Penn State Football: Bill O'Brien's 5 Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice
With the Blue-White game in the books, the Penn State Nittany Lions have officially closed spring practice. While a lot of things can change between now and the start of the season, spring practice is a good chance for the coaches to get an early look at what they've got.
After this spring, there are a few things that head coach Bill O'Brien should be concerned with.
Lack of depth is going to be an issue moving forward at Penn State. Scholarship reductions, stemming from the NCAA sanctions, will limit the number of solid players that O'Brien will have to use.
This spring was a time for new players to step up and show that they're ready to contribute in 2013.
While there was a lot of good that can be taken away from Penn State's early practice, these slides look at five things that should concern O'Brien heading into the summer.
The Kicking Game
Bill O'Brien has to still be concerned with his kicking game. Last season, the Nittany Lions ranked 11th in the Big Ten in punting and tied for eighth in field goals.
Kicker Sam Ficken and punter Alex Butterworth both return for the 2013 season.
Ficken struggled to start 2012, but ended on a hot streak, making 12 of his final 13 kicks. His 37-yard overtime kick was the game-winner in the season finale against Wisconsin.
Though signs had been pointing to Ficken having a solid spring, things quickly changed in the Blue-White game.
He missed a 37-yard field goal and a fourth-quarter extra point. Though it's a small sample size, it's enough to send a bit of doubt to the coaching staff. It was probably just a bad day for the kicker, after all, the wind was whipping around the stadium the entire game. With that being said, Ficken needs to be more consistent moving forward.
Though punting was not part of the spring game, punter Alex Butterworth has to be a concern of O'Brien. Butterworth averaged just 37.4 yards per punt last season. That's a number that has to improve in 2013.
The kicking game can sometimes be overlooked, but it can be very important towards the outcome of a game. Penn State needs to hope that its kickers can improve before the season kicks off.
The Offensive Line
The first-team offensive line should consist of three starters from a season ago, Donovan Smith, Miles Dieffenbach and John Urschel. Ty Howle and Adam Gress, who both saw significant time last season, should round out the experienced group this year.
Though it's shaping up to be a solid line, there could now be some cause for concern.
During the spring game, the defense was able to register a total of nine sacks and pushed the offensive line around. That's not good for a unit that includes a lot of experienced backups as well.
Of course, there's still plenty of time to work it out, but the offensive line is going to have to play solid if Penn State hopes to be successful in 2013.
With a new, inexperienced quarterback under center, it will be imperative that protection is provided.
After losing two All-Big Ten linebackers from a season ago, the Nittany Lions knew that depth at that position could be an issue in 2013. Now, due to injuries and other players leaving, there is a huge hole on the depth chart at linebacker.
Three players, Mike Hull, Glenn Carson and Nyeem Wartman, all have experience and seem to have the starting spots locked down.
It's after those three starters where things get interesting.
There are only two other linebackers, Gary Wooten and Ben Kline, who are currently on scholarship. 2013 recruit Brandon Bell will join the team this summer.
Penn State has always been known for its linebackers but that is now an area of concern.
The 2013 team, though it does consist of some solid linebackers, will have some depth issues. That's something O'Brien will need to focus on heading into the 2013 season.
Several Nittany Lions, including starters from last year, are currently dealing with injuries.
Tight end Kyle Carter is still rehabbing from a wrist injury he suffered last year and has missed all of practice. Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and has been limited this spring.
Defensive tackle Da'Quan Jones, a starter in 11 games last season, has been dealing with a lower back issue this spring. Bill Belton, who started five games in 2012 has also been limited and was held out of the spring game with a toe injury.
A few backups are also healing from ailments.
Linebacker Ben Kline missed spring practice with a shoulder issue. Garry Gilliam, who moved from tight end to tackle this spring, has recently missed time with a calf injury. Top tight end recruit Adam Breneman, who tore his ACL during his senior year of high school, ended spring practice in a no-contact jersey with an elbow injury.
On top of the previous injuries, starting running back Zach Zwinak left the Blue-White game after just three plays. The Centre Daily Times reported that the back suffered a left hand injury.
Luckily for the Nittany Lions, the season is still four months away. That's a lot of time for those who are banged up to heal and get ready to start the year.
Too Many Receivers
OK, so this is obviously a good concern. However, O'Brien is going to have to get creative and figure out how's he's going to get all of his talented players involved in the game plan.
The Nittany Lions already had a lot of depth at wide receiver returning from the 2012 team, including the Big Ten's top receiver, Allen Robinson. Brandon Moseby-Felder, Matt Zanellato and Alex Kenney also all caught passes last season.
Zanellato had an impressive day during the Blue-White game, making four catches for 53 yards.
Aside from last year's players, redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis and true freshman Richy Anderson will be in the mix this season. Anderson looked sharp in the spring game and caught a 5-yard touchdown pass.
As loaded as Penn State is at wide receiver, the tight end position may be even better. Three guys who produced last season all return for 2013. Kyle Carter, Matt Lehman and Jesse James will play an important role in the Penn State passing attack.
In the spring game, James had five catches for 77 yards with a touchdown and redshirt freshman tight end Brent Wilkerson, who's has had a strong spring, also added a touchdown.
Bill O'Brien definitely has a lot of weapons to use in the passing attack, and while it's a great problem to have, he's going to need to figure out how to best utilize the skills of everyone he has.
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