Penn State Football: 4 Players with the Most to Prove in Spring Practice
With national signing day complete, the Penn State Nittany Lions can now focus on getting on the field and preparing for the upcoming season during spring practice. There are several holes in the starting lineup left by graduating seniors that need to be filled.
There are also several players who have a lot to prove during spring practice.
Head coach Bill O'Brien will look to build off of his team's successful 2012 campaign. Despite off-field distractions and key starter transfers just weeks before the start of the season, the Nittany Lions finished with an impressive record of 8-4.
As the start of the new season draws near, fans will want to keep an eye on several storylines. The most important being who is going to replace quarterback Matt McGloin, who finished second in passing in the Big Ten a year ago.
Aside from just replacing starters, there are several returning players who will need to step up this spring in order to either move up the depth chart or hold off challenges from those behind them.
1. QB Steven Bench
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Steven Bench returns as the only Penn State quarterback with experience at this level. Despite being the backup last season and learning Bill O'Brien's system for a year, Bench will find himself in the middle of a position battle heading into the spring.
In limited action a year ago, he completed two of eight passes for 12 yards.
The quarterback battle will be an important one to watch as practice progresses.
One would think that star recruit Christian Hackenberg would have a chance at starting the season under center for the Nittany Lions, but it seems likely that he will be given a redshirt this year in order to have an extra year to develop at the collegiate level.
That leaves junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson to compete with Bench for snaps. In 10 games last year at College of the Sequoias, he threw for 2,614 yards and 22 touchdowns in 10 games
If Bench wants to take the job, he is going have to prove himself to the coaching staff. He does have the advantage of being of being Matt McGloin's backup last year and having time to build relationships with the receivers during practice.
2. RB Bill Belton
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Bill Belton, who entered 2012 as the starting running back, will enter 2013 as a backup. An injury, paired with poor play and the emergence of Zach Zwinak, pushed Belton down the depth chart.
He finished the disappointing season with just 263 yards rushing and three touchdowns. He also caught nine passes for 50 yards and a touchdown.
Entering spring practice, no running back has more to prove than him.
Belton has the speed and a playmaking ability to be a dangerous offensive weapon for the Nittany Lions. He just needs to work hard and show the dedication to get back on the field.
While he will battle for time in the backfield with Zwinak and redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch, there are other ways that Belton can be productive in 2013. He's already shown the ability to catch, making him a useful slot receiver. He is also valuable on special teams.
Belton may have more to prove this year than any other Nittany Lion.
3. WR Brandon Moseby-Felder
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Brandon Moseby-Felder started nine games in 2012 opposite of breakout receiver Allen Robinson and finished the season as the team's third-leading receiver behind Robinson and tight end Kyle Carter.
He caught 31 passes for 437 yards and two touchdowns. The senior should have a hold on a starting receiver spot entering the new season.
However, if he wants to keep the job, he's going to have to really step up in sprig practice and impress the coaching staff. While no other Penn State wide receiver was close to him in terms of yards and catches last season, Moseby-Felder will have some tough competition for 2013.
Trevor Williams, Alex Kenney and Matt Zanellato all caught passes last year and will be returning for the upcoming season. Redshirt freshmen Eugene Lewis and Malik Golden both impressed during practice last season and will also be in the mix. Lewis was a top recruit in the class of 2012.
As if that's not enough, 3-star recruit DaeSean Hamilton could play as a true freshman and present yet another challenge to Moseby-Felder.
Moseby-Felder will provide experience and senior leadership and will be an important target to whoever is behind center for the Nittany Lions. With that being said, he will need to have a strong spring in order to hold off the challenges from those behind him on the depth chart.
4. K Sam Ficken
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Perhaps no Nittany Lion had a more up-and-down season than Sam Ficken. The maligned kicker drew some criticism (including from myself) after a miserable start to the year that saw him miss six of his first eight field-goal attempts.
Ficken starting receiving negative attention after a 17-16 Week 2 loss at Virginia where he missed four field goals and had an extra point blocked. His struggles continued throughout the season, and perhaps caused head coach Bill O'Brien to lose confidence in the kicker, electing to go for it on fourth down on several occasions.
Fortunately for Ficken, he did finish strong, making his final 10 field goals, including the game-winner in overtime in the season finale against Wisconsin.
Entering 2013, he will once again find himself as the Nittany Lions' placekicker as there are limited options beyond him. However, he will still need to prove himself during spring practice and carry the success that he found late in 2012 into this year.
If there are any signs that the kicker will not be consistent, the coaching staff may start looking elsewhere.