The longer the off-season goes on, the more uneasy I get about ranking Penn State this high. There have been an unusually high number of off-the-field incidents that led to six players getting suspended – two of which have recently been kicked off the team. On top of that, linebacker Sean Lee (138 tackles) will miss the season after injuring his knee in spring practice. If the season doesn’t start soon Joe Paterno might not have enough players to field a team.

The Nittany Lions have a good chance to duplicate their solid offensive numbers from 2007 (30.3 points and 400.1 yards per game) because all five starters and two key backups return on the offensive line. Center A.Q. Shipley headlines the unit, while guard Stefen Wisniewski steps into the starting lineup after playing a key role off the bench as a true freshman last year. The line should allow plenty of time for the new quarterback to settle in. Whether the quarterback will be senior Daryll Clark or sophomore Pat Devlin is still to be decided though. Clark is the more mobile of the two; Devlin was a prep star and has the better arm. Clark seems to be the favorite, which reminds many of the last time Penn State played a quarterback with some mobility - Michael Robinson led the Lions to 11 wins in 2005.

A veteran trio of receivers returns to State College as well which should benefit the new quarterback greatly. Deon Butler, Derrick Williams, and Jordan Norwood aren’t big receivers, but they have been playing together for three years now and each brings a little something different to the table. Butler is the best overall receiver, while Williams brings great athleticism. Additionally, if Andrew Quarless can stay out of Paterno’s doghouse, he’s a fine tight end with the potential to become one of the best in the nation.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Penn State ’08 is the running back position. Even though 1,300 yard rusher Rodney Kinlaw exhausted his eligibility, there is still a potentially dangerous duo ready to make their presence felt. Evan Royster ran for 513 yards and 5 touchdowns as a freshman a year ago, but the anticipation to turn Stephfon Green loose on Saturdays is through the roof. Green wowed teammates and coaches alike during his redshirt year with the ability to hit “warp speed” in pads. That’s the kind of skill that can propel an offense to the next level, and Green might be the wild card that propels Penn State to the top of the Big Ten heap.

This is where Penn State suffered the most in the off-season. What started out as nine returning starters and potentially one of the best defensive lines in the nation has now dwindled to seven returning starters and depth concerns everywhere. Replacing departed star Dan Connor at middle linebacker would have been manageable without the injury to Sean Lee and the suspension of Navorrow Bowman, but now more young players are being counted on to step up their games. Tyrell Sales and Jerome Hayes must step into leadership roles, and sophomore Chris Colasanti has to prove the hype around him during the recruiting process wasn’t just hype. Don’t be surprised if recruits Brandon Beachum and Michael Mauti get playing time as true freshmen either.

The defensive line was hit hard by the dismissal of starting tackle Chris Baker and backup tackle Phil Taylor. Both were expected to contribute heavily on what could have been the best defensive line in the Big Ten. This is Penn State though, so there are still talented defensive linemen to rely on. End Maurice Evans was one of the best pass rushers (12.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles) in the conference last year. Ollie Ogbu and Jared Odrick have the potential to be one of the best DT duos in the nation. So the starting lineup is still in excellent shape, but the depth won’t be as experienced as expected.

In the secondary, Anthony Scirrotto is ready to emerge as one of the Big Ten’s best safeties. He has a nose for the ball and finally appears to be out of trouble for good.

The linebackers. Linebacker play is always important at Penn State, so this crew must come together quickly in order to maintain their status as one of the top ten defenses in the nation.

RB Stephfon Green


Anonymous said...

Whos number one????

J.Pike said...

Come back on August 23rd and find out.