Monday, April 7, 2014

Some pre Blue White Game notes.



As we all know, the Blue White Game is this Saturday. Kickoff is slated for 1:30pm. Coach Franklin wants Beaver Stadium packed on Saturday, so be there! The popular player’s autograph session will be held Saturday morning as well. Before we get to kick off Saturday though, here are some notes from spring practice over the past week.

On Saturday offensive linemen will wear a different colored jersey, gray to be exact. This is because Coach Franklin plans to have a traditional spring game, not the offense vs defense game like we’ve seen the last two years under BOB. Penn State has depth issues on the offensive line as is, and this was before injuries to projected starters Miles Dieffenbach, Angelo Magiro, and Andrew Nelson. With Dieffenbach being out with a “significant knee injury,” left tackle Donovan Smith becomes the only returning offensive lineman with significant in game experience. Injuries have also shifted Brendan Mahon from right guard to right tackle.

Penn State currently has just 10 healthy offensive linemen. The lines at practice have seen Smith and early enrollee Chasz Wright at the tackle positions, Wendy Laurent at center, and Brian Gaia and Derek Dowrey, both of whom shifted from DL to OL this offseason, at the guards. The other line saw Brendan Mahon and walk-on Albert Hall at the tackles, Tom Devenney at center, and Andrew Terlingo and Evan Galimberti at the guard positions. Devenney, Terlingo, and Galimberti are all also walk-ons. Offensive line depth is a major concern right now, but there is still four months to go until the season begins. By then Andrew Nelson and Angelo Mangiro should be ready to go, hopefully Dieffenbach’s knee injury isn’t so serious that it’ll cause him to miss regular season games. That would be a massive blow to the Nittany Lions as Dieffenbach is arguably the team’s best offensive lineman. There are also incoming freshman Chance Sorrell, Noah Beh, and Brendan Brosnan who will be enrolling at Penn State this summer.

Coach Franklin and his staff have been singing the praise of senior linebacker Mike Hull. As long time readers know I am a huge fan of Hull, and he has taken over as the leader of the defense. He is one of the senior leaders on the team, along with Miles Dieffenbach, in general. Mike Hull is finally healthy after dealing with a knee injury for much of last season, and has been a great leader for the young linebackers. Speaking of young linebackers Gary Wooten has turned a lot of heads so far this spring. He has been making a lot of plays in practice and has a knack of being around the ball. He is a guy to watch Saturday, and I could see him being a breakout player on defense this fall.

Defensive players have also been very impressed with the new staff. Jordan Lucas has been singing the praise of new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. The players have loved the amount of energy the new staff has brought in, and have praised them for making the transition to a new coaching staff go smoothly. Lucas has taken control of the secondary, and said he wants to lead both vocally and on the field this year. Adrian Amos has also looked very good this spring. Amos is back at safety, and he has been flying all over the field making plays. I expect a huge season from Amos this fall. Malik Golden has turned a lot of heads this spring in the secondary. Jordan Lucas has said he believes the biggest difference with Golden is that he has been much more physical this spring, and that is what he needed to go with all the natural ability that he has.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Offensive line injuries.

One area that Penn State is not very deep is the offensive line, and, unfortunately, injuries are already testing this. According to Lions247.com senior left guard Miles Dieffenbach will miss time after suffering a "significant" knee injury at practice this week. This is a huge blow for the Nittany Lions. Not only is Dieffenbach the most experienced offensive lineman, but also considered one of two senior leaders along with Mike Hull.

Andrew Nelson who is projected to start at right tackle is also battling injuries right now. Projected starting center Angelo Mangiro has also missed time. If there is one silver lining here, it is that this injuries are coming 5 months before the season starts. So all three of these young men should be ready for UCF come August 30th. However, you still would like to have them getting reps right now. Especially as the coaching staff is working to install the new offense under offensive coordinator John Donovan.

Yesterday at practice the offensive line from left to right was Donovan Smith, Derek Dowrey, Wendy Laurent, Brian Gaia, and Brendan Mahon. Mahon will have a shot at winning the starting job at right guard this year, and I would like to see him getting reps there right now but injuries have forced the offensive line to shift around some.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Spring practice number on.



