Mark Micalizzi is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University where he holds a Bachelors Degree in Radio & T.V. Communications. Mark is currently in his 7th year with the Black Diamond Sports Network where he serves as a halftime reporter and a special correspondent. Mark is a college football enthusiast who has traveled the country on a pilgrimage to visit the most hallowed of college football venues and to take in some of the most historic rivalries.
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AN IN-DEPTH LOOK INTO THE FUTURE OF THE PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
Last week I looked at Penn State's offensive personnel for the next two years. This week I will take a look at the defense. However, before I look ahead, it would be wrong to not point out the tremendous contributions of some seniors whom will be graduating this coming spring. PSU will lose 5 starters off of the 2012 defense and they are: Jordan Hill - DT, Sean Stanley - DE, Michael Mauti - LB, Gerald Hodges - LB and Stephon Morris - CB. Their leadership, dedication and talent will be very difficult to replace, presenting defensive coordinator Ted Roof with a very difficult task with the leadership departing the locker room impossible to calculate. When the sanctions came down in late July, Mauti, Hodges and Hill stepped up to try and save the program in it's darkest hours. They tried valiantly and successfully to keep their teammates from leaving the program. For their courage to step up in front of the microphones and tell everyone what Penn State means to them, all alumni and fans should be eternally grateful. It could have gone the other way. These young men did not allow that to happen.
I'm very optimistic about the offense's ability to function during the sanction years. I'm much more worried about the defense over the next couple of years. We've seen major improvement in some offensive players whom a lot wasn't expected of. Matt McGloin has emerged as the key offensive player on the squad, Matt Lehman came from nowhere to play a big role, Allen Robinson's burst onto the scene and is a potential All-American. In order to be successful the defense will have to do the same thing. Players with less hype and lower national rankings in the recruiting world will have to be developed. It appears that PSU is having a little more trouble recruiting on that side of the ball. They can't just roll out top prospects like; Jared Odrick, Navarro Bowman, Aaron Maybin and Tamba Hali. It appears new stars will have to be developed more than recruited. This is where new strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzpatrick's program is going to come to the forefront. For those not aware, PSU used to use a hit weightlifting/training method. In simple terms, less weight and more reps. Coach O'Brien brought in Fitzpatrick to install an Olympic Style program. More weight and less reps. PSU's lines must get bigger and stronger to consistently dominate at an elite level. Not to mention some very creative drills we've seen. There are many examples of less that 4 or 5 star recruits becoming All-Americans. Two recent ones at PSU were Paul Posluszny and Sean Lee. Both were 3 star prospects from Western Pa. With asst. coaches Larry Johnson - DL and Ron Vanderlinden - LB still on the staff. PSU can point to previous successes and try to use the ability to develop NFL players as a recruiting tool. Player development will be essential everywhere. Especially, since PSU isn't going to get as many finished products as in the past. If initial trends are a sign of things to come. The defensive side of the ball is where that developmental is going to really have to happen in order to succeed through these trying times.
Linebacker U will take a significant hit following this season.
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The Future of PSU -Part I
Click on photos for previous columns
Let's take a look at the defensive line. Deion Barnes is starting at RDE as a red-shirt freshman. And, looks to be a developing star. On the opposite side of the line, Sean Stanley has been hurt a little. That has allowed the staff to get a look at two candidates to start in 2013. C.J. Olaniyan is a red-shirt soph and has flashed pass-rushing abiilty and also can drop into coverage. He will be pushed by Anthony Zettel a red-shirt frosh who has also seen some playing time. Anthony moved to de from dt this spring. I wonder if he will be asked to move back to DT
because his talents will be needed more at that position. The cupboard isn't bare at this key position either. Jordan Kerner and Evan Schwan are being red-shirted and will have 3 and 4 years of eligibility left. Evan played on Central Dauphin's state championship team last year and is late to get started playing football. He's 6'6" 230 lb and Kerner is listed at 6'5" 225. Both players will take time to develop but with some added weight, can challenge to start later in their careers. PSU has also recruited a couple of de's in the 2013 class. Garrett Sickels is a 4 star recruit from NJ and Curtis Cothran is a 3-star recruit from Newtown, Pa. I believe Coach O'Brien would like to red-shirt both of them, giving them 2 post-sanction years of eligibility.
There isn't as much depth at dt returning. And, not as much experience either. But, there are some possibilities. Daquan Jones is a junior and has stepped in at the one-technique position in Ted Roof's defense. His job is primarily a run-stopperand seems to be doing it very well. The other dt plays a 3 technique. That job is to penetrate into the backfield to get after the qb or disrupt the run. Jordan Hill will leave some big shoes to fill. He has switched from that 1 technique to 3 technique very smoothly. Kyle Baublitz is backing up at dt and is a red-shirt soph. He played de last year and switched to dt this year. He appears to have the quickness to play the 3 technique position. But, will have to get stronger to hold up against the run. He was a 4 star recruit out of York, Pa. as a te. The bigger problem will be the inexperience behind Jones and Baublitz. PSU is red-shirting three freshmen defensive tackles. Austin Johnson 6'4" 297lb 3-star recruit from NJ, Brian Gaia 6'5" 285lb from Md. and Derek Dowery 6'3" 279lb from Virginia. Not having any backups with experience isn't a good thing. PSU might even look at the JUCO ranks to fill this spot in the 2013 signing class. They lost two key 4 star recruits at this position. Jamil Pollard - NJ to Rutgers after the sanctions were announced would have been a frosh this year and a player with a verbal committment to the class of 2013 Greg Webb - NJ.
