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Saturday July 26 2014
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Moving On In State College

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In the continuing fallout from the shocking child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, it seems insensitive to call any challenges the Nittany Lions will face between the lines this season "problems."

Nevertheless, Penn State will have to sort out a number of depth issues if it's to finish atop the Big Ten Leaders Division in 2012. As many as nine players, including offensive starters Silas Redd and Justin Brown, transferred due to NCAA sanctions.


The Lions were already thin in the secondary before coach Bill O'Brien announced earlier in the summer that cornerbacks Derrick Thomas and Curtis Drake have been dismissed from the program. With graduated seniors Chaz Powell, Drew Astorino, Nick Sukay and D'Anton Lynn now out of the picture, the Lions return only three players with legitimate experience in the secondary: safety Malcom Willis and cornerbacks Adrian Amos and Stephon Morris.


The backfield could be wobbly, too. Second team All-Big Ten running back Silas Redd returns, but his primary backup last season, junior Curtis Dukes, missed spring practice to focus on academics and did not appear on the team's initial depth chart released in June. Current No. 2 back Bill Belton is a converted wide receiver and true freshman Akeel Lynch will be the only other scholarship tailback on the roster come the fall.


Then there's the matter of the wide receiving corps, which lost Derek Moye to graduation, Justin Brown to a transfer and slot man Devon Smith for "personal reasons." Smith was charged with marijuana possession in April. Of the returning options for newly-minted starting quarterback Matt McGloin, only Allen Robinson has much in the way of experience.


Robinson and Alex Kenney, both in line to start, have the potential to be solid contributors but still have a lot to prove.


And while the offensive line is anchored by veteran center Matt Stankiewitch, the four players lining up on either side of him will be new starters. Granted, three of those four are upperclassmen and have been with the program for a long time, but there's very little game experience between them.


The Lions do have strong stables elsewhere, though.


Veterans Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges are locks to start at outside linebacker, while Glenn Carson has extensive game experience under his belt and should start in the middle of the 4-3 scheme.


The defense also returns three linemen with starting experience in Pete Massaro, Jordan Hill and Sean Stanley. DaQuan Jones will join them as a starter at defensive tackle and promising prospects including Deion Barnes and Kyle Baublitz will back them up.


If all goes well, the depth in the front seven could go a long way in helping bring the inexperienced secondary along.


But for the offense to come together and improve on its No. 110 ranking nationally in points per game last season, McGloin is going to have find the consistency that eluded him in a 2011 season that saw him complete just 54.9 percent of his passes for 1,571 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. And not only will he have to learn O'Brien's new offensive system himself, the starter for parts of the last two seasons will be charged with helping his coach implement it with a bevy of inexperience up front and on the perimeter as well.


If McGloin can do those things, the offense will likely score enough points to keep Penn State in most games if the defense can even come close to matching it's 16.8 points allowed per game average from last season.


If he can't, there's a good chance Penn State will be out of the race before it faces division favorite and defending league champion Wisconsin on Nov. 24 at Beaver Stadium. 


Breakout Season
Wide receiver Allen Robinson had just three catches for 29 yards last season, but many of his teammates raved about his performance in the spring. He apparPenn State 24-7ently impressed the coaching staff, too, as he was listed as a starter on the initial preseason depth chart released in June. With more playing time, he could become one of the Lions' more consistent targets through the air. Also look out for freshman tight end Jesse James.


Why The Nittany Lions Can Be A Good Team
For now, Penn State still has more talent than most of the teams on its schedule. Home games against Wisconsin and Ohio State will be difficult, as will trips to Iowa and Nebraska, but if the defensive front seven can apply enough pressure and the offense can manage just enough points, eight, nine and maybe even 10 wins are possible.


Why This Can Be A Mediocre Team
The secondary is going to enter the season shaky as it is. An injury to any of cornerbacks Adrian Amos and Stephon Morris or safety Malcolm Willis would be catastrophic and leave Penn State very susceptible to the pass. The Lions' air attack returns mostly the same faces to a unit that finished No. 96 nationally in passing yards per game last season.

I was in a minor league press box in Charlotte, NC, last month, taking in one of Gregory Polanco’s final triple-A games. A colleague, upon learning I was from Pittsburgh, approached me with a question.
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