Penn State Football: Spring Practice Position Battles Tracker

Randy ChambersAnalyst IMarch 18, 2013

Penn State Football: Spring Practice Position Battles Tracker

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    Another spring practice for the Penn State Nittany Lions is another chance to continue to take steps in the right direction. After an impressive 8-4 finish last season under head coach Bill O'Brien, talk around Happy Valley actually has to do with football these days and not the mess off of the field.

    Penn State returns 13 starters from a year ago, and while there are plenty of reasons to be happy as a Nittany Lion fan, there are questions this team must answer. Only five starters returning on defense and no legitimate quarterback leading the way offensively, O'Brien will once again have his work cut out for him this spring.

    The Nittany Lions have just kicked off spring practice, and the spring game will take place on April 20 at 12 p.m. ET.

    Here is your one-stop shop for the 2013 Penn State Nittany Lions with spring ball fully underway.

    Note: This slideshow will be updated with the latest news, position battles, injuries and more.

Latest News

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    Update: April 12

    While you spend this spring looking at the position battles and figuring out who should end up making the two-deep depth chart, coach O'Brien is trying to manage the roster. Due to scholarship reductions, the Nittany Lions are working with fewer players than most schools, which make things extremely challenging in the depth department.

    O'Brien told Bob Flounders of Penn Live more about the situation.

    "Our best players in the fall need to play well and we need to do a great job, especially me, of keeping them healthy,'' O'Brien said.

    "And that'll be the goal.''

    O'Brien goes on to say that remaining healthy the next three seasons is the most important part of this football team. With limited players at it is, injuries are the last thing this team can avoid moving forward.

    Update: April 9

    Wonder if Penn State has made any progress on the quarterback position? The answer is no. According to Greg Pickel of Pennlive, Bill O'Brien is enjoying the competition, but he isn't any closer towards making a decision.

    "Both guys are athletic, bright guys, and they're competitive and working hard at it," O'Brien said when asked about the two-horse race between sophomore Steven Bench and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson.

    Update: April 1

    Click here to see linebacker Glenn Carson talk about what he thinks of the Nittany Lions defense. (H/T Jeff Rice of 247Sports)

    Update: March 19

    The top early enrollee is tight end Adam Breneman, but nobody knew if he was fully recovered from an ACL injury he suffered last season. Head coach Bill O'Brien helped clear that up and Audrey Snyder of pennlive reported that he is good to go this spring.

    “As of right now it sounds like he’s good to go,” O’Brien said at a National Football Foundation news conference Sunday afternoon. “We’re looking forward to him.”

    As for the names on the back of the jerseys, O'Brien isn't sure if they will stay or if the Nittany Lions will return to tradition by removing them. Audrey Snyder of pennlive reported that the coach is going to leave it a mystery until the regular season opener.

    “Every year it will be different,” he said. “I think you’ll have to wait until the Syracuse game to see what the names are or what they’re not.”

    Update: March 18

    Head coach Bill O'Brien recently sat down with Adam Rittenberg of ESPN and answered several questions about the things he is looking forward to in spring practice. As for the quarterback position, he doesn't want any of the potential candidates to be distracted by the outside world:

    I was talking to them, and I said, 'Look, I just want you guys to put your head down and go to work. Don't worry about what everybody else on the outside of the program thinks about your performance, whether it's in scrimmages or the Blue-White Game or whatever it is. Just try to get better every single day.' These are two really, really good kids. They're smart, they work hard at it, they're grasping it pretty well to this point. We're pretty excited about getting started with them. I don't want them to think about anything other than trying to improve and be as good a leader as they can be.

    In the same report by Rittenberg, O'Brien talks about the quarterback position, potential position changes and what the defense is going to look like under John Butler.

    O'Brien also told Adam Rittenberg of ESPN, that he feels really good about this football team, and despite a few concerns with depth, he likes the players that are still on the roster and those competing for playing time:

    We feel really good about our depth. O'Brien told on Friday. Is it exactly the way we would want it? No. We were only able to sign a certain amount of guys, but at the same time, we've got a lot of quality, tough [players]. I really enjoy this football team, being around these kids.

Key Offensive Battles to Watch

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    Once again the quarterback position remains a question mark under head coach Bill O'Brien. Last season he found a way to turn Matt McGloin into a productive player, but he is no longer on the roster. Now it will be a battle between Steven Bench and 2013 recruit Tyler Ferguson.  

    Bench saw playing time last season, but eight passes thrown really isn't going to make a world of difference. He is a country strong kid, who stands in tall at 6'2" and does have a strong enough arm to get the job done. Ferguson has JUCO experience leaning in his favor, and he is a smart quarterback that usually doesn't make many questionable throws.   

    The quarterback competition isn't going to mean much until Christian Hackenberg gets a chance to prove himself as well. However, one of the two players competing right now will be that much closer towards being the new starter.

