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Passing The Test

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After a disappointing 7-6 campaign that ended in two-touchdown bowl loss, Penn State had a busy offseason. Assistant coach Tom Bradley was rumored to be a candidate for multiple head coaching vacancies, freshman quarterback Rob Bolden--who started eight games--asked to be released from his scholarship, the Big Ten added Nebraska, and questions surrounding Joe Paterno’s return were as loud as ever.

Through all the noise, Paterno will return for his 44th season at the helm, Bradley will guide the defense and Bolden will contend for the starting spot after Paterno turned down his release.

The biggest question mark going into the 2011 campaign, however, remains the quarterback position. Bolden started the first eight games for the Nittany Lions last year as a true frosh before suffering a concussion and ultimately losing the job to a former walk-on, junior Matt McGloin. The position's depth took two big hits in the first four days of August, as one-time blue-chip recruit, junior Kevin Newsome, decided to transfer on the first day of summer camp, and talented redshirt freshman Paul Jones of Sto-Rox was declared academically ineligible.

Whoever is under center, though, will have senior receiver Derek Moye, a Biletnikoff Award candidate, as a target. Junior Justin Brown will also add some pop to the passing game as he hauled in 33 receptions last year for 452 yards with an average of 13.7 yards per snag. One player to watch is incoming freshman receiver Bill Belton, a top recruit from New Jersey. Belton, who was ranked the eleventh best receiver according to scout.com, played quarterback in high school and could be used in some special packages that would have him behind center.

Upfront, the Lions return seniors Quinn Barham, Chima Okoli, Johnnie Troutman and Matt Stankewitch who were part of a Penn State offensive line that allowed only 12 sacks last year. Junior guard John Urschel will look to replace All-American Stefen Wisniewski at right guard, but can also play on the left side.

Carrying the ball for JoePa and company will be running backs Silas Redd and Stephfon Green. Redd returns as Penn State’s leading rusher with 437 yards and two touchdowns after 1,000 yard-rusher Evan Royster was drafted by the Washington Redskins. Green only gained 188 yards on the ground last season, but he will get more carries as a solid second option.

The “Linebacker U” moniker is alive and well in Happy Valley as this year’s linebacker corps features junior Michael Mauti and senior Nathan Stupar who both had more than 65 tackles and two sacks apiece a year ago. The third linebacker will most likely be preseason second-team All-Big Ten pick Gerald Hodges, who collected 31 stops in 2010.

The defensive line, which struggled last season due to injuries, should be solid as in years past. Senior Jack Crawford, who suffered a foot injury last year, is the lynchpin that should have a big year after only collecting two sacks in seven starts in 2010. Devon Still will man the interior, but the 318-pound junior Brandon Ware will contend for significant playing time alongside Still.

One key loss to the line came during spring practice when Pete Massoro tore his ACL and will most likely miss the upcoming season. One player to watch is junior defensive end Sean Stanley who got substantial playing time last year due to the injuries and proved to be the most consistent defender for line coach Larry Johnson, Sr. Stanley, at only 245 pounds, uses his weight and quickness to his advantage  against the larger Big Ten tackles.

The secondary is the most veteran group on the defensive side as three of four were selected to a preseason All-Big Ten team. Senior cornerback D’Anton Lynn led the defensive backs with 75 stops and three picks a year ago and was a preseason third-team All-Big Ten selection.

Nick Sukay, who only started six games last year due to a torn pectoral muscle, should have a better year at free safety as he is also a starter on special teams. Drew Astorino is the other senior safety who started all 12 regular-season games last year collecting 70 tackles.

Freshman kicker Sam Ficken and sophomore punter Anthony Fera will man the special teams as senior Chaz Powell, whose career average is 24 yards a return, will catch kicks.

The 2011 season will open Sept. 3 in Happy Valley as Indiana State enters Beaver Stadium.

NITTANY NOTES
Offensive Gamebreaker WR Derek Moye, Sr. Moye led the Nittany Lions again in receiving last season with 53 receptions for 885 yards and eight scores. Look for the Rochester HS grad to improve even further on his already impressive college career. Some stability at the quarterback position would go a long way toward helping him take that step.
Defensive Gamebreaker LB Michael Mauti, Jr. After missing all of 2009 with an ACL tear, Mauti missed two games and sat out stretches of four others due to shoulder and ankle injuries. Despite his injuries, Mauti still racked up 67 tackles—5.5 for a loss—and registered two sacks last season. He'll make the jump from outside to inside this season; look for him to showcase those playmaking abilities and take a leadership role.
Top Newcomer OG Angelo Mangiro, Fr. With some questions along the offensive line, Mangiro could contribute in a starting role by season’s end. Trying to replace All-American OG Stefen Wisniewski—the only bright spot on the Nittany Lion’s spotty 2010 offensive line—Mangiro should step-in quite nicely with his potential dominant run blocking ability.
Benchmark Quarterback stability With a difficult schedule in front of them, an improved quarterback must surface from the Matt McGloin/Robert Bolden battle this season. The position cost the Nittany Lions too many games in 2010, including their 37-24 Outback Bowl loss to the Florida Gators thanks in part to five interceptions thrown by McGloin. In a league where quarterbacks are set-up to shine, Penn State has had trouble finding “the guy” to lead them to BCS glory.
2010 Record 7-6 (4-4) Lost Outback Bowl to Florida, 37-24
2011 Prediction 25th, USA Today Key Losses: RB Evan Royster, WR Brett Bracket, C Doug Klopacz, OG Stefen Wisniewski, OT Lou Eliades, K Collin Wagner, DT Ollie Ogbu, MLB Chris Colasanti, OLB Bani Gbadyu

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