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Penn State Football: Pre-Spring Practice 2-Deep Depth Chart Predictions

John McGonigalCorrespondent IIDecember 17, 2016

Penn State Football: Pre-Spring Practice 2-Deep Depth Chart Predictions

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    With spring practice starting Monday for Penn State, a bevy of questions about the future depth chart are swirling around Happy Valley.

    It's only March, but the "madness" isn't reserved solely for college basketball, as the Nittany Lions have quite a few position battles heading into camp.

    Will a quarterback emerge as a starter before Christian Hackenberg arrives on campus?

    Can Adam Breneman work his way into the starting tight end rotation?

    With these questions among others on the minds of many, let's take a look at pre-camp depth chart predictions.

Quarterback

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    Despite the wishes of many Nittany Lion faithful, fiery signal-caller Matthew McGloin won't be under center for Penn State in 2013. So who will leave the other quarterbacks behind and claim the newly open starting role?

    If you asked Bill O'Brien today, he'd tell you to hold your horses.

    According to a story by PennLive.com's Audrey Snyder, O'Brien will not be naming a starting quarterback based solely on spring camp performance.

    With competitors Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson on the docket to gain an edge this spring, it's a virtual toss-up in terms of the depth chart at quarterback.

    Regardless, Bench probably has a slight advantage simply because he became acclimated to the offense backing up McGloin last year.

     

    Two-Deep:

    1. Steven Bench

    2. Tyler Ferguson

Running Back

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    Even though Bill Belton gained all the love last preseason, the agile runner found himself in O'Brien's doghouse in 2012. With Belton a non-factor for almost half the season, former fifth-string rusher Zach Zwinak took control of the Lions' backfield.

    Expect that to remain the status quo heading into spring ball.

    Zwinak—minus ball security issues—is a hard runner who seems to thoroughly enjoy dragging defenders along for extra yardage.

    What may surprise people is the blossoming of Akeel Lynch.

    Lynch, who redshirted last year, should make a run for playing time this year, and don't be surprised if he lands himself behind Zwinak on the depth chart.

     

    Two-Deep:

    1. Zach Zwinak

    2. Akeel Lynch

Wide Receivers

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    After a breakout year that included a First Team All-Big Ten selection and 11 touchdown grabs, Allen Robinson could be on some preseason watch lists (Biletnikoff Award?), making him an obvious starter heading into the spring.

    For that second starting spot at receiver, Brandon Moseby-Felder will likely hold onto his role.

    Moseby-Felder, who showed his ability to disappear in games last year, also proved that his down-the-field presence is pretty useful when Robinson is being double-covered.

    Expect guys like Trevor Williams, Alex Kenney and Eugene Lewis to earn playing time throughout the year, but 2012's starters seem to be on solid footing.

     

    Two-Deep:

    1. Allen Robinson, Brandon Moseby-Felder

    2. Eugene Lewis, Trevor Williams

Tight Ends

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    Like Robinson, now-sophomore tight end Kyle Carter came out of left field last year to emerge as a First Team All-Big Ten selection.

    That being said, Carter—still avoiding contact due to a wrist injury—has a starting spot wrapped up.

    Now, who will be the second featured tight end?

    Jesse James showed up big time last year as a true freshman, using his 6'7'' frame to create separation and take advantage of mismatches in space.

    However, heralded recruit Adam Breneman comes in off an ACL injury ready to go.

    Even though James didn't have a game in 2012 in which he hauled in more than three receptions, the experience he gained last year gives him an edge heading into spring camp.

    If Breneman is going to be a starter, he'll need to earn it.

     

    Two-Deep:

    1. Kyle Carter, Jesse James

    2. Adam Breneman, Matt Lehman

Offensive Tackles

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    In 2013, Garry Gilliam likely won't be wearing No. 89.

    With a crowded situation at tight end and depth issues at tackle, Gilliam was moved to the offensive line where he can play both left and right tackle.

    Even though he probably has an advantage athletically over the other three tackles, the senior is new to the position.

    That considered, expect Donovan Smith—a member of the "Supa Six"— and Adam Gress to be starters for the Lions heading into spring practice.

     

    Two-Deep:

    1. Donovan Smith, Adam Gress

    2. Garry Gilliam, Kevin Blanchard

Offensive Guards

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    To put it lightly, the guard position won't be lacking experience heading into spring practice.

    Out of the five guards, four are seniors in class (not necessarily eligibility) and have been around the block.

    The big name on the offensive line this offseason has been Eric Shrive for his work off the gridiron.

    While he may be a leader heading into the spring, John Urschel and Miles Dieffenbach have the skill set advantage and on-field experience to earn the starting spots.

     

    Two-Deep:

    1. John Urschel, Miles Dieffenbach

    2. Eric Shrive, Anthony Stanko

Center

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    With Matt Stankiewitch on his way to play professional football, who will take over center duties for the Nittany Lions? Stankiewitch, a longtime starter, won't be easy to replace, but the best chance to do so would be Ty Howle.

