Saturday was graduation day for 24 Penn State student-athletes, including a number of Penn State football players. Two players graduating on Saturday, defensive end Pete Massaro and linebacker Michael Mauti, are graduating in 3.5 years and are scheduled to return to the team in 2012 for one more season. Both players were victims of injuries this season (Massaro in the spring and Mauti early in the season) so it will be good to see them get one more chance on the field next season.
While their returns will help out on defense, the loss of some key players will leave some holes to fill on both sides of the football in 2012. Here is a look at seven of the top players leaving Penn State after the TicketCity Bowl against Houston on January 2.
The most significant loss on either side of the football will undoubtedly be defensive tackle Devon Still. Still has been named a first team All-American by nearly every outlet that organizes a team, and he is expected to be a first-round draft pick in April. Among the top defensive linemen in the nation, Still will follow in the footsteps of Jared Odrick and Courtney Brown and will leave a big hole to fill on the defensive line in 2012.
While it will take some time for a player to match the accomplishments of Still, Penn State will look to Jordan Hill to be the next in line at the position.
Penn State's secondary will be hit hard by graduation. Drew Astorino will not graduate until the spring semester but he will play his final game in the secondary against Houston. Astorino will be leaving the Hero position, that Penn State has made a trademark for years, vacant, and it remains to be seen if the position will be treated the same way moving forward with a possible coaching philosophy change looming. Astorino was the second leading tackler for Penn State this season.
Regardless of how the defense is handled, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong looks to be the player next in line, as he has been listed behind Astorino on the depth chart.
Another player not expected to graduate until the spring semester, cornerback D'Anton Lynn will be a significant veteran loss in the secondary. While Lynn only recorded one interception this season, his upperclassman leadership was a tremendous asset for the defense and the rest of the team.
Taking over the position for Lynn next season could be true sophomore Adrian Amos, who saw some playing time this season and had some nice plays that gave a glimpse into the future. Amos has many fans excited about the future, so it will be interesting to see if he locks down a starting job next season or if a player like Mike Wallace can make a push for the starting gig.
Chaz Powell has had his ups and downs on defense at cornerback position during his time at Penn State, but he is a more significant loss because of his special teams abilities. Powell had a number of decent returns for Penn State this season, including returning the season's opening kickoff for a touchdown and nearly returning a punt for a touchdown against Purdue.
So who will be tasked with trying to fill Powell's shoes? Expect Stephon Morris to assume the starting job at cornerback, while the special teams return job could be a mix-and-match position until Penn State finds the right player to break a long return on any kickoff or punt return. Justin Brown and Devon Smith have each returns kickoffs and punts.
His final season in blue and white may not have gone exactly as planned, but late in the season running back Stephfon Green provided Penn State with a valuable veteran option in the offensive backfield, to help ease the stress of sophomore Silas Redd. Green had to work his way back in to the mix after some off-field distractions but few players have grown within the program the way Green did. Always vocal and with the ability to take on a leadership role on the field and in the sidelines, Green's veteran presence will be missed.
The good news for Penn State is that Silas Redd has already become the focal point of the running game, and the position is in great hands.
Derek Moye may not have been one of the top wide receivers to come through Penn State, but he quietly had one of the better all-around careers at Penn State by a wide receiver. Rarely was Moye considered a game-breaker but he was usually very dependable and a good, quality possession receiver that could be trusted to come up with a sound play when needed. Matt McGloin showed a great trust in him whenever the two were on the field at the same time, and Moye's presence in some games was clearly a momentum changer for Penn State in the second half of the season.
With Moye moving on the receiving game will likely turn to Justin Brown, who has shown some progress this season but he needs to hang on to the football more routinely before he can be trusted on a routine basis to pick up a big third-down conversion.
Penn State's offensive line in recent years has been widely regarded as a weak spot on the team. That was not quite the same story this year, for the most part. Struggles in the passing game and red-zone offense in general may have overshadowed an improved year in the trenches by the offensive line. One of the underrated players on that line was Johnnie Troutman.
Troutman was a steady performer this season and while he may not be the next Stefen Wisniewski, he will be guard that will be tough to replace. The fifth year senior will play in the Senior Bowl this season and have a chance to show his skills against some of the best in the nation.
Looking to plug the hole at left guard next year could be Mark Arcidiacono or Eric Shrive. Penn State will also have to replace DeOn'tae Pannel at the other guard position as well. Both tackle positions will also need new starters in 2012.
Linebacker Nate Stupar
Stupar picked up the slack this season in the absence of Michael Mauti, and he is another one of those solid, hard-working linebackers that Penn State always seems to have. He did most of his talking on the field with his tackling and while he may not have been as talented all-around as Mauti, his upper class man influence will be just another loss to the team, especially on defense.
But this is the reality of college sports. Players know they will lave in time and it will be up to the underclassmen to carry the banner for the next class and team. Penn State, and every other college football program, will always have new players emerge as the leaders of a team.