Yesterday the Penn State Nittany Lions had their first workout of the spring in preparation for the Blue White Game on April 12th. It was also the first practice under the guidance of new head coach James Franklin and his staff. Now, it is not possible for much news to come out of the first practice of the spring. Well, at least not any positive news that is. However, here is some info on things that did go down yesterday.

On the offensive side of the ball Christian Hackenberg appears to have packed on some muscle this offseason. This will help make Hack stronger and more capable of standing in the pocket under pressure, which could be key with an inexperienced offensive line this year. I expect Hack to have a monster season in 2014 and to really put his name on the map nationally. At WR the top group was Geno Lewis, Matt Zanellato, and De’Andre Thompkins. It is a bit of a surprise to see Thompkins, an early enrollee, with the top group at WR. But it is awesome. Thompkins also ran the fastest 40 time on the team, so this great speed of his we heard about during his recruiting process is legit. Thompkins brings an explosiveness the Penn State offense has not seen since Derrick Williams. Richy Anderson led the second group of WRs, which included redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton who I am very high on. Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak, and Akeel Lynch were all getting reps at running back. As many of you know, I am extremely high on Lynch and feel he should be the starting running back. As, in my opinion, he is the best all-around running back on the roster.

On special teams Sam Ficken was doing kickoffs. Bill Belton, Devin Pryor, and, in a bit of a surprise, Zach Zwinak were returning said kickoffs. De’Andre Thompkins was returning punts. He could be an extremely dangerous punt returning this year, Jordan Lucas joined him. Chris Gulla was the one firing said punts. This new staff has put a new emphasis on special teams, and Franklin said he will use starters on special teams to try and help fix the past issues of special teams. This is a good thing. As we have seen on more than one occasion the past two seasons, games can easily be won and lost on special teams.

On defense, as expected, Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman, and Brandon Bell led the linebackers. Gary Wooten, who is my sleeper pick of defense this year, appeared to be slimmed down and quicker at linebacker now. Do not be surprised to see Gary making plays this fall. Adrian Amos was at safety instead of corner. Jordan Lucas led the corners, and looked very good as expected. Da’Quan Davis and Trevor Williams, at least as of now, appear to be battling for the other starting cornerback position opposite Lucas. This could change of course when Grant Haley, Trace McSorely (if he ends up in the secondary), Marcus Allen, Amani Oruwariye, DaQuan Worley, and Koa Farmer arrive on campus in June. Even though I still expect Farmer to end up at safety. Even at safety, Farmer could see playing time right away this fall.

Programming note, I will once again be appearing on the Trophy Michaels Show tomorrow around 5 o’clock. You should probably listen to my words of wisdom. www.923espn.com

Monday, March 17, 2014

News and notes.

As many of you know, spring practice began today in preparation for the Blue White Game on April 12th. Over the next four weeks the Nittany Lions will have 15 practices to prepare for the game. Well, 14 practices now that today's has come and gone. Remember Coach Franklin wants Beaver Stadium packed for the Blue White Game, so let's make it happen eh?

Anthony Zettel


As for news out of day one of spring practice we'll start with something that every college team will be dealing with in spring practice, position changes. Defensive linemen Brian Gaia and Derek Dowrey have been moved to the offensive line due to depth concerns. The Nittany Lions are not deep on either line right now. However, you can get by with less defensive linemen than you can offensive. On offense you need your starting five, as opposed to just your starting four on defense, plus on offense you need at least one back up center, guard, and tackle. Usually at guard and tackle needing multiple back ups ready and capable of playing. On defense the Nittany Lions just need their starting four, which they have in Austin Johnson, CJ Olaniyan, Deion Barnes, and, most likely, Tarrow Barney. They also have Garrett Sickels, Curtis Cothran, Antoine White, and Anthony Zettel ready to come off the bench. Speaking of Zettel, he has also made a position change moving from DE to DT. This one intrigues me, Zettel has a ton of potential and has shown to be a formidable pass rusher when given the opportunity in the past. Zettel will have a chance to start at defensive tackle. Austin Johnson is all but guaranteed a starting job, with Barney and now Zettel battling it out for the other spot. Even if Zettel does not win a starting job, he still provides the Nittany Lions with some very good and much needed depth at DT.

