Successes and failures

Another spring practice has come to an end and plenty was learned from the 15 practices Penn State conducted the past month or so.

There’s still no starting quarterback, the offensive line is unsettled, some young linebackers took advantage of opportunities and Anthony Fera could be a busy man come September. Hopefully if you’ve read the past two weeks of blogs, first with me highlighting breakout players for the upcoming season and then picking out players whose time to prove themselves is now or never, you got a glimpse into how I see things shaping up in State College this fall.

Fifteen practices is hard to make much of a determination on what to expect once the Nittany Lions reconvine in August for preseason camp. It did me an idea of what I thought were some successes and failures coming out of the spring though.

Successes

1. With a starting linebacker spot up for grabs and an opening for practice time because of Nate Stupar’s hamstring injury, Gerald Hodges and Khairi Fortt took advantage of the chance to show the coaches what they can do with the first team. Hodges is one of the best athletes on the team regardless of position and can be a difference maker if healthy, something he never was after breaking his leg against Alabama last fall. The same goes for Fortt, who suffered several stingers last fall. I’ve never been a believer in “you don’t lose your job because of injury,” so Stupar better come to camp ready to fight for his job. With Michael Mauti entrenched in the middle, the idea of Fortt and Hodges, and their speed and quickness joining him on the outside is very intriguing.

2. Something I thought was overlooked throughout the offseason is how Penn State would replace placekicker Collin Wagner, who was 20-for-25 on field goal attempts and hit all 34 extra points. With several walk-ons vying for the job, punter Anthony Fera, who came to Penn State as a kicker but struggled with consistency, stepped to the front of the pack. Along with fine tuning his punting, Fera began hitting field goals on a more consistent basis and also got good depth on his kickoffs. He’ll have competition in camp from incoming freshman Sam Ficken, but the job is Fera’s to lose right now.

3. With Stephfon Green’s injury history and 5-foot-10, 201-pound Silas Redd the only proven commodity, it was paramount that one of the Nittany Lions’ bigger backs had a good spring. Brandon Beachum and Curtis Dukes both responded. Beachum, at 6-foot and 230 pounds, and Dukes, at 6-1 and 246 pounds, give Penn State a presence between the tackles to complement Redd’s quickness on the outside. Redd, who is more than capable of running between the tackles himself, had a good spring, but Green battled some shoulder issues so seeing Beachum, who is back after missing last season because of a knee injury sustained at the end of the 2009 season, and Dukes step forward was very positive.

Failures

1. There’s no question about my disappointment that spring practice ended without a starting quarterback. Giving the starter and the receiving corps, which has the talent to be one of the Big Ten’s best, the opportunity to develop some chemistry through the summer would have been a big deal. Knowing when a receiver is going to make a break, where a quarterback is going to throw the ball with a corner in press coverage or finding a spot in a zone defense is something that could have been developed with repetition. And without knowing his status for the fall, who knows if Rob Bolden will want to stick around after the spring semester ends. He said all the right things after the Blue-White game on Saturday, but actions speak louder than words. And I’m not saying a starter should have been named for the sake of naming a starter. But now so much focus going into the preseason will revolve around the quarterback instead of focusing on what the team needs to do as a whole to improve on a disappointing 7-6 season.

2. Like the quarterback and receiver connection, it would have been nice to see a starting offensive line developed so they could build some chemistry in the summer. It’s no secret that Penn State plays better with an offensive line that operates like a well-oiled machine going into preseason camp. While right guard, where DeOn’tae Pannell and John Urschel are fighting for the job, is the lone spot undecided, the goal on the first day of practice in August will now be finding a starting lineup instead of getting comfortable with one another and getting better as a group.

3. The fact that the entire projected starting secondary missed the Blue-White game and missed much of the spring with injuries is concerning. Safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay and corners D’Anton Lynn and Stephon Morris have played a lot of football so missing the game is no big deal, but every practice missed is an opportunity lost to improve for a unit that underachieved big time last year. It gave guys like safety Malcolm Willis and corner Chaz Powell a chance to see time with the first team and that’s a good thing, but for a group that made little impact last season not being able to practice didn’t help a defense that needed a lot of work to get better.

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