April 25, 2011

Sean Fitz of Lions247 Talks Position Battles and 2011 Schedule With Linebacker-U.com

Not yet 30, even I can remember a time when college football news consisted primarily of whatever you heard on Saturday afternoon television, and the relatively few print pieces that came out the following week. Forget the offseason, fans would have to go months without any news, with the possible exception of some injury or local visit update.

A decade or so later, college football is now the second most popular sport in America, behind its professional counterpart. With that popularity, and with the unbelievable information explosion, came 24/7 news cycles for college football fans. Now, recruiting information has become more and more prevalent as more and more fans discover just how important an aspect recruiting really is to a football team's success.

Prior to a couple of years ago, recruitniks were given only two options - Scout.com and Rivals.com. ESPN has trying (including the failed Nittany Network), but they aren't much of a recruiting source. Then, just eight short months ago, like a Phoenix rising from Arizona, a new player emerged on the recruiting scene and, for Penn State fans, things haven't been the same. 247Sports has been rapidly increasing their market and have been doing so with great articles and even better analysis. Sean Fitz, editor of Lions247.com, has routinely scooped the competition in recruiting news (see the Anthony Zettel announcement for proof) and recently sat down with Linebacker-U.com to talk about some of the heated position battles and what 2011 might hold for our Nittany Lions.

Linebacker-U.com: The most obvious question is at quarterback. Who do you think will be under center on September 3, and will any of the four QBs leave the program before fall practice?

Sean Fitz: The quarterback race has been somewhat of a disappointment so far this spring. Neither Rob Bolden nor Matt McGloin has grabbed the reins and run with it. From my view, it looks like a two horse race at this point. We got to see both in action during the Blue/White Game, but at this point I don't see a starter being named after spring camp.

Of course this brings up the point of transfers following the semester. Rob Bolden is always a possibility without the guarantee of a starting spot, but unless he's out of the race (i.e. McGloin is named starter), I think he'll stick.

The one to watch, in my opinion, is [Paul] Jones. He wasn't given many quality reps with the first team this spring, and having one less year of eligibility than Bolden isn't really an attractive opportunity if he's clearly going to be the third guy. Of course, this is all speculation. By all accounts Jones is enjoying his time at Penn State so it's not a case of him being miserable or anything. Would just be a business decision.

Kevin Newsome isn't a guy who likely fits into Penn State's plans moving forward, and I don't think it would shock anyone if he were to move on.

LBU: What is the status with the offensive line? A couple of players are in the doghouse, while others are highly touted recruits that have not been heard from very much. Who should fans keep an eye on during spring and fall practice?

SF: It's a little late for spring practice, but keep an eye on the battle at right guard. John Urschel got ample time with DeOn'Tae Pannell in the doghouse early, and the coaches like what he can do. Pannell really came on in the last week and a half of spring practice and, depending on who you believe, is on the verge of passing him by. It's a combination that they're going to play around with and see who can be more consistent.

Otherwise for the most part, the line looks pretty much like what we can expect to see in the fall. Johnnie Troutman is back with the first team, and I believe he's the lynchpin for the unit's success. If he can get things together on and off the field, the unit can start clicking.

Early reports on the line were very disappointing, but in the last week of spring practice or so things are looking somewhat better. You're still going to have to expect the until to struggle early and hopefully by the time Iowa rolls around they've gotten it together.

LBU: After a relatively disappointing 2010, Penn State once again has high expectations for its linebacking crew. People know about Mike Mauti and Nate Stupar, but will the other, younger linebackers like Mike Hull, Glenn Carson, and Khairi Fortt live up to their hype?

SF: Barring injuries, Fortt should be the name that you hear the most out of that group this season. He had a big spring with Nate Stupar sidelined with a nagging hamstring injury, and he may be too talented to keep off the field. If Penn State has injury problems at defensive end again, don't be shocked if Stupar gets the Tim Shaw standup defensive end role, as he's probably Penn State's best pass rushing linebacker.