There were also some number changes announced today. DaeSean Hamilton is now #5, Austin Whipple #16, Brendan Mahon #71, and Albert Hall #70. The early enrollees were also assigned their numbers. DeAndre Thompkins will wear #3, Michael O'Connor #15, Chaz Wright #77, Tarrow Barney #91, and Antonie White #93.

That's realyl about it. One spring practice down, 14 to go until the Blue White Game. 166 days until the Nittany Lions are Dublin bound to clash with UCF to begin the 2014 season. WE ARE!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Andre Robinson's commitment may mean more than you think.



Today Coach Franklin and the Nittany Lions added what is already the 7th member of the 2015 recruiting class in the form of running back Andre Robinson. Landing Andre Robinson, especially this early, is huge for the Nittany Lions. Now this may seem obvious, but, it is huge for reasons that some people may not realize.

First off, Robinson attends Bishop McDevitt High School. McDevitt has produced a lot of great talent in recent years, Shady McCoy and Noah Spence come to mind. However, Penn State never gets McDevitt players. Landing Robinson could indicate a change in this. The Nittany Lions very possibly could start landing these talented players out of McDevitt now. Not only does this add talent to the Nittany Lions, but also it keeps talent away from some of their competitors. Yes, I’m talking about you, Urban.




 Remember at Coach Franklin’s introductory press conference when he said that in recruiting Penn State was going to ‘Dominate the state?’ Remember when people laughed it off? Well, guess what? He’s dominating the state. Of Penn State’s 7 commitments for 2015, 5 are from Pennsylvania. This includes 3 of the state’s top 10 prospects. Not only does this begin to show other schools that Penn State is going to own recruiting in Pennsylvania, it helps land other big in state recruits. Big time recruits want to play together, especially if they can do it at an in state school. I fully expect the Nittany Lions to continue to dominate the state.This is the kind of commitment that sends a message to other schools. Especially with how competitive recruiting in Pennsylvania already is, and will only become more competitive, with LJ at Ohio State and Scrap at WVU.


Robinson is the first commitment of the 2015 class to really surprise me. I’m not really surprised he committed to Penn State but I’m surprised he committed this quickly. This should help the Nittany Lions continue the great momentum they have going in recruiting. As I said above, big time recruits want to play together. Robinson can now get in the ear of other recruits telling them why they should join him at Penn State. Robinson has already said he is going to be in the ear of OL Sterling Jenkins. This can only benefit the Nittany Lions.


Penn State recruiting is off to maybe it’s fastest start ever. In the 22 days since signing day, the Nittany Lions have already brought in 7 commitments. They are also dominating the state. I never thought I’d be saying this26 months ago, but the program is in better shape now than it was before the sanctions. There is excitement around the program like there hasn’t been since 2005. This is a great time to be a Penn Stater. WE ARE!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Penn State's defense will improve in 2014.



Anyone who watched Penn State Football in 2013 could quickly point out their biggest problem, uncharacteristically bad defense. Last year the Nittany Lions ranked 59th nationally allowing 26.2 points per game, and ranked 60th nationally in total defense. This included getting shredded for 40+ points in three straight games for the first time in school history, and the 63 point debacle in the Horseshoe. Linebacker U has always been known for playing tough, hardnosed defense. For some years in the mid-2000s good defense was all Penn State Football had. This is a big reason why so many people were, and rightfully so, outraged at the horrible defensively play a year ago. However, I fully expect the defense to be better in 2014 and there are a few reasons why.

Jordan Lucas.


