O’Brien puts in at quarterback (my choice is Ferguson).
Nate Cadogan backed up Smith at the end of last season, and I don’t see that changing.
1. Brendan Mahon
2. Adam Gress
Much like Smith, Brendan Mahon is a massive young lineman whom O’Brien can use on his line.
Mahon is ranked as the 12th-best offensive guard in the nation, but a key part of his ranking is his durability on the line and ability to play both tackle and guard.
Putting Mahon over Adam Gress might be a stretch and it may be risky, but it can be a big payoff.
If Mahon is as good as advertised, O’Brien may have two anchors at tackle (Mahon and Smith) for the next few seasons.
1. Miles Dieffenbach
2. Angelo Mangiro
Miles Dieffenbach will be returning as a starter on Penn State’s line in 2013.
Dieffenbach was moved from center to guard before the 2012 season, and he grew into a strong player on the Nittany Lion line.
Behind Dieffenbach will be Angelo Mangiro, Penn State’s top recruit from 2011.
Mangiro was a redshirt freshman in 2012 and will be working to earn a spot in 2013.
But for Mangiro, it will be tough to move past Dieffenbach, who earned the job in 2012.
1. John Urschel
2. Anthony Alosi
John Urschel may be one of the smartest players on the roster at Penn State, with a 4.0 grade point average in his first three semesters in Happy Valley.
Urschel is another returning starter from 2012 and was one of Penn State’s top lineman last season.
Anthony Alosi will most likely back up Urschel.
Alosi was a First-Team All-South Jersey honoree in 2010 at Cherokee High School and redshirted in 2011.
As a senior, Urschel will be a big part of leading Penn State’s offensive line.
1. Ty Howle
2. Wendy Laurent
Ty Howle may be Penn State’s shortest lineman, but he makes up for it with his brain.
Much like Urschel, Howle is one of the top students on the team with a 3.59 GPA.
Howle backed up both Matt Stankiewitch at center and Dieffenbach at guard in 2012 while handling the snapping duties for special teams.
Howle has big shoes to fill, replacing Stankiewitch, but it should be a smooth transition for the graduate senior.
Wendy Laurent was the fourth-string center in 2012, and with seniors graduating, Laurent should be able to step into the backup role.
1. Deion Barnes
2. Brad Bars
1. C.J. Olaniyan
2. Garrett Sickels
Last season, freshman Deion Barnes emerged as a premier pass-rusher in the B1G with six sacks and 10 tackles for a loss.
In his sophomore season, Penn State will be relying heavily on Barnes to lead a defensive line that lost three key players from 2012.
Brad Bars will get the opportunity to step into a backup role behind Barnes.
C.J. Olaniyan is another young player who will have to step up on the defensive side.
With 15 tackles last season, Olaniyan has shown promise and will most likely be the starter opposite of Barnes.
Garrett Sickels will be a dark horse in 2013.
Sickels, an incoming freshman, will be arriving in Happy Valley with high expectations.
Much like Barnes, Sickels is a talented pass-rusher and may get the opportunity to earn playing time behind Olaniyan.
1. DaQuan Jones
2. Anthony Zettel
With the graduation of Jordan Hill, Penn State lost a mainstay on the defensive line for the past three seasons.
DaQuan Jones will be a returning starter, and Anthony Zettel will have an opportunity to become a starter.
Jones will be the lone senior on the defensive line and will need to become a leader for O’Brien both on and off the field.
In 2012, Jones had 22 tackles, the fewest of Penn State’s four starting defensive linemen.
Zettel showed glimpses of strong play in limited action in 2012.
The converted offensive guard is big and strong and was able to gather four sacks in his first season.
Expect to see both Jones and Zettel as the two main defensive tackles in 2013.
1. Mike Hull
2. Brandon Bell
1. Nyeem Wartman
2. Ben Kline
With Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges no longer in blue and white, Penn State’s “Linebacker U” will have a different cast of characters.
Mike Hull will be able to step in at one of the outside linebacker spots, with incoming freshman Brandon Bell most likely backing him up.
The other outside linebacker spot will be a bit of a tossup.
Both Nyeem Wartman and Ben Kline saw very limited action in 2012; Kline was behind Hodges, Mauti and Hull, and Wartman had a knee injury.
But in 2012, there should be a strong competition between Wartman and Kline, and I think Wartman will come out on top.
Wartman is fast and athletic, and in Penn State’s game against Ohio, he was able to block a punt.
O’Brien has said that Wartman has a “really, really bright future”; expect to see Wartman win the job.
1. Glenn Carson
2. Gary Wooten
Glenn Carson will be the only returning linebacker for Penn State, and he will most likely be the defensive leader.
Carson was the third-leading tackler in 2012 behind Hodges and Mauti.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise for Penn State fans to see Carson step into the role that Mauti had in 2012 as Penn State’s defensive leader on and off the field.
Behind Carson expect to see Gary Wooten.
As a freshman, Wooten didn’t see the field, but he has the size and abilities to become a future starter.
Putting Wooten behind Carson would allow for Wooten to be a solid backup and to learn from Carson, who has started since his sophomore year.
1. Adrian Amos
2. Jordan Lucas
1. Da’Quan Davis
2. Jesse Della Valle
With a very thin secondary in 2012, Adrian Amos was able to avoid injury and be a top corner for Penn State.
Amos had a team-high two interceptions and collected 44 tackles.
As a freshman in 2012, Da’Quan Davis showed glimpses of strong play as a backup for both Stephon Morris and Amos.
With Morris graduating, Davis should be stepping into the starting role opposite of Amos.
Behind Amos and Davis, though, is another story.
Penn State remains weak in the secondary, and O’Brien will most likely have safety Jordan Lucas backing up both spots with Jesse Della Valle behind Lucas.
Fortunately for O’Brien, incoming freshmen Jordan Smith and Neiko Robinson should provide much needed depth in the secondary.
1. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong
2. Ryan Keiser
In his first season as a full-time starter, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong brought a hard-hitting style of play along with his long last name.
Obeng-Agyapong collected 41 tackles along with 2.5 tackles for a loss in 2012.
Although Penn State’s secondary doesn’t have much depth, it returns three starters and Obeng-Agyapong will be a big part of the defense in 2013.
Sophomore safety Ryan Keiser will most likely step into a backup role behind Obeng-Agyapong.
1. Malcolm Willis
2. Jordan Lucas
Malcolm Willis will be heading into 2013 as one of the most experienced players in the Nittany Lions secondary.
Willis has been a key contributor since 2011, and O’Brien will need him to be a leader in the secondary in 2013.
Behind Willis will most likely be Jordan Lucas.
Lucas is a talented athlete and was a backup at both safety and corner last season.