    Howle, a graduate senior, has handled placement snapping duties and a reserve role behind Stankiewitch.

    A Dean's List student, Howle is a cerebral lineman and should be reliable in terms of reads and directing the line.

     

    Two-Deep:

    1. Ty Howle

    2. Angelo Mangiro

Defensive Ends

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    After the type of breakout season Deion Barnes had in 2012, there's no way he's not starting for Penn State heading into spring practice.

    Barnes led the Big Ten in sacks and was a constant presence in the backfield.

    With the departure of Sean Stanley and Pete Massaro, who is going to prove their worth to Larry Johnson Sr. this spring to earn the spot opposite of Barnes?

    The most logical guess is C.J. Olaniyan. While Anthony Zettel used his large frame to bust up backfields on occasion, Olaniyan gives Johnson Sr. the kind of freakish athleticism to tailor and work with.

     

    Two-Deep:

    1. Deion Barnes, C.J. Olaniyan

    2. Anthony Zettel, Evan Schwan

Defensive Tackles

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    After the 2011 season, Devon Still went on to the NFL and had Jordan Hill waiting in the wings to fill his spot as a dominant force on the line.

    Hill filled in well for Still last year but now that Hill is on to NFL draft aspirations, who will continue the trend and become an imposing force at defensive tackle?

    Following up on that, who will emerge as a complement starter who takes advantage of double-teams?

    Even though he was less-than-stellar in 2012, this year is DaQuan Jones' for the taking. After starting opposite Hill last year, it's just a matter of if he's up for the challenge.

    Next to Jones, look for Kyle Baublitz to make an impact for the Lions.

    He'll have to prove it in the spring, but the limited experience he gleaned last year should be enough for him to build off of for 2013.

     

    Two-Deep:

    1. DaQuan Jones, Kyle Baublitz

    2. Nate Cadogan, Brian Gaia

Outside Linebackers

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    With the departure of Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, there are two spots on the outside that are technically open.

    "Technically" is the key word there, as Mike Hull all but secured himself a spot as a starter with his increased playing time and performance in 2012. With one spot open, look to either Nyeem Wartman or true freshman Zayd Issah to earn the right to start.

    Wartman, who battled injury last season, has the graces of O'Brien, so the edge goes to him at this point.

    But, Issah—a linebacker and running back in high school—is known for his speed and capability to drop back into coverage, so quality playing time isn't ruled out for him.

     

    Two-Deep:

    1. Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman

    2. Zayd Issah, Ben Kline (even though he's out for the spring)

Middle Linebacker

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    The only starter to return in the linebacking corps, Glenn Carson, is a lock in the middle.

    A two-year starter, Carson quietly recorded 85 tackles in 2012 and brings a "by example" kind of leadership mentality to the Lions' locker room.

    In terms of spelling Carson for a few plays here or there, look for T.J. Rhattigan to make some inroads.

     

    Two-Deep:

    1. Glenn Carson

    2. T.J. Rhattigan

Cornerbacks

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    With Stephon Morris exiting Happy Valley, soon-to-be junior Adrian Amos will have the chance to be shine in the secondary. Amos—probably Penn State's most athletically gifted player—is not only a great talent, but should become more of a leader in 2013.

    To fill Morris' spot, keep an eye on Da'Quan Davis.

    Davis, who played high school ball with Amos in Maryland, earned valuable experience last year as a true freshman and should make a run at solidifying the starting spot come spring.

     

    Two-Deep:

    1. Adrian Amos, Da'Quan Davis

    2. Jesse Della Valle, Anthony Smith

Safeties

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    With the team's two starting safeties returning in 2013, the depth chart slots shouldn't be in question.

    Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Malcolm Willis were key contributors on defense last year. Expect that to show on the pre-camp depth chart.

    However, don't overlook Ryan Keiser.

    Keiser, a special teams player last year who made his presence felt, should garner some playing time as the season progresses.

     

    Two-Deep:

    1. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, Malcolm Willis

    2. Ryan Keiser, Jordan Lucas

Placekicker/Punter

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    Despite a shaky start, Sam Ficken settled in as placekicker in 2012 and will likely reprise the starting role this upcoming season.

    Heading into spring practice, it looks like Alex Butterworth will also retain the starting role as punter.

    But, once fall camp opens up, Butterworth (and even Ficken) should keep their heads on a swivel with preferred walk-on Chris Gulla coming in.

    Gulla, who received interest from Miami (Fl.), Georgia Tech and N.C. State, was a decorated placekicker and punter at Toms River high school in New Jersey.

     

    Two-Deep:

    1. Sam Ficken (PK), Alex Butterworth (P)

    2. Kevin DiSanto (PK), Eli Skinner (P)

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