 
First and foremost, the defense simply is better than it showed. Yes, the Nittany Lions were far from good in the secondary but that secondary that got shredded time and time again was better than it showed. Adrian Amos and Jordan Lucas both are all-conference caliber players, and many times last year the defensive backs appeared to be way out of position in coverage. The Nittany Lions also bring in some talented DBs such as Koa Farmer, Marcus Allen, Amani Oruwariye, and Grant Haley in the 2014 recruiting class who can step in and make an impact right away. Further helping the secondary is that some players that, quite frankly, were pretty bad last year, mainly Malcolm Willis, are no longer here.


The Nittany Lions should also have a very good defensive line in 2014 highlighted by some very good defensive ends in former All-American Deion Barnes, Anthony Zettel, CJ Olaniyan, and Garrett Sickels. Austin Johnson and Tarrow Barney, in my opinion, will be one of the more underrated defensive tackle duos in the Big Ten next fall. Another sleeper to watch on the defensive line is redshirt freshman Curtis Cothran.

 

Even though the Nittany Lions may not be very deep at linebacker, there is some very good talent. Brandon Bell finished the season strong last year, and will replace Glenn Carson at middle linebacker. Nyeem Wartman and Mike Hull are both returning starters. Mike Hull also will no longer have the nagging knee injury of 2013. They also bring in Troy Reeder who was the high school defensive player of the year in the state of Delaware in 2013, Jason Kabinda who was a much underrated member of the 2014 recruiting class, and Gary Wooten could break through and make some plays at linebacker this year.

 
 There also is new defensive coordinator, Bob Shoop. While at Vanderbilt Coach Shoop was the mastermind behind a remarkable defensive turnaround. Prior to Coach Shoop taking over as Commodores defensive coordinator in 2011, Vanderbilt had one of the nation’s worst defenses. The three years under Shoop Vanderbilt’s defense ranked 19th, 18th, and 23rd nationally and was the biggest reason the Commodores had the best three year stretch in school history. Adding to how much of an achievement this was is that not only was it in the SEC, by far the nation’s toughest conference, plus Coach Shoop was not exactly working with the cream of the crop talent wise. Remember, Vanderbilt won four games total in the four years prior to Coach Franklin and his staff coming in. So needless to say they were not exactly talent laden. 


This leads me into the other reason why Penn State’s defense will be better in 2014. No more John Butler. This is in no way, shape, or form supposed to be some type of disrespect or anything of the sort directed at Butler, but he was not very good last year. His defensive schemes were, many times, mind boggling with defenders looking lost and in the wrong position many times. I also feel Butler was in over his head as defensive coordinator. These issues should be fixed under the leadership of Bob Shoop.


Penn State’s defense was not very good in 2013, but it will be better in 2014. This is largely due to the incoming of Coach Bob Shoop. The Nittany Lions have talent on defense, they just needed improved coaching and schemes over last year. Penn State now has this with new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Yes a lot of things can, and probably will, change between now and August 30th but I expect Penn State’s defense to resemble what we are used to much more come this fall.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A look at the 2014 recruiting class.


Now that National Signing Day has come and Penn State has signed their recruiting class, it is time to look at this 2014 Penn State recruiting class. All in all the Nittany Lions signed 25 players, and finish with the 21st best recruiting class in the country according to Rivals.com. This is pretty impressive when you consider the sanctions, even though they have been lessened, are still there. Also, despite the fact that the Nittany Lions entire coaching staff left between New Year’s Eve and January 14th they only suffered three de-commitments. This was offset by Coach Franklin and his staff adding nine players in less than a month on the job, including six players that had been committed to play for Coach Franklin at Vanderbilt. 


De'Andre Thompkins



This recruiting class is highlighted by WRs and defensive backs. The Nittany Lions landed four of the nation’s top 75 WR prospects in Chris Godwin, De’Andre Thompkins, Saeed Blacknall, and Troy Apke. These four will join a pair of young WRs already on the roster in Geno Lewis and Richie Anderson, weapons for Christian Hackenberg is a good thing. The Nittany Lions also added arguably the nation’s top tight end in Mike Gesicki, again weapons for Christian Hackenberg is a good thing. Gesicki will join an already talented stable of tight ends that includes Kyle Carter, Adam Breneman, and Jesse James. All four of these WRs could see immediate playing time. Both on offense and in the return game, as all four bring some serious explosiveness. Thompkins and Blacknall especially, these two bring the kid of explosiveness that Penn State has not seen since pre-injury Derrick Williams.

