The Penn State Nittany Lions will wrap up spring practice with the annual Blue-White game on April 20. The game really serves a dual purpose. It's a chance for the coaching staff to see how new players respond in a game situation. It's also an early look at what fans can expect to see come fall.
This year's game is interesting because though there's a lot of experience returning, there are also some huge holes at key positions left by graduated seniors. This will be the first opportunity for the new starters to show they belong.
As scholarship restrictions continue to exist, it's going to be important that the coaches pay attention to the guys currently on the roster and try to find the next hidden gem.
Spring practice, and particularly the spring game, is the first chance to see where the team is strong and which areas will need worked on before the start of the season.
The following slides highlight four things to watch for during the Penn State spring game.
While there have been several storylines throughout Penn State's spring practice, the quarterback battle is the one most people are interested in. Last season, under Bill O'Brien, the Nittany Lions and quarterback Matt McGloin had one of the top passing offenses in the Big Ten.
This year, McGloin is gone, and a trio of young quarterbacks will try to replace him. Top quarterback recruit Christian Hackenberg won't be around until the summer, and it's still unclear if he's going to be given a redshirt for 2013.
That leaves 2012 backup Steven Bench and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson. During the Blue-White game, the battle for the starting quarterback position will be on full display.
Throughout spring, neither guy has pulled ahead in the competition. In fact, things have been even, with Audrey Snyder reporting on PennLive.com that both players have taken equal reps throughout spring practice.
Speaking at his press conference last week, O'Brien stated,
"Really, I can’t say that one guy has really stood out above the other guy, they’ve both had their moments. I’ve been very impressed with how hard each of these guys has worked. They’re both young. They’re both 18 or 19 years old.”
All eyes will be on the young quarterbacks during the spring game. It'll be interesting to see if one can step up get one step closer to claiming the starting job.
One thing that fans will notice at the spring game is that several Nittany Lions will be lined up at new positions. Lack of depth, and in some cases, a wealth of talent, caused the coaching staff to get creative and move some guys around.
Moving from the offensive line to the defensive line is Nate Cadogan. The senior, who's shifted to defensive tackle, will be playing his third different position with the Nittany Lions. He previously spent time at tackle and tight end.
Heading into the 2013 season, the deepest position on the Penn State depth chart has to be wide receiver. Having a need to provide more depth in the defensive secondary, Bill O'Brien has decided to convert two former receivers.
Trevor Williams and Malik Golden will now be trying to break up passes and make interceptions instead of catching touchdowns. Golden is a redshirt freshman and Williams is a sophomore who totaled 97 receiving yards a year ago.
Former tight end Garry Gilliam has moved over to offensive tackle, but will not be participating in the game due to a calf injury.
Spring practice is a time to experiment and try new things. The Blue-White game will be the first opportunity for guys to show that they are a good fit at their new positions.
Kicker Sam Ficken really turned things around last year and finished on a hot streak. After being inconsistent, including missing four field goals in a one-point loss at Virginia, Ficken finished the year converting 12 of his final 13 kicks.
He was on the field for the Nittany Lions' final play of the 2012 season, as his 37-yard field goal gave Penn State an overtime victory over Wisconsin in the season finale.
Penn State fans hope that is the Ficken that they see when the Nittany Lions take the field for the annual spring game.
The kicker told Greg Pickel on PennLive.com that he's ready to perform in the upcoming season. "I've built on that in the offseason, and getting my fundamentals like perfect, my mechanics perfect. I'm kicking as best as I've ever had," he said.
Ficken will likely be anxious to show the crowd that he's shut the book on the tumultuous start to his Penn State career and is ready to be a solid contributor moving forward.
Though the defensive play-caller will be the same, middle linebacker Glenn Carson once again assumes that role, the Nittany Lions will have to find new leaders on defense for 2013.
Jordan Hill, Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti have all moved on, leaving the door open for someone new to step up.
The spring game will be the first opportunity to see who emerges as a leader. Obvious candidates include: Carson, Adrian Amos, Deion Barnes and Malcolm Willis.
All four players started every game in 2012, with the exception of Willis, who missed the final two with an injury. Amos is one of the top cornerbacks in the Big Ten and very may well take the title of defensive leader.
The Nittany Lions must replace five key starters on defense. Luckily, the projected replacements all have at least some experience. That being said, it's going to be important that one of the veterans step up and take control.