Penn State Football: 10 Young Lions Who Could Become Legends
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Penn State's youth movement is upon us in 2011. Young players look to make an impact as Penn State hopes to make a run for a Big Ten Leaders Division championship in the dawn of Big Ten division play.
Will the youthful energy pave the way for a championship or will 2011 be a year of growing pains at some key positions?
Which players on the roster have a chance to become household names in Pennsylvania and beyond? Could any of these players leave a mark the way guys like Curt Warner, Michael Robinson, Jack Ham, Shane Conlan or Kyle Brady did?
Here is a look at 10 Nittany Lions on the current roster who could emerge as leaders of the team before their time is done at Penn State.
Kevin McGuire is the national college football writer for Examiner.com. Follow his college football discussion on Twitter: @CFBExaminer.
1. RB Silas Redd
Silas Redd could be the next great Penn State running back.
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Perhaps no player on the Penn State roster has as much expected of him. It's easy to see why running back Silas Redd has visions of greatness in his future by Penn State fans and his peers.
Redd packs a powerful punch when he gets loose and, in time, he will become even tougher to tackle. Redd studies film of the greatest running backs in football history and he has been known to load up on footage on YouTube of past Penn State running backs, including Curt Warner.
Redd, as a freshman, made a mild impact on the offense in 2010, and with Evan Royster moving on, there is a job opening in the backfield on offense. Redd has the stature of what could be a great Penn State running back, and with a full season already behind him, many feel that Redd is prepared to take the next step in the offense and take on a heavier work load.
Royster has spoken highly of Redd, suggesting that the all-time rushing record set by Royster in 2010 will not be likely to last for too long as long as Redd is lining up behind the quarterback.
2. LB Khairi Fortt
Khairi Fortt (11) could start this season. Photo: Pittsburgh Tribune Review
Khairi Fortt took a majority of the snaps with the first team defense this spring, with Nate Stupar working his way back to 100 percent. The extra playing time with the starters may give Fortt a jump on making a lasting impact on defense as he works to become one of the next great linebackers at Linebacker U.
Fortt came to Penn State as a high-rated prospect, so his emergence as a possible starter comes as no surprise, and playing at a program known for linebacker production, combined with Fortt's physicality and frame, should mean Nittany Lions fans will have plenty to get excited about this season.
Fortt will likely play alongside Michael Mauti at linebacker in a combination that could end up being similar to the pairing of Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee a couple seasons ago.
3. LB Gerald Hodges
Gerald Hodges (6) brings an edge to the linebacker position.
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Gerald Hodges will also likely be taking the field with Muati and Fortt, and that should come as great news for Penn State. Hodges is a tenacious player who brings a certain level of intensity to the field that only a few players have matched before, including the likes of LaVar Arrington and Navorro Bowman.
Hodges is not up to the caliber of either of those players, but with an increased role on defense this season, along some talented linebackers, it is possible we will witness a coming out party by Hodges as he gains some national attention before he leaves Penn State.
Hodges has a desire to live up to the reputation of the position at Penn State.
"I just went out there and had a new attitude," the Penn State linebacker said in a story by The Morning Call's Mark Wogenrich. "Guys like Navorro [Bowman], Paul [Posluszny] and Sean [Lee] played relentless. I want to carry on that Linebacker U. tradition."
4. LB Mike Mauti
Michael Mauti will be a fixture in the middle of the defense. Photo: Penn State University
Michael Mauti is widely regarded as the leader of the linebackers at Penn State. He may not grab the national spotlight like some players in other programs, but in typical Penn State fashion, Mauti goes about his business in a quiet way.
Mauti moves from the outside to the inside position this season in a position move that figures to give Penn State more athleticism and speed all across the linebacker spot, which should help Penn State's overall defensive production after a disappointing 2010.
The question about Mauti is whether or not he can stay healthy after experiencing a rash of injuries since coming to Penn State. If he can stay healthy and play a full season, Mauti could finish up his Penn State career as a true testament to the value of hard work and determination at Penn State, which would leave a different kind of legend behind to share in State College.
5. WR Devon Smith
Devon Smiths speed makes him a potential threat whenever he touches the football.
