On Saturday Penn State will hold their annual Blue White spring game, bringing an end to the spring practice season. With the final week of spring practice upon us it is time to start determining where the different positions are in their progress to become a possible Big Ten contender in 2011. While practices have been mostly cut off to media members it is nearly impossible to evaluate the various positions or players until the spring game this weekend, but here are a few things to look for on Saturday, along with a guess on some final spring grades key players will receive after the spring game.
The grades listed are a prediction for what each player will most likely be required to meet in order to win a starting job at that respective position in 2011.
For Rob Bolden a strong showing in the Blue White game will be a must if his future is to move on with him at Penn State. Bolden, who did not play in last year's spring game, was named the starting quarterback in 2010 and many fans feel he should be the favorite to be the starter this season if he decides to stay in State College. Last season saw Bolden move the offense decently but more often than not did not see him get the ball in to the end zone. If Bolden can put together some scoring drives and edge out McGloin, and maybe even Paul Jones, then look for Bolden to end the semester as the favorite.
What grade does Bolden need? B+
What grade does McGloin need? A-
Evan Royster, Penn State's all-time leading rusher, has moved on but Penn State has the next great tailback lined up and ready to fill in with Silas Redd. Redd is expected to be the starting running back in 2011 but nobody is forgetting about Stephfon Green, who is hoping to have a rebound season after seeing a diminished role in 2010.
What grade does Redd need? B
What grade does Green need? B+
Before the spring game Penn State's wide receiver position has already taken a couple of hits. Curtis Drake has a broken leg and Derek Moye will be sidelined with a concussion, which takes two of the better receivers out of the mix for the time being. This puts the focus on guys like Justin Brown, Devon Smith and Shawney Kersey on Saturday. Brown and Moye have already stepped in and played a role in the offense for Penn State and each are expected to increase their value this season. Will Kersey be able to take advantage of any extra playing time with Drake and Moye out?
The tight end position will also be one to watch after an injury-filled 2010 season decimated the position. Gary Gilliam will be sidelined by complications from knee surgery. Look for Kevin Haplea receive the most attention at the position.
For Saturday the player to keep the closest eye on may be Justin Brown, who showed some growth later in the season last year but still has some work to do.
What grade does Brown need? B
The offensive line has a lot of room for improvement, so assessing any individual grades at this point may be too much to ask. The offensive line improved as the season played itself out last season but if the offense is going to start gelling the offensive line needs to find dependable players earlier than they did in 2010, especially with Alabama looming in week two and games against Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin to wrap up the regular season.
As a unit fans should hope to see a B+ effort by the offensive line in the Blue White game, as anything less may be less than flattering for a team that has struggled in the trenches the past year and a half.
Just like the offensive line, the defensive line needs to find contributions from their big men. Pete Massaro (defensive end) is already done with a torn ACL in his right knee and defensive ends Jack Crawford (foot) and Eric Lattimore (wrist) continue to rest some wounds. With the theoretical top three defensive ends not seeing much, if any, action this week the focus shifts to guys like Kyle Baublitz, Sean Stanley, and C.J. Olaniyan to see if they can make a case for winning a starting job.
The defensive line rarely pressured offenses in 2010 so each job on the line should be available if Penn State wants to see improvement. While some of the more heralded players sit it would seem that expectations on Saturday may be a little lower than usual. Still, there is some talent that should be able to provide an average performance against a questionable offensive line.
Anything less than a C+ performance should be alarming.
Linebacker U? We'll see.
Michael Mauti is receiving high praise through the media this spring and he is already being looked at as the leader of the offense, which would seem to be a good fit for the team in 2011. But who will be flanking his sides at linebacker? That remains not so concrete.
Nathan Stupar is in a dead heat with Khairi Fortt but Fortt has been seeing most of his action alongside Mauti. Gerald Hodges is expected to be a starter as well, but look for Stupar to be used situationally if he does not win a starting job. This is the key linebacker battle on the team this spring.
What grade does Fortt need? B+
What grade does Stupar need? B+
The defensive backfield continues to be an interesting position on Penn State's defense. A rock solid defensive line and crop of linebackers can cover up weaknesses in the backfield, but when there are so many question marks up front a secondary can be exposed. Penn State's secondary has been a victim of that recently and is looking to respond in 2011.
Penn State could be fielding four seniors in the secondary in 2011, including Nick Sukay and D'Anton Lynn along with Chaz Powell and Stephfon Morris or Drew Astorino. The talent is there but if wide receivers are being given extra time to work with due to a lack of pressure form the defensive line then no amount of talent may be able to overcome in this secondary, and that's when healthy.
Penn State needs to see a positive showing by the defensive secondary on Saturday, when quarterbacks will be looking to throw as much as possible to prove themselves worthy of a starting job on the other side of the ball.
Kevin McGuire is the national college football writer for Examiner.com. Follow his college football discussion on Twitter @CFBExaminer.
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