Penn State spring practice preview
Spring practice kicked off in State College on Monday as the Bill O'Brien era commenced in Happy Valley.
Let's take a look at some of the storylines that will play out over 15 practices as the Nittany Lions prepare for their spring game on Saturday, April 21.
2011 Record: 9-4, 6-2 Big Ten
Yet another quarterback battle
The hiring of O'Brien as the new head coach in Happy Valley will pay dividends for the Penn State offense, which is a great thing considering how subpar the unit has been the last few seasons. The Nittany Lions remained in the Big Ten title race deep into November last season because of their strong defense. However, the uneven play from the quarterback position ultimately prevented them from a trip to a BCS bowl. This spring, the same faces will compete for the starting job under center, with incumbent Matt McGloin being challenged by one-time starter Rob Bolden and Paul Jones. Although McGloin and Bolden have playing experience from the past two seasons, the results haven't been great. And they'll now have to learn a new system, so all the QBs are on a level playing field. That's why the 6-3, 245-pound Jones could be an intriguing option, especially with a new staff in town. Jones arguably has the most talent, but he needs to stay out of academic trouble to have a legit shot at the job -- and that's something that he has struggled with since arriving in State College. But in terms of passing ability, Jones possesses a greater ability to move the football than his competition. However, PSU would love to solve its quarterback issues in 2012 and 2013 with one move: landing former Maryland starter Danny O'Brien, who was in State College for the second time meeting with the coaching staff and taking in practice on Monday while wearing a Penn State jacket. Wisconsin is also hot for O'Brien. No matter who wins the job, Bill O'Brien wants the offense to be up-tempo so that it can put pressure on opposing defenses. So conditioning will be an offseason storyline to watch.
Leaning on Redd
ICONSilas Redd will be a big part of Penn State's offensive attack.
Rising junior Silas Redd returns as the starting running back, and the team may lean on him a little more heavily if it is unable to land O'Brien. Quarterback development will be crucial with the new scheme no matter who is the starter, so Redd's workload could increase with the team looking for any way to move the football. With the exception of maybe Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Nebraska's Rex Burkhead, he could be the most important running back in the Big Ten. Redd rushed for over 1,200 yards and 7 scores last fall. Derek Day is the team's backup, while freshman Akeel Lynch will fight for carries in the fall. Curtis Dukes will sit out spring drills to concentrate on academics.
With Big Ten defensive player of the year Devon Still moving on, the Nittany Lions will need Jordan Hill to step up and assume a greater role on this unit. The team also loses both of its starting safeties, so those are the two areas of concern for new defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who arrives after a rough patch at Auburn. In fact, the entire defensive secondary is a concern because it's thinner than it's been in a long time. The Nittany Lions have only two scholarship safeties on their entire roster. Malcolm Willis has a good deal of experience, but Stephen Obeng-Agyapong does not. Roof may have to lean on walk-ons Ryan Keiser and Jacob Fagnano or true freshmen Da'Quan Davis and Malik Golden in his aggressive scheme. Depth is a problem at corner, but starters Adrian Amos and senior Stephon Morris are very solid. The strength of this defense is the linebacker corps, but what else is new?
Other news and notes
• O'Brien announced that wide receiver Curtis Drake, who played Wildcat quarterback at times last year, is moving to cornerback. It's a curious move considering O'Brien is in dire need of playmakers for an offense that has struggled that last few seasons. Drake was instrumental in the team's win over Ohio State last season in the Wildcat. But he was also the player who was involved in that well-publicized locker-room scuffle with McGloin during bowl prep, so perhaps it's for the best that those two won't be involved in offensive meetings moving forward. We'll see how Drake does in his new role in a thin secondary.
• Linebacker Michael Mauti is still recovering from an ACL injury so he won't participate in contact drills. However, O'Brien is enthused by his progress and looks forward to getting one of his defensive leaders on the field soon enough.
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