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Devon Smith is good for some production on offense, but what makes him more likely to be a legendary Penn State player is his ability to return the football on special teams.
Smith returned 12 punts last year for 155 yards, an average of 12.9 yards per return. Smith finished third in the Big Ten in punt return yards. Smith's ability to run a slant pattern on offense, though, should not go without mention.
He is small and quick, which means he may be able to get by slower linebackers in the middle of the field and find some open room. Of course, sending Smith deep in man-to-man coverage can also play to his advantage as he can outrun defenders more often than not.
6. QB Paul Jones
Paul Jones may be behind in the quarterback competition but some feel he may be the best at the posiiton. Photo: The Morning Call
The quarterback situation has been on every Penn State fan's mind this offseason, and for good reason. The competition appears to have been narrowed down to two candidates, but Paul Jones should still be getting fans excited for the down the road.
The highly-recruited quarterback is coming off a redshirt season for Penn State and has taken the time to learn the playbook in hopes of contending for a starting spot. That chance may not come this season as Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin each have playing time behind them, and Joe Paterno has stated that there is a 99-percent chance one of those two will be named the starter.
But don't dismiss Jones, who brings plenty of talent to the table. Given some time, Jones could be the key to the offense.
7. QB Rob Bolden
Rob Bolden's 2010 saw some bumps, but a promising 2011 could change the future outlook.
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Rob Bolden looks to be the favorite to land the starting job behind center this fall, and if he is looking to make a statement after the sequence of events that took place last season and this offseason, then Penn State could benefit from inspired play by Bolden in the fall.
Bolden's request to transfer kept him in Happy Valley and all indications are that he had a strong spring, putting aside his dismal Blue-and-White performance in a constant downpour of rain. If he remains on campus instead of seeking a transfer then Bolden could be given time to develop into a pretty special quarterback.
He will need to produce some points in the red zone, but last year he was a true freshman, so growing pains should have been expected.
8. FB Zach Zwinak
Fullback Zach Zwinak could be a nice complement behind Redd. Photo: The Washington Post.
Zach Zwinak was recruited as one of the top prospects out of Maryland. He missed a chance to play in the Blue-and-White Game this spring due to injury, but if he comes back healthy, he can give Penn State fine play behind the quarterback.
Zwinak's blocking ability will help the development of the quarterback, giving Bolden, McGloin or Jones more time to breath, but when he gets the ball in his hands, he can also plow through the line in short-yardage situations.
Zwinak may also be able to pull off the screen pass to perfection once he is in the offense for a little bit. His production may be overshadowed by the likes of Silas Redd, but Zwinak and Redd could give Penn State one of the best one-two punches in the Big Ten.
9. DaQuan Jones
Defensive lineman DaQuan Jones could emerge on the defensive line.
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DaQuan Jones is a player on the rise along the defensive line, and the unit as a whole could use some help. Will Jones be the next great Penn State defensive lineman?
Jones has been able to take advantage of some injuries on the line to get some extra playing time, and with Pete Massaro already out for the 2011 season and Jack Crawford and Eric Lattimore still rebounding from some injuries, it appears as though Jones may have a chance to compete for more playing time once again.
Jones was moved to the outside from defensive tackle as a result of players missing time at end, which has been a tough task, but his work ethic has given the coaching staff something to trust in moving forward, and the experience should only enhance what Jones does no matter where he ends up lining up on the defensive line.
10. LB Dakota Royer
Dakota Royer has strnegth and agility to make him a defensive star. Photo: Scout.com
Ever since feasting their eyes on the YouTube video of Dakota Royer jumping out of a pool filled with water, the anticipation has been mounting. The linebacker is moving his way up the ranks on the depth chart, and he has been praised for his performance this spring, with Joe Paterno saying that Royer and the rest of the linebackers are "playing faster."
Royer may still be a year away from moving in to contention for a starting job, but he should be able to see some playing time this season in a reserve role, and that could help him get more of a grasp of the defensive system Penn State utilizes.
Look for Royer to become a part of the rotation at some point in 2011 and see how he performs. If all goes well in 2011, then 2012 should be a time when Royer finds himself in the running for a starting position at linebacker.