March 25, 2010

Penn State enters spring with lots of openings

Joe Paterno is 83 and still going strong.

He signed a contract extension after the 2008 season and had Lasik eye surgery in January to improve his vision. Major-college football's winningest coach (394 victories) even auctioned off his famed black glasses for more than $9,000. Now, Paterno has his sights on another Big Ten title.

The Nittany Lions closed the final half of the last decade as one of the Big Ten's top teams and are coming off consecutive 11-2 seasons. They capped last season with a victory over LSU in the Capital One Bowl after going to the Rose Bowl following the 2008 season.

Some think Penn State pumped itself up last season with one of the nation's softest non-conference schedules. And in its two biggest games - home contests against Iowa and Ohio State - Penn State flopped.

Now, Penn State must move forward without some key players. Quarterback Daryll Clark is gone after throwing a Big Ten-high 24 TD passes. And the defense lost seven starters, including linebackers Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman, who declared early for the draft.

Here's a look at the Nittany Lions entering spring drills.

PENN STATE AT-A-GLANCE
Evan Royster returns at running back, but
the Lions need to find a quarterback.
THE BASICS
COACH: Joe Paterno (394-129-3, 44 years)
LAST SEASON: 11-2 overall, 6-2 in the Big Ten. Beat LSU in the Capital One Bowl.
SPRING DATES: March 26-April 24.
RETURNING STARTERS
OFFENSE (8): G Lou Eliades, WR Derek Moye, G/T DeOn'tae Pannell, WR Chaz Powell, RB Evan Royster, G Johnnie Troutman, C Stefan Wisniewski, WR Graham Zug.
DEFENSE (5): FS Drew Astorino, E Jack Crawford, CB D'Anton Lynn, T Ollie Ogbu, SS Nick Sukay.
SPECIAL TEAMS: None
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

There is a promising corps of experienced receivers led by Moye. Everyone is also buzzing about a group of young receivers led by redshirt freshmen Shawney Kersey and Brandon Moseby-Felder. That's why Powell may move to cornerback. Wisniewski will be one of the top centers in the nation. The secondary has potential with three starters back, including the safety tandem of Astorino and Sukay. Redshirt freshman Derrick Thomas needs to deliver at cornerback.

HELP IS NEEDED

Finding a new quarterback obviously is important, and the line needs to work in two new starters and jell quickly. The defensive coaches have some heavy lifting; two linemen and all three linebackers must be replaced. The staff also must find a kicker and punter.

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

LB/S Gerald Hodges: With all three starting linebackers gone and projected starter Mike Mauti still recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury, Penn State needs someone to step up as a playmaker. Hodges, a sophomore who is a fantastic athlete, began last season as a safety but was moved to linebacker. Coaches clearly were looking toward 2010 when they had Hodges switch.

QB Kevin Newsome: Newsome is a sophomore who has been on campus since January 2009, making him one of the most seasoned quarterbacks on the roster. His competition will come from sophomore Matt McGloin and a pair of four-star true freshmen, with Paul Jones already on campus and Robert Bolden arriving this summer. It's difficult to envision Paterno playing a true freshman at quarterback, at least at the start of the season. So the job appears to be Newsome's to win, but he will be pushed by McGloin.

T DeOn'tae Pannell: He began last season as the starting right tackle, then was benched and moved to guard. With Ts Dennis Landolt, Nerraw McCormack and Ako Poti gone, Penn State needs Pannell to take over one of the tackle spots. The staff hopes it's left tackle, where Pannell played behind Gerald Cadogan as a true freshman in 2008.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

DT Devon Still: Still, who will be a junior this fall, made his first career start against LSU in the Capital One Bowl and impressed. But Still has been slowed by injuries throughout his career. He must show he can stay healthy or risk getting passed over as PSU looks to replace star T Jared Odrick.

THE BUZZ

Penn State appears to be in a bit of a retooling mode this spring. There will be a lot of work to do on a defense that must replace its entire linebacking corps and two linemen. Revamping the offensive line and finding a quarterback are the offensive focal points.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.




 

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