February 21, 2011

Way Too Early 2011 Depth Chart: Pre-Spring Offense

Admit it, you've been already fighting off the football itch, and it's not even letter-of-intent signing day. So as we dive deeper into the worst part of the off season--yes, worse than after spring practice, when at least the preview magazines start rolling out--we're going to roll out a few football posts here and there looking at Penn State's 2011 spring practice. Today, we're starting off with arguably the most entertaining--albeit the most unpredictable--part of any season preview: The Depth Chart.

Silas Redd
Silas Redd impressed as a backup in 2010, but should really shine in a bigger role this fall.
Specifically, our two-part look at the depth chart will start today on offense.

Probably the subject of the most discussion in 2010, Penn State's offense was a tale--as most fans would see it--of two seasons. The first was before the bye week, when a young unit struggled to gel against fierce opposition. With losses at Alabama and at Iowa, the first half of 2010 came crashing down with a blowout loss at home to Illinois on homecoming. Key players like left tackle Lou Eliades, tight end Garry Gilliam, joined the ranks of players out for the season with injuries. Even Joe Paterno looked worn and beat by the time the leaves began to change.

The second season started after the bye week, when the offense looked renewed by the week off, and things really started to click. It was also the game--at Minnesota--where the season took it's most memorable turn, as starter Rob Bolden went down with a concussion, and Matt McGloin came in to manage the offense to a victory. From that point on, McGloin would emerge as the starter, facing arguably weaker opposition, but bringing the much-discussed "moxie" to the quarterback position. The running game was blossoming with Silas Redd storming onto the stage, while the defense also rose up to the occasion most of the rest of the season.

But then everything fell back to earth. McGloin threw more interceptions in the bowl game than he had all season long, looking more like the problem at quarterback than the answer most had fallen to believe mid-season, all the while Bolden sat on the sidelines watching his team go down in flames. Come January, Bolden was looking to transfer (but didn't) along with Kevin Newsome (who also stayed), who didn't make the trip to Tampa while figuring out if he himself would transfer.

Now things have settled down for the offense, as the work is ready to begin at Holuba Hall. With new and old players re-entering the depth chart, and a very good core of returning starters, a little consistency--and a little less bad luck--could be all this unit needs to excel in 2011.

Before we get to the offensive chart itself, here are a few quantifiers:
  • Returning starters are listed in bold, and CAPITALIZED. Players who started more than 10 games are marked with an asterisk(*). Players who started all 13 games in 2010 are marked with a double asterisk(**).
  • Returning major contributors who did not start a game are listed in bold, and not capitalized.
  • Returning from last year's depth chart, but not considered a major contributor from 2010, are listed in plain text.
  • New additions to this year's depth chart--i.e. redshirt freshmen, players coming off a medical redshirt year--are italicized.
  • The offensive line is a horrible thing to project, due to the fact that we only know of maybe two players who are going to start/play at the same position as 2010. So take the entire O-line with a grain of salt.
  • Not everyone is included below. This is not a roster. It's a depth chart, reflecting the projected pecking order for the spring, not just which players are at which positions.
  • I've changed up the categorization for each level of the depth chart. It used to be "First Team, Second Team, Reserves," but now goes with "1's, 2's, and 3's" to better reflect the terminology for a practice session depth chart. It's usually "So-And-So is running with the 1's today..." 
  • I'll have a brief breakdown for each position beneath the depth chart.

QB#11 MATT MCGLOIN#1 ROBERT BOLDEN#10 Paul Jones, #12 Kevin Newsome
RB#25 Silas Redd#21 Stephfon Green#3 Brandon Beachum, #26 Curtis Dukes
FB#37 JOE SUHEY#9 Mike Zordich#40 Zack Zwinak
FL#6 DEREK MOYE**#8 Brandon Moesby-Felder#17 Christian Kuntz, #18 Andrew Goodman
SL#7 Curtis Drake#15 Alex Kenney#81 Ryan Scherer
SE#19 JUSTIN BROWN*#20 Devon Smith#4 Shawney Kersey
TE#82 KEVIN HAPLEA#80 Andrew Sczcerba#89 GARRY GILLIAM
LT#67 QUINN BARHAM**#78 Mike Farrell#76 Nate Cadogan
LG#50 DE'ONTAE PANNELL#74 JOHNNIE TROUTMAN*#75 Eric Shrive, #62 Frank Figueroa
C#54 Matt Stankiewitch#60 Ty Howle#73 Mark Arcidiacono
RG#64 John Urschel#50 DE'ONTAE PANNELL#65 Miles Deiffenbach
RT#52 CHIMA OKOLI*#58 Adam Gress#55 Tom Ricketts, #79 Luke Graham
LS#60 TY HOWLE#57 Emery Etter#54 Matt Stankiewitch
K#30 Anthony Fera#28 David Soldner--
KOS#30 ANTHONY FERA*#28 David Soldner--
KR#2 CHAZ POWELL#25 Silas Redd#4 Shawney Kersey
KR#21 STEPHFON GREEN#20 Devon Smith--


Returning from 2010: 
  • 95 (66%) Starts (of 143 possible: 11 starters x 13 games = 143 possible starts)
  • 14 Players with Starting Experience
The quarterback situation is going to remain muddled until August. There is no reason to expect this competition to get resolved this spring, or even summer. While my bet would be on Bolden or Jones to grab the job this off season, it's still and open battle between the four contenders for the starting job.

