Penn State Football: 5 Players Who Need to Improve After the Bye
Through four games, several Nittany Lions have stepped up to shine while helping Penn State win three games.
Wide receiver Allen Robinson is off to an All-American-like season, Christian Hackenberg has been a pleasant surprise at quarterback, and DaQuan Jones has been dominant from his defensive tackle position.
However, Penn State begins Big Ten play next week, and some players on the roster need to have a bigger impact than they've had thus far. Let's take a look at some of the Nittany Lions who need to prove themselves following the bye week.
LB Mike Hull
Hull suffered a knee injury in Week 1 and has only played in one game since then.
The guy who most expected to be "the next great linebacker" from Penn State has just five total tackles on the season. No pass breakups, no sacks, not even a tackle for loss.
If Penn State is going to get more production from the front seven, it has to start with Hull, who may be the best player on that side of the ball.
The coaches held him out of the Kent State game, hoping that rest combined with the bye week would be enough to get the junior linebacker back at full speed. If he's ready to go, expect a big game from him against Indiana.
DE Deion Barnes
Opposing coaches have to account for Barnes, who has the ability to throw off an offensive game plan.
After receiving a good amount of criticism following the loss to UCF, he responded against Kent State with six tackles and his first sack of the year. He was disruptive all game long and reminded fans why he was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2012.
In the game against the Golden Flashes, he was moved all over the defensive line and gave the Kent State linemen fits. Look for him to be moved around more as the season progresses and the coaches try to find good matchups for him.
He'll need to continue improving to help a young secondary mature, and he is definitely capable of doing so.
TEs Kyle Carter, Jesse James, Adam Breneman
A lot has contributed to the lack of production from the tight ends. Matt Lehman is out for the year, Kyle Carter has been banged up, and Adam Breneman is a freshman feeling his way.
Regardless, head coach Bill O'Brien earned a reputation for utilizing his tight ends last year when they combined for 82 catches and 10 touchdowns. With the talent at the position, expectations coming into the season were high and rightfully so.
Through four games, the tight ends have just 21 catches, and none has found the end zone yet.
Whether it's the play-calling or something Christian Hackenberg is doing, Penn State will need to use the weapons available at the tight end position as conference play heats up. The young quarterback would be wise to take advantage of the mismatches these guys can provide.
DB Adrian Amos
From the time he hit the field as a freshman, fans and coaches alike have raved about the athleticism of Amos. Despite playing corner for the first two years, he was moved to safety, his "natural position," in the spring and has started there in each game.
While his versatility has been an asset, his production has not met expectations. His 11 tackles and one pass breakup are a far cry from his numbers in 2012, when he had 21 tackles through the first four games.
He is a terrific tackler and has ball-hawking ability, but we haven't seen much of either yet this year. Expect to see him all over the defensive backfield against Indiana next week, as it spreads out the defense and throws the ball around.
Amos will need to identify himself as a force in the secondary to help solidify the Penn State defense.
RB Zach Zwinak
It seems like undue criticism to say that a guy with eight touchdowns through four games needs to step up, but Zwinak has the ability to be better.
Coming into the season, Penn State had all the ingredients to be a ball-control, power-rushing offense. A young quarterback surrounded by a veteran offensive line and a fullback-turned-running back seemed like the perfect storm for Zwinak to have a monster year.
After closing out 2012 with four straight games of more than 134 rushing yards against Big Ten foes, he has yet to reach that number in a game this year.
The backfield is slightly more crowded this year than it was down the stretch last year, but it's evident that Coach O'Brien wants to lean on Zwinak as his go-to running back. If he can hold the ball and regain the form that endeared him to Nittany Nation last year, this offense can be that much more dangerous.
All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.