Defensive back is obviously a huge position of need for the Nittany Lions, and it was addressed big time in this recruiting class. Penn State landed five defensive backs Marcus Allen, DaQuan Worley, Grant Haley, Amani Oruwariye, and Christian Campbell. The Nittany Lions also added athlete Trace McSorley who could possibly play defensive back, and defensive athlete Koa Farmer who will be either a linebacker or a safety. All of these guys will have a chance to play right away due to lack of depth and talent for Penn State in the defensive backfield. Adrian Amos and Jordan Lucas will start in the fall, other than that defensive back is wide open.

Tarrow Barney.



There are also two other defensive prospects in this class that I really like. They are linebacker Troy Reeder, and defensive tackle Tarrow Barney. Reeder was recently named the defensive player of the year in the state of Delaware, and Barney I think will prove to be a very underrated player. Barney played JUCO last year, and was one of the top JUCO DTs whose film I like a lot. Barney will have a great shot to make an immediate impact this fall when you combine his ability with Penn State’s lack of depth at DT.

This class also includes five early enrollees that have been on campus for about a month now. They are the previously mentioned Thompkins, defensive tackle Tarrow Barney, quarterback Michael O’Connor, offensive lineman Chasz Wright, and defensive tackle Antoine White. QB Michael O’Connor is another massive get for the Nittany Lions. O’Connor is one of the nation’s best quarterback prospects, and gives the Nittany Lions a successor waiting in the wings whenever Christian Hackenberg leaves for the NFL. When Bill O’Brien left for the Houston Texans a lot of people thought that O’Connor was going to de-commit, however Coach Franklin and his staff were able to get O’Connor to stay on board and still enroll early. All the offensive weapons signed in this class will be fun to watch not just with Hackenberg now, but also with O’Connor in a few years.

When James Franklin was hired as head coach he was touted as a very good recruiter, and Coach Franklin showed that in his first three and a half weeks on the job. Coach Franklin and his staff added 9 commitments in the stretch run to National Signing Day. These commitments include two of the nation’s most highly sought after players at their respective positions in WR Saeed Blacknall and defensive athlete Koa Farmer. Coach Franklin and his staff will be absolute forces in recruiting in years to come, I truly believe they can begin to pull in top 10 recruiting classes year in and year out beginning as soon as next year. It will be a lot of fun to watch. This is a great time to be a Penn State Football fan, the future of the program is brighter now than it has been in a long time. It is time to begin to dominate the state, to dominate the region, to dominate the country, and to dominate college football.

Here is a complete rundown of the 2014 recruiting class:
QB- Michael O’Connor*
DT- Antoine White*
DT- Tarrow Barney*
WR= De’Andre Thompkins*
OL- Chasz Wright*
DB- Marcus Allen
RB- Mark Allen
WR- Troy Apke
DE- Noah Beh
WR- Saeed Blacknall
OL- Brendan Brosnan
LB- Jason Cabinda
LB/S- Koa Farmer
TE- Mike Gesicki
WR- Chris Godwin
DB- Grant Haley
ATH- Trace McSorley
DB- Amani Oruwariye
LB- Troy Reeder
ATH- Nick Scott
OL- Chance Sorrell
RB- Jonathan Thomas
DB- Christian Campbell
DB- Daquan Worley
Athlete- Torrence Brown
*- Indicates an early enrollee.

Best Offensive Player:
De’Andre Thompkins

Best Defensive Player:
Koa Farmer



Koa Farmer



Most Underrated Offensive Player:
Nick Scott

Most Underrated Defensive Player:
Tarrow Barney

Biggest Impact As A True Freshman:
De’Andre Thompkins

Only 206 days remain until the Nittany Lions head to Dublin to take on UCF in the season opener and the on the field portion of the Coach Franklin Era begins, WE ARE!