    Predicted Starter: Tyler Ferguson

    Actual Winners: TBD


    Offensive Line

    The concerns on the offensive line could certainly be a lot worse than they are at the moment. However, not having a true front-runner for the center or right tackle position should be a little scary for the coaching staff.

    Senior Ty Howle should fit in somewhere, but he spent much of last season at left guard once he recovered from an injury. Considering his natural position is in the middle of the line, he would probably be the favorite, but you can't rule out Miles Dieffenbach and Angelo Mangiro, who will also be competing for reps.

    As for right tackle, it is going to be a madhouse between players such as Adam Gress, Garry Gilliam and Eric Shrive. All are upperclassmen, but have seen spotty playing time throughout their careers. Gilliam also is still raw at the offensive line considering he switched from the tight end spot and is still trying to adjust. 

    Penn State had one of the better offensive lines in the Big Ten last season, and patching up the right tackle and center positions will be key to offensive success this season.

    Predicted Starter: Ty Howle and Adam Gress

    Actual Winners: TBD

Key Defensive Battles to Watch

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    Defensive Tackle

    The defensive tackle position was hit hard with both Jordan Hill and James Terry departing.

    One of the spots will be held up by DaQuan Jones, but can you name one other defensive tackle besides him?  

    The bottom line is that this is a list full of unknowns, and guys will need to step up in a hurry. Kyle Baublitz spent some time at the position last season after switching from his more comfortable position at defensive end. As for the rest of the players, Austin Johnson, Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia are all redshirt players who will need to answer the bell this spring to provide a little comfort.

    Penn State led the Big Ten last season with 33 sacks and a lot of that had to do with a great defensive line. Finding depth at defensive tackle will be critical.

    Predicted Starters: DaQuan Jones and Kyle Baublitz

    Actual Winners: TBD



    Cornerback is another position that needs work with Stephon Morris leaving Happy Valley. Half the side of the field will be locked down by Adrian Amos, who is quickly becoming a star in the secondary, but replacing Morris won't be easy.

    Sophomore Da'Quan Davis should be the favorite to rise up the depth chart and earn a starting role. He is an athletic player who can hold his own, and he showed that last season when he was given the opportunity. But he will be pushed by an experienced player such as Jesse Della Valle, 2013 recruit Jordan Smith and Jordan Lucas, who was solid on special teams last year.

    The secondary is paper thin, and while we may have a good idea of who will lock down both spots, it is important that other players rise up and show that they can be counted on.

    Predicted Starters: Adrian Amos and Da'Quan Davis

    Actual Winners: TBD

Early Enrollees Report Card

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    Adam Breneman, 4-Star TE—It isn't quite known how recovered Breneman is at the moment, as he suffered a torn ACL last year. However, he has a great chance to see the field early depending on his health. A great route-runner, terrific hands and somebody who can play off the line as well, Breneman is the real deal.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: TBD


    Tyler Ferguson, 3-Star QB—With the quarterback spot up in the air, Ferguson will be the dark horse in this competition. He has JUCO experience already under his belt, and he brings athleticism to the position as well. He will have to impress early on with Christian Hackenberg stepping up the field in the fall.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: TBD


    Jordan Smith, 3-Star CB—Smith is a physical corner that wants to get in the receivers face and knock them off their routes at the line of scrimmage. Great in run support and the ability to play man-coverage, Smith could soon blossom into one of the top recruits of this class. He could also shift over to safety once he bulks up a bit.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: TBD


    Richy Anderson, 3-Star RB—There is not much Anderson can't do at the running back spot. He has great vision, can run between the tackles and does a good job of catching the ball. He doesn't have terrific speed, but Anderson should be a productive runner for the Nittany Lions.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: TBD


    Anthony Smith, 2-Star CB—Smith doesn't have many stars next to his name, but he is a tall corner at 6'0" and plays aggressive at the line. When you add his above-average ball skills to the conversation, you end up with somebody who should provide an early impact.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: TBD

Sleepers to Watch

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    Offensive Sleeper

    Trevor Williams, WR—Williams showed a little bit of what he was capable of last year, hauling in 10 receptions and playing a little special teams as a true-freshman. With a little experience under his belt, he should only continue to rise up the depth chart. A big receiver at 6'1" and the ability to pick up yards after the catch, Williams can quickly develop into a big play threat for the Nittany Lions.


    Defensive Sleeper

    Jordan Lucas, CB—Lucas saw playing time on special teams last year, but will be given a chance at a much larger role with depth issues in the secondary. This is somebody who has the ability to play either side of the ball with his terrific ball skills and quickness in and out of his cuts. He can become that game changer in the defensive backfield and help improve a defense that finished seventh in the Big Ten with 10 interceptions. He likely won't be a starting corner, but he will make his impact felt in the upcoming season.