Paul Jones scrambles
For all the talk of McGloin and Bolden, Paul Jones is a forgotten force in Penn State's 2011 QB battle.
Running back is setting up very nicely for Penn State in 2011. True sophomore Redd should have little problem winning the job, barring some explosion of productivity from 5th-year senior Green. Green should share a good deal of carries with Redd, but the young gun showed a flash of brilliance unseen at Penn State in decades. But the real fun comes with the reserves. Too many fans probably forget how good Beachum was before his ACL tear in 2009. He's a big bruising back that should be great for short-yardage situations. With Beachum is Dukes, who has a great chance to emerge as the solid mop-up back before really getting some time in 2012.

The Suhey/Zordich one-two punch at fullback is reminding many of the John Whitman/Brian Milne combo from the mid-1990s. Suhey is a great receiving threat out of the backfield, while Zordich has thrived in the goal-line back everyone has trouble stopping. With Suhey a senior and Zordich a junior, watch for redshirt frosh Zwinak to get some mop-up carries/blocks in preparation for next year and 2013.

Moye and Brown are bucking for All-Big Ten honors at wide receiver in 2011. Moye is almost a near-lock for conference recognition, and with a half-competent passing game, should be able to break 800 receiving yards for the 2nd straight season. But the most important part of the receiving corps in 2011 is the ability of the second and third receivers to make plays when called upon. Drake is returning from a medical redshirt last season, after contributing greatly in 2009, including a touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless against Michigan State.

Derek Moye
Derek Moye just needs someone who can get him the ball in 2011.
Smith, Kersey and Moesby-Felder should continue to gain touches, particularly Smith after a good 2010 season, but not one where many felt he reached his potential. Kenney is a real playmaker everyone is looking forward to seeing on the field, though it's still up in the air whether he will remain on offense, go to defense, or play both ways. He reminds me of a taller version of Smith. It will be very interesting to see how the coaches use Kenney, if they differentiate what he can do and what Smith can do. That's partly why I believe he'll get looks on defense, ala bizarro-Chaz Powell, until Smith graduates.

Tight end was a complete disaster in 2010. Sczcerba never saw the field due to a pre-season back injury. Then Gilliam tore his ACL just as he was growing into the starting role. And Haplea was practically all alone by the end of the season, leaving little emphasis on the tight end spot by the coaches. But this spring, the position could turn into a real force on offense. The 2009 offense really utilized the tight ends to max their abilities on the field. While I really like Sczcerba's chances to remain the default starter for the spring, I really like Gilliam to rise up with a good spring and grab the job by the end of the session.

Garry Gilliam breaking through tackles [3]
Penn State couldn't keep its tight ends on the field last year, but Garry Gilliam & Co. should give the offense a real boost in 2011.
Initially, I thought there was less to worry about along the offensive line than met the eye. But that was before Troutman had to go get charged with DUI. That changes his status for the spring--if not into the fall--and sends him into JoePa's doghouse for a while.

Many of us had been saying going into 2010 that the line would be alright, when four players with starting experience, including Stefen Wisniewski, returned from the Capital One Bowl lineup. In 2010, it felt like the coaching staff tried to do way to much tinkering with the offensive line in the off-season, leading to massive cohesion issues once the season began, particularly in the line's ability--or lack thereof--to block for the running game. If there is a big shakeup once again along the line, watch out for more inconsistent play, at least through the spring and summer practice sessions.

But for now, things are looking pretty solid up front. Four players have starting experience, including two--guard Troutman and tackle Okoli--who started 10 games last season, and another--left tackle Barham--who started all 13 from a year ago. Pannell has been floating in and out of the starting lineup for two years now, playing everywhere from both tackles, to both guard positions. He's a good lineman, but seemed to never quite click where he was stuck. At first, before the Troutman situation, I felt Pannell would land at the right guard position to replace Wiz, leaving Troutman where he played well on the left side. But Urschel has come on the past year, and will definitely be one of the top candidates for the position this spring. All of that is now up in the air.

Quinn Barham
Quinn Barham went from a huge question mark at left tackle, to a huge positive going into 2011.
Considering spring practice is weeks away, there's no way to know for sure whether I'm even in the right ball park putting Stankiewitch at center. He was taking snaps at the position as recently as August of last year, when Doug Klopacz was injured for a brief time. Howle has been the long-snapper, which gives him a slight inside track to start spring practice at center. But Stank has been bucking for the job for nearly a year and a half.

The rest of the chart is almost a total crap shoot. Farrell, Gress, Shrive, and Figueroa are the only players I'm sure will get looks at being solid No. 2's in the spring, with maybe Gress and Farrell swapping time with the No. 1's. But unless one of the projected starters suffers some serious setback, we're looking at very solid second and third offensive lines. I'm particularly excited to see how the very young group of redshirt freshmen--mainly Deiffenbach, Ricketts, and Arcidiacono--develop together this spring. After 2011 and 2012, they could very well have two years to start as one unit together.

Oops, almost forgot the offensive specialists. Not much to see here. Spring should be a "let's just get through this" point in the team's development, with not much emphasis on special teams until the summer sessions. Fera will be back 100 percent after his appendectomy, and incoming freshman Sam Ficken indicated the coaches want him to handle placekicking duties this fall. But for the spring, expect Fera and Soldner to rotate on field goals. For the return team, Powell was "benched" from returning kickoffs late in the season, in favor of Redd. Green was so-so, but not terrible through the year. With Smith and Kersey viable options, let's hope there is serious competition for the starting kick returners, especially for a unit with so much speed and talent at its disposal. 

 Coming Wednesday: The defensive depth chart.

(All Photos by Mike for LBU)

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