Penn State Offense
Daryll Clark returns as a 5th-year senior with an additional year of prep school under his belt, so he’s been out of high school for 6 years. Dude’s experienced. His two primary backups, however, have both departed. Paul Cianciolo graduated (presumably to pursue his minor league baseball career) and Pat Devlin transferred after it was clear he would not be the Nittany Lions’ starter, even with Clark banged up late last season. In steps erstwhile Michigan commit Kevin Newsome, an early-enrolled true freshman to back up Clark.
|Penn State QBs Passing 2008|
|Penn State QBs Rushing 2008|
Clark is coming off an all-Big Ten year, and though he had a couple rough patches after being concussed in the Ohio State game, he is a heck of a QB, with a ton of experience. It’s the depth that kills PSU this year. Though Newsome enrolled early, the returns on his performances in spring practice were not so good. At this point, he can run much better than he can throw. If Clark were to go down, the Nittany Lion offense could become one-dimensional fairly quickly.
Evan Royster and Stephfon Green, junior and senior respectively, both return for Penn State. They were among the top rushers in a league that was full of them. Behind them, seemingly all the important backups return, though with the only experienced fullback departing in Dan Lawlor, there is a question about who will play the position (or if they’ll use one extensively at all).
|Penn State RBs Rushing 2008|
|Dan Lawlor (FB)||8||13||2||1.63|
|Penn State RBs Receiving 2008|
Both Royster and Green had exceptional years last year. Royster is the workhorse back, who gets the lion’s share of the carries, and Green is a change-of-pace speedy guy. He’s more apt to get the ball in space and make something happen for the offense. With nearly the entire OL gone, there is a question about how productive these two can continue to be.
On top of Michael Robinson (and of course the suffocating defense), the three freshman wide receivers, Butler, Norwood, and Williams, were the stars of the surprise 2005 Orange Bowl team. They all depart, leaving Notably White junior Graham Zug as the leading returner, and likely the top WR in 2009. Joining him on the flank will be Brett Brackett. The tight end position is aespecially strong, with seniors Mickey Shuler and Andrew Quarless.
|Penn State Receivers Receiving 2008|
|Mickey Shuler (TE)||9||120||1||13.33|
|Andrew Quarless (TE)||11||117||1||10.64|
|Andrew Szczerba (TE)||1||9||0||9.00|
|Penn State Receivers Rushing 2008|
Though the Nittany Lions surely have capable players stepping in, it’s going to be hard to replace the top 3 targets from last year, especially with the number of cretive ways the staff got the ball into Williams’s hands. If Quarless can stay out of trouble, I forsee a more TE-focused passing game in 2009, since there are two very capable players at the position, and both seniors. With the running game the likely focus of the offense, somebody like Zug or even Derek Moye will have to stretch the field and keep defenses honest. If Clark has enough time to find them downfield, their could still be some big plays in the passing game.
From Penn State’s fairly awesome offensive line last year, three players were named all-Big Ten. Unfortunately, those three players are all gone. Stefen Wisniewski returns at a guard spot (though he’ll make the move to center), and right tackle Dennis Landolt is back for his senior year. The other three spots are up for grabs, with Lou Eliades penciled in at one of the guard spots. Redshirt sophomores Johhny Troutman and JB Walton will likely man the remaining tackle and guard spots, respectively.
Losing three OL starters definitely hurts, especially when the three were named all-conference their senior year. Penn State has some serious re-working to do, with Wisniewski the only clear star on the line, though Landolt isn’t too far behind him, as a potential three-year starter. The other spots are all potential weaknesses, with youth and inexperience ruling the day.
Losing the majority of the offensive line is going to hurt the run game, and also give Clark less time to pass it. With those considerations, Stephfon Green may take a few more carries away from Evan Royster this year, as Penn State may try to get the ball space to avoid the weak OL. With fewer playmakers on the edges (and with less time to throw it), the downfield passing game is likely to suffer somewhat. however, the tights ends could provide a nice security blanket for Clark, and Penn State will have to pick its chances to take shots downfield.