Linebacker U loses two key players to the NFL next year. Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges leave big holes on the field and in the locker room. And, to be frank, are about as irreplaceable as any recent players who have left and PSU currently has 9 lb's in the NFL. Posluszny, Connor, Lee, Bowman, Hali, Wake, T. Shaw, Maybin and Josh Hull. That will rise into double figures next year. There are some pretty good football players left. Just not a lot of depth. Glenn Carson is a junior and starting at MLB. He will be back to anchor the until in 2013. Mike Hull 6'0" 228lb is a red-shirt soph. who is seeing a lot of playing time when the defense goes into it's nickle defense. He has tremendous speed as seen on his td return against Navy and is surprisingly PSU's strongest player in the bench press with a lift of 405 pounds.Hull will slide into Hodge's weak-side olb position. The top candidates to replace Mauti will be Ben Kline 6'2" 224lb red-shirt frosh from Dallastown, Pa was a 3-star recruit. And, Nyeem Wartman 6'3" 220lb is a frosh this year. You might remember Nyeem's blocked punt against Ohio. But, he was injured the following week at Virginia. He may receive a medical red-shirt for this year if he doesn't come back to play. Additional depth will be provided by Brandon Bell a 6'3" 224lb mlb in the Class of 2013. A 3 star recruit out of NJ. Brad Bars is a 6'3" 254lb red-shirt sop who has shuttled back and forth between olb and de. PSU signed two members very late in the recruiting process for the Class of 2012. In August they signed Brennan Franklin 5'11" 220lb from Arizona and Gary Wooten a 6'2" 230lb from Miami Fla. Obviously, both players were red-shirted this year. Coach Vanderlinden will have to develop a couple of diamonds from the rough. There is plenty of room here for 2013 recruits. PSU lost two commits here too. And, will be looking to replace them. Staying healthy will be the ke here. Carson, Hull, Kline and Wartman look like good players. There just isn't much depth behind them.
The secondary returns three starters in 2013. An optomist would say that's fantastic. A pessimist would point that is the weakest position on the team and may not be all that great. Adrian Amos a 6'0" 205lb Soph- CB and both safeties Malcolm Willis 5'11" 209lb red-shirt junior and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong also a red-shirt junior. Amos already moves to safety when PSU goes to it's nickel package and he will most assuredly move there in the spring. You have to put your best playmaker in the secondary where he can make the most plays and it looks like a good move for the player and the team. Physique wise, he looks like a NFL safety and will be called on to lead this unit teaming up with Obeng-Agyapong in that package. Stephen is a big hitter and looks like a natural SS. Amos will play FS. Willis provides good depth there. Additional depth will be provided by Jordan Lucas 6'0" 188 lb frosh from NY. PSU has signed a couple of safeties in the 2013 class. Neiko Robinson a 3-star recruit from Florida and Kasey Gaines from Georgia who hasn't been rated by Rivals yet. He's 5'10" 160 lb but runs a 4.4 or 4.5 forty. Could shift to cb.
Cornerback looks to be the weakest position on the team and hardest position to project. Da'Quan Davis is a 5'10" 160 lb frosh who has seen a lot of playing time opposite Stephon Morris but he could use some extra time in the weight room. Jake Kiley 6'0" 170lb frosh appears to be the front runner for the spot opposite Davis. Jordan Smith is a 6'0" 180lb member of the class of 2013 who is from Washington, D.C. and a 2-star recruit from Rivals. But, he can enroll in January and give secondary coach John Butler time to mold him into a starter. I feel that Coach O'Brien would like to sign another cb in the 2013 class. Plus, Kasey Gaines who signed as a safety might fit better here. It will be a challenge for the coaches to develop two starters here.
To recap the defensive side of the ball. There are some very good players returning. Amos, Barnes and possibly Hull. Players such as; Jones, Olaniyan, Carson and Obeng-Agyapong have shown enough to be considered good players. Three players with a lot riding on their development will be Baublitz, Wartman and Kline. They were fairly high ranked recruits and should be able to win a spot and produce. There really isn't a player on the squad I feel confidence in at cb and that might be a problem. It will force Ted Roof (defensive co-ordinator) into playing more conservative defensive schemes than he wants. The other problem on defense is a lack of depth at lb and the secondary and hopefully that could be provided by some new recruits. I might feel better about these areas after National Signing Day than I do now. Most college recruiting experts tell you that the defensive line is the most important and hardest position to fill. PSU does appear to be very strong at DE along with DT if one or two of the freshmen being red-shirted develop into starters. Or, if Zettel is moved back there.
We may be entering a new era and a new style of football at PSU. One where the offense will be expected to put points on the board, while the defense struggles to prevent them. With the 65 scholarship limit looming in 2014, it's going to be impossible to have depth and talent on both sides of the ball. Will Coach O'Brien build on his strength as an offensive mind and just hope the defense can just make a key stop or two, maybe creating a turnover at a crucial time? One could argue that's the way the game is being played in most of the country already. The SEC is really the only conference where elite defense is played. I feel defensive statistics in the Big 10 are better on paper than the field because of a lack of passing games and playmakers in the league. The sanctions might force PSU into a more wide-open style of play quicker than they planned. The times they are a changing, and it may actually be fun to watch the process.