New Faces In New Places Hoping To Lift Lions
Nine New Starters Primed On Defense
By Tony DeFazio
With nine starters gone from last season's defense, Nittany Lions fans are learning some new names and faces. There are a few new players to watch for on the other side of the ball as well.
One position where Lions fans hope they don't need to see any new faces is at quarterback. Senior Rashard Casey finally took over the reins of the team, but for how long? His situation is unclear based on assault charges against him stemming from an incident during the summer, and, while Coach Joe Paterno has stood by him thus far, Casey may face suspension later in the year if the case turns against him.
If Casey cannot play, redshirt sophomore Matt Senneca, who has thrown all of two passes in his career, would take over. Senneca has good size (6-3, 226), decent mobility, an average arm and had a good spring.
Along the offensive line, redshirt sophomore Matt Schmitt took over at left tackle. Schmitt was a highly regarded recruit out of Hampton High School three years ago.
Penn State expects this to be a breakout season for senior Sam Crenshaw at receiver. Crenshaw has been involved in the passing game the past few seasons, but injuries have kept him from blossoming. Junior Eddie Drummond had that breakout season last year, and appears to be on the verge of becoming a major star. Behind those two are a couple of gems - sophomore Bryant Johnson and junior Rod Perry. Johnson and Perry may well be NFL prospects before too long.
Penn State has nine new starters on defense. All are good football players, several of them are excellent. Penn Hills product Ron Graham spent the past two seasons as the best back-up linebacker in college football. Not being able to beat out Lavar Arrington is hardly a criticism. Graham plays in the middle this season, and will emerge as an All-Conference type of player. He replaced Mac Morrison against Ohio State last season because of an injury and responded with nine tackles and two sacks. Graham then started in place of the injured Arrington against Michigan State and again stepped up, with nine tackles and a sack. Another junior, Shamar Finney, starts at outside linebacker after beating out Wash High's Aaron Gatten, who once started in front of Arrington. Finney also has the tools to be another great Penn State linebacker. Senior Eric Sturdifen is another new starting linebacker.
Junior Bob Jones is a new starter at defensive end, but Jones has seen a lot of time the past two seasons, starting eight times as a redshirt freshman and backing up Justin Kurpeikis last season. He moved to the other end and starts opposite Kurpeikis this season. Sophomore Anthony Adams starts at tackle next to Jimmy Kennedy.
In the backfield, two former wideouts took over as starters at corner and free safety. Bruce Branch, who won the Jim O'Hara Award as the most improved member of the defense this spring, spent last season as a reserve learning the position. Titcus Pettigrew redshirted last season and learned to play free safety, where he opened the 2000 campaign.
Nine starters is an awful lot to lose, but expect several of the Lions new defensive starters to be studs.