Penn State Football: Week 1 Spring Practice Stock Report
The Penn State Nittany Lions opened spring practice this week trying to build on a successful 2012 season that saw the team finish with a record of 8-4. Head coach Bill O'Brien starts his second year at the helm and will have several decisions to make over the course of practice.
The loss of 31 seniors, including nine starters, coupled with scholarship reductions has caused some holes on the depth chart. The coaching staff is going to have to pay extra attention to incoming freshmen and walk-ons to see if there is anyone who can step up and fill in.
In just a week, several players have already seen their stock rise or fall.
As the Nittany Lions wrap up the first week of spring practice and head toward the annual Blue-White game on April 20, let's take a look at an early stock report for the team.
Stock Up: Nyeem Wartman
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Linebacker Nyeem Wartman showed promise as a true freshman in 2012. He saw action in the first two games of the year and blocked a punt in the opener. Unfortunately, his season was cut short after a Week 2 injury.
Now healthy, Wartman gets to compete in practice for the open outside linebacker position. Returning starter Glenn Carson and Mike Hull are slated to take two of the three spots.
The Nittany Lions are not deep at linebacker after the graduations of both Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti. According to Greg Pickel on PennLive.com, O'Brien had this to say when asked about the linebackers:
"All three have had a great off season. Carson and Hull work hard, and are good leaders and good players, and Nyeem worked very hard this off-season. "I'm looking forward to what he can do certainly."
Wartman has a clear vote of confidence from his head coach and seems to be the one favored to take the job in the early going of spring practice
Stock Down: Bill Belton
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Bill Belton is coming off of an extremely disappointing 2012 campaign. After the transfer of starting running back Silas Redd in August, Belton was named the starter heading into the season. However, an ankle injury in the first game quickly derailed his season.
After returning to the starting lineup in Week 5, he continued to struggle and was eventually replaced by Zach Zwinak.
Belton finished the year with just 258 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
He now finds himself fighting for a position in 2013. With Zwinak locking up the starting running back job, Belton will need to find other ways to get on the field. He will be used on special teams and will likely line up in the slot in certain formations.
Unfortunately for Belton, there are guys below him on the depth chart who could ultimately supplant him.
Redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch could be a sleeper out of the Penn State backfield this year. So far, O'Brien's been impressed with the young back. He was quoted by Black Shoe Diaries as saying, "You've got Akeel Lynch who had a tremendous off season in the weight room, improved his speed, and improved his conditioning."
True freshman Richy Anderson also seems to be in the mix to take snaps away from Belton. O'Brien told PennLive.com's Bob Flounders, "We have Richy Anderson on offense we think can help us as a slot receiver and maybe play some running back, too, in certain situations"
Belton is going to have to work hard this spring and show the coaching staff that he's ready to be a productive member of the offense.
Stock Up: Sam Ficken
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Kicker Sam Ficken finished 2012 on a hot streak and will look to carry that confidence and momentum into the upcoming season. After making just two of his first eight kicks to start the year, Ficken finished by converting on 12 of 13 kicks to end the season.
His final kick of the season was a 37-yard game-winning kick in overtime against Wisconsin.
Though 2012 was rough for the current kicker, Bill O'Brien is confident in his ability. According to Audrey Snyder of The Patriot-News, O'Brien stated,
“Sam Ficken should have confidence. He made some big kicks for us the end of the year. Like a golfer, right? You have some confidence when you make some shots.”
So far, the spring has been good for Ficken. According to PennLive.com, he made all three of his field-goal attempts on the first day of practice.
Ficken enters spring practice as the clear favorite at his position, and the job will be his to lose. The Nittany Lions have just one other place-kicker, Kevin DiSanto, on the current roster.
Stock Down: Ben Kline
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Outside linebacker Ben Kline has seen his stock drop this spring for a reason he cannot control. The redshirt sophomore is dealing with a shoulder issue and will be unable to practice right now.
Penn State is very thin at linebacker, as two of the three starters from last season are gone. That leaves only four current Penn State linebackers who have game experience.
Last season, Kline appeared in every game, mostly on special teams, and recorded 18 total tackles.
Kline was listed as a starter on PennLive.com's early linebacker projections for 2013. However, not being able to practice this spring may ultimately drop him down the depth chart when the season begins.
If fellow linebacker Nyeem Wartman is able to impress the coaching staff, he will take the open job, relegating Kline to mainly special teams and filling in when needed.
Stock Up: Ty Howle
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Ty Howle enters his senior season in a position battle to become the starting center. The graduation of All-Big Ten center Matt Stankiewitch opened up a hole to fill. Howle has previously served as a backup who can player both center and guard.
Heading into this year, it was thought that he would once again serve in a the backup role. Pete Young of PennLive.com listed Angelo Mangiro as the starting center in his early 2013 projections. He is a talented lineman who can also play several positions.
Though spring practice is just starting, it seems that Howle now holds the upper hand.
According to Tony Mancuso of GoPSUsports.com, O'Brien remarked on the first day of practice that Howle will start the spring as the leading candidate to win the job. "Ty Howle will be in that mix," he said. "He'll be the starter going into the spring there."
This will be one of the positions to watch going forward, and for now, it seems Howle is the one who'll be snapping the ball on opening day.