Five Questions Heading Into Football Media Day
Penn State football is holding its annual media day today, which will feature a press conference with Bill O’Brien, player interviews, and an open practice (and a free lunch for yours truly).
Let’s be honest, Penn State football fans probably won’t get copious amounts of inside information on the upcoming season, especially when there are so many questions going into camp. Here are five, in no particular order:
1) Who will get the first team snaps at quarterback?
Duh. Penn State’s quarterback situation is the number one focus of the offseason, not just at media day, but for the entire season. The guy who walks out with Allen Robinson, Zach Zwinak and co. will immediately start a firestorm of discussion in the Penn State community.
Conventional wisdom would say Tyler Ferguson is going to be the guy, as he has college experience and has been on campus longer. However, Christian Hackenberg is the five-star prospect with all the talent in the world. You can make a case for either guy, and in both instances, you’d be right.
Of course, the guy who takes first team snaps at media day probably doesn’t mean anything. Bill O’Brien, in all likelihood, doesn’t know who will start under center against Syracuse in three weeks. Sure, he has an idea, but until practice starts, it’s anyone’s guess.
2) Who’s backing up Zach Zwinak?
Zach Zwinak is the starter at running back. This isn’t debated by anyone. He ran for 1,000 yards and 6 TD’s last year despite essentially missing the first three games.
The question here is who backs him up? Zwinak isn’t exactly a back that makes people miss — he’d much rather run through a guy than around them. He needs someone to keep him fresh.
Bill Belton is the “devil you know” in the backfield. He’s absurdly talented and provides a great change-of-pace when compared to the bruising Zwinak, but he isn’t a natural running back. Belton can be used all over the field a la Kain Colter at Northwestern, and his unique talents may be best served that way.
Akeel Lynch is the “devil you don’t know.” After redshirting last year, Lynch had a monster Blue-White game and has been praised for his blend of power and speed.
Don’t be surprised if Belton starts as Zwinak’s backup but Lynch cuts into his snaps as the season goes on.
3) Who are the cornerbacks?
With Adrian Amos sliding back to safety, Penn State’s two starting cornerbacks are listed as Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams. Last season, Lucas had one tackle, while the former wide receiver Williams had 10 receptions for 97 yards. In fact, the cornerback with the gaudiest numbers on the roster right now is Da’Quan Davis, who racked up five tackles, three pass breakups, three pass deflections, and a fumble recovery last season.
Sliding Amos to corner and letting Stephen Obeng-Agyapong play safety with Malcolm Willis is a possible solution, but going off of the depth chart, it’s Lucas and Williams.
Luckily for Penn State fans, Lucas was able to impress the coaching staff enough that he got on the field as a true freshman last season, while Williams played well during the Blue-White game and had a few pass breakups. The two aren’t exactly Justin King reincarnated, but this should be a much better unit than advertised.
4) Is there enough depth at linebacker?
Glenn Carson and Mike Hull are a dynamic 1-2 punch at linebacker, maybe one of the best in the country. Nyeem Wartman has the potential to be the next great Penn State linebacker. Ben Kline will see the field if he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery, and Gary Wooten and Brandon Bell will both be looked at to provide some depth.
The problem? That’s every scholarship linebacker on the roster right now. