Penn State Football: Why Coaching Changes Could Benefit Upperclassmen

Tim Tolley@@TimTolley_BRContributor IFebruary 15, 2014

Deion Barnes could be in for a big year under new DL coach Sean Spencer.
Deion Barnes could be in for a big year under new DL coach Sean Spencer.Associated Press

The Nittany Lions lost some of the best position coaches in the country this offseason in defensive line coach Larry Johnson, linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden and wide receivers coach Stan Hixon. And the long-term effects won't be quantified for some time. 

But in 2014, the changes could prove beneficial for some Nittany Lions.

During his 15 years as defensive line coach at Penn State, Larry Johnson developed seven first-team All-Americans and six Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year or Defensive Lineman of the Year winners.

With recent departures like Jordan Hill, Devon Still, Jack Crawford and Jared Odrick, it's hard to recall a year when Penn State hasn't sent at least one player from Johnson's group to the NFL. DaQuan Jones will join that list this May.

Deion Barnes, the 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, had high expectations in 2013, but he came up short. 

After three years under Johnson, Barnes will receive a twist in his development, as he'll now be working under Sean Spencer going forward. Spencer is not the same coach as Johnson is, but the benefit to Barnes is that he's different.

Barnes, C.J. Olaniyan, Anthony Zettel and Johnson's other former students had the privilege of learning under Johnson for multiple years, and now they'll have the advantage of learning from a new coach with different techniques and new angles.

Anyone who has ever played competitive sports knows that specific players respond differently to certain styles and methods. Also, after three years under one coach, there isn't much new to learn—it's more about refining abilities at that point.

Perfecting the techniques learned under Johnson while adding to their arsenals under Spencer could make the front four at Penn State more versatile and dangerous.

The same goes for the linebackers. 

Ron Vanderlinden's track record as a linebacker coach is well documented. Dan Connor, Paul Posluszny, Navorro Bowman, Sean Lee, Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and plenty of others enjoyed terrific careers at Penn State before moving on to the NFL.

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 10: Mike Hull #43 of the Penn State Nittany Lions lines up against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first half at Beaver Stadium on September 10, 2011 in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

If he can stay healthy, Mike Hull is expected to be the next great linebacker to come from Linebacker U, and the departure of Vandy could actually help him get there. 

Hull, as well as Ben Kline, Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell, had the luxury of learning the position from one of the best. In 2014, Hull and his fellow linebackers will be able to build on that knowledge under new linebacker coach Brent Pry.

Perhaps the players with the most to gain are at wide receiver.

Former position coach Stan Hixon was largely credited for developing Josh Reed and Michael Clayton at LSU, Allen Robinson at Penn State and Steve Johnson with the Buffalo Bills. 

When he left for Houston, Hixon left behind guys like Geno Lewis, Matt Zanellato and Richy Anderson—the only returning receivers who had catches in 2013.

There's a great chance that Lewis could have been Hixon's next All-American. 

He could be Josh Gattis' next All-American receiver, instead.

Penn State's new wide receiver coach has a track record that stacks up well against Hixon's, having coached All-Americans at both Vanderbilt (Jordan Matthews) and Western Michigan (Jordan White).

DID YOU KNOW #PennState WR coach Josh Gattis coached Jordan Matthews to SEC records in career receptions and career receiving yds?

— (@FightOnState) January 15, 2014

Not many players in college get to train under two positional coaches that have enjoyed the successes that Hixon and Gattis have.

If Lewis, Zanellato and the rest of the upperclassmen on the Penn State roster can use this transition period as a unique opportunity to expand on what they've already been taught, it could benefit the team as a whole.



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