Spring practice for the Penn State football team starts on Monday March 18th. Each FBS team is allowed 15 practices during the spring which can include full scale scrimmages and an intrasquad game at the end of spring practice. For Penn State this last event is the annual Blue-White Game which will take place on Saturday April 20th. In this article I will focus on Penn State’s offense with an emphasis on those positions which are likely to see significant competition during spring practice and maybe into the summer.
The most significant position battle for this Penn State offense-and in fact for the entire team-is obviously at quarterback. At present PSU has 2 scholarship quarterbacks on the roster-Steven Bench-who saw action as a true freshman last fall for only a few plays against Virginia when senior Matt McGloin was briefly shaken up-and Tyler Ferguson-a junior college transfer who was the second highest ranked junior college quarterback last season. Some people think that Bench may have an advantage over Ferguson due to his presumably greater familiarity with Bill O’Brien‘s complicated NFL style offense. However, Ferguson obviously has a lot more game experience against college competition even if his opponents were generally not composed of future FBS players.
Unlike last season it would surprise me if Coach O’Brien names a winner in this competition before the start of summer practice. Last year he chose McGloin as the starter in early June-something which I believe was extremely important given the quarterback shuffle that took place under the Old Regime in both 2010 and 2011. However, unlike last season there is no clear cut off season favorite to win the job. The wild card in the QB battle is true freshman Christian Hackenberg who will not even be on PSU’s campus until June. Although Hackenberg is talented I think that it will be difficult for him to win the job with only a summer of organized workouts followed by less than a month of actual practice. I fully anticipate that Hackenberg will red shirt unless he is somehow able to win the starting job.
The other major position battles on offense are at tight end and on the offensive line-specifically center and right tackle. At tight end 3 returning players-Kyle Carter, Jesse James and Matt Lehman-probably will all see significant playing time in the fall. However, Carter is still recovering from a late season arm injury which will probably limit his participation in spring drills. As with the QB position there is a wild card-true freshman Adam Breneman-who unlike Hackenberg is already enrolled at PSU. Despite an ACL injury requiring surgery early last summer Breneman is expected to be heavily involved in spring practice. However, should Breneman fail to crack the rotation at tight end by the start of the season a red shirt for him is also a distinct possibility.
As stated above the two open spots on the offensive line are at center and right tackle. The center battle is a three way competition between Ty Howie, Angelo Mangiro and Wendy Laurent. Of these three Howie is the only upperclassman. I would expect Howie and one of the other two to remain at center with the third being moved to left guard where there is no established back up for Miles Dieffenbach. As for right tackle Garry Gilliam has been moved there from the logjam at tight end; his competition there is Adam Gress who started three games in 2012. Donovan Smith and John Urschel-perhaps the smartest FBS football player in America-will man left tackle and right guard respectively barring injury.
The wide receiving corps returns intact from 2012. Obviously 2012 Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year Allen Robinson will be a full time starter in what may very well be the junior’s last season in Happy Valley (An early departure for the NFL is certainly a possibility.) Brandon Moseby-Felder and Alex Kenney figure to share time at the second wide out spot; of course there will be occasions when O’Brien’s offense will utilize 3 wide outs as opposes to 2 wide outs and 2 tight ends.
At running back Zach Zwinak-literally a thousand yard rusher in 2012-will be the starter. Red shirt freshman Akeel Lynch will press converted wide out Bill Belton-who was actually an option QB in HS- for significant playing time. Running back is also the one position where I expect a true freshman to see a lot of action. That back is Ricky Anderson who like Adam Breneman is already on campus. Anderson is the son of Richie Anderson who played at PSU from 1990 through 1992 before leaving school early for the NFL where he had a long career with the Jets and Cowboys.
In summary clearly the main uncertainty for Penn State’s offense is at quarterback. Unlike the defense-where there are a lot of holes to fill-there are relatively few positions on offense other than QB where there is a lack of experience. That experience will be crucial as the team breaks in a new signal caller against a relatively easy early season schedule in 2013.Tags: Allen Robinson, Bill O'Brien, Christian Hackenberg, Garry Gilliam, Jesse James, Kyle Carter, Matt Lehman, NCAA, offense, Penn State, Steven Bench, Tyler Ferguson, Zach Zwinak