Hull still has room to grow, and Carson isn't going to overtake Mike Mauti anytime soon, but the future is a lot brighter at linebacker this season. Both should have a significant impact on the special teams units this season.

LBU: The depth in the defensive backfield is extremely thin, and some sub-par 2010 play has some worried. D'Anton Lynn is a known commodity, but what about the remaining corner spot, and the two safties? Will Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay take the spots, or will surprising newcomer Malcolm Willis be given a legit shot?

SF: Penn State should be fine in the secondary. Despite D'Anton Lynn missing much of the spring with a back issue, the Lions have experience at both corner and safety. Stephon Morris and Chaz Powell have assumed the starting roles, and if Derrick Thomas can keep focus this year Penn State will have four guys with decent to significant experience in 2011. Obviously staying healthy is the key, but the Lions are fine on the edge.

There are really three guys who can fill into the two safety spots, but once again staying healthy is the key. Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino will be starting come fall, but both have checkered injury history. Malcolm Willis emerged last season and played well. He's really a guy to watch moving forward. Should either starter have issues with, say, tackling, Tom Bradley showed last year that he wasn't hesitant to give someone else a shot. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong had a good spring, but he has no game experience so counting on him isn't a safe bet just yet.

LBU: Last question, Sean. Penn State has a tough schedule in 2011, with a visit from Alabama, and a season ending stretch that includes Nebraska, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. What is the outlook for 2011? Can the Nittany Lions vie for a conference or even national championship?

SF: It's really too early to try to project where this team is going to finish this year without an answer at quarterback. With the exception of Alabama, the schedule sets up nicely for Penn State to get some things together in September.

That November stretch, however, is just brutal. All three of those game could feature teams that could be top 15 in the preseason rankings. Iowa is never a cakewalk, either, and Northwestern on the road isn't one to sleep on. Picking 8-4 may be the popular choice next year, but without an answer at quarterback I'm not sure that's going to happen.

Linebacker-U.com would like to give great thanks to Sean for taking time away from his busy schedule to answer some questions for us. Stay tuned, as Sean just might not be done with us yet.

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  1. Very nice. Fitz is one of the good guys out there.

    I still can't see Bolden sticking around.

  2. Definitely agree on first part, pseudo-agree on second part.

    One of Bolden or Jones is gone, IMO. As Fitz alludes to above, being No. 3 on the depth chart isn't the right place for a player with the talent (or eventual talent) of Paul Jones. On the other hand, Bolden seems to have a foot out the door. The one that stays SHOULD beat out McGloin in the fall.

  3. ...but won't. Especially if it's Jones who is still around.

    I can't seriously believe that Joe Paterno would start Bolden, considering the grief the Boldens caused over the winter and how Bolden himself keeps making references to Joe's son not fulfilling his coaching duties. Joe's a lot of things -- a lot of good things -- but he's also an ornery, vengeful son of a gun.

    Basically, I think Joe knows he needs Bolden around because he's a semi-competent quarterback and those look to be in short supply on PSU's roster very soon. But that's it. If it's Bolden vs. McGloin, McGloin is going to start.

  4. There's the Scrappled we all know! I disagree with most of what you just said, but I refuse to believe that Joe would start a kid out of spite. McGloin has a clear ceiling, and that first half of OSU seemed to be it. And then we all saw what happened in the second half.

    Bolden beat McGloin with only a fall practice under his belt last year, no reason to think Jones can't do it with more this year. Though Sean says above that no QB has separated himself in spring ball, the clear consensus is that Bolden has been, by far, the better technical passer. Moxie can only get you so far.

  5. Didn't Joe Paterno say publicly several times this spring that Bolden is the better passer, but didn't have the confidence of McGloin? Joe didn't say anything publicly about McGloin improving this spring; he just didn't say he got any worse. Which doesn't make much sense, because one of Joe's favorite quotes is "You either get better or you get worse; you never stay the same." Does that mean McGloin got worse by Joe's own logic?

  6. Great analysis. Personally I think that if you have 2 QBs you have zero-which is what PSU has now. Similar to my local hockey team's situation when it comes to goaltenders.