Penn State Defense
Defensive ends Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans both declared early for the NFL draft, leaving the Nittany Lions seriously hurting at DE. However, they are stacked at DT, With Jared Odrick and Abe Koroma returning as starters. Junior Ollie Ogbu provides some depth of very high quality. At ends, the holes will likely be filled by Eric Latimore, who is just a sophomore, and his classmate Jack Crawford.
|Penn State Defensive Line 2008|
Evans’s early departure (and subsequent non-drafted status) leaves two questions: does Penn State not get hurt as badly by losing someone early if he wasn’t even good enough to be drafted? OR Was he that much better than the backups that he saw himself as an NFL player? Like most things, it’s probably somewhere in between. Jack Crawford, despite getting very little playing time last year (behind Maybin, Evans, and Josh Gaines who can blame him?), is expected to be the next superstar pass rusher for PSU. In the middle, the Nittany Lions have quality starters, as well as a good third optino in the form of Ollie Ogbu.
Only Tyrell Sales departs from the traditionally-stacked Penn State linebacking corps, and junior Navorro Bowman and senior Josh Hull will be the returning starters. Something tells me the Nittany Lions aren’t sweating that third LB spot, however, as Sean Lee returns from an ACL injury that caused him to miss all of 2008. All of the depth players also return for Penn State.
|Penn State Linebackers 2008|
The starters should be rockin’ as usual, since Lee was an All-Big Ten performer (some publications named him an All-American) as a junior, and Bowman took home some honors of his own last year. Even if somebody goes down, there are enough experienced players to fill in adequately, if not become stars themselves.
At long last, we come to a serious, serious weakness with the PSU defense. The entire starting backfield departs, along with a depth player. Safeties Anthony Scirotto and Mark Rubin are gone, likely to be replaced by sophomore Drew Astorino and junior Cedric Jeffries. Corners Tony Davis and Lydell Sargent will be replaced by AJ Wallace and Knowledge Timmons. The Nittany Lions also took a huge DB class in 2009, so don’t be surprised to see some freshmen on the field.
|Penn State Defensive Backs 2008|
Wallace and Timmons actually seemed to be on paths to stardom, playing key backup roles on a Nittany Lions defense in 2006 that seemed to have them poised to be multi-year starters. However, that never came to fruition, but it does mean they are plenty experienced coming into their senior years. At safety, Anthony Scirotto (when he wasn’t busy rounding up a posse, obvs) developed into a playmaker in the backfield, and Mark Rubin was good enough to be picked up by an NFL team. Replacing them will be something of a task, though Astorino has impressed in backup duty before.
This will be a down-ish year for the Nittany Lions defense, especially in terms of pass defense. They lose the biggest pieces of their pass rush, along with all four defensive backs. QBs should have slightly more time to find receivers who should be slightly more open this year. At this point in the year, Michigan’s QB situation should be hammered out enough that the coaches will let whoever it is (likely Tate) throw the ball downfield a little bit. The inside rush doesn’t look to be quite as viable an offensive strategy – but then it didn’t look too good last year either, and Brandon Minor ran for 117 yards on 5.1 per carry.
Penn State’s all-time leading scorer departs in Kevin Kelly, and he had developed into a pretty darn good kicker by the time he graduated. Junior Colin Wagner got a couple chances to kick last year, and he’ll probably take over full-time in ’09. Jeremy Boone returns for his senior year to punt in 2009.
|Penn State Kicking 2008|
|Penn State Punting 2008|
Boone showed off a pretty good leg last year, and though he’ll be getting more work this year, it probably means that he’ll be booming more, instead of trying to sit them down inside the 25. Losing Kelly hurts, as he was a 4-year starter, but at least Wagner hasn’t missed a field goal for Penn State yet, right?
Both offense and defense should take a step back (I think even bigger than a lot of experts think). The Nittany Lions have certainly emerged from the dark ages though, and will be near the top of the conference again this year, even if it’s only because the conference seems to be somewhat down. They should tear through lesser competition (read: entire non-conference schedule), and play it about even with the teams at the top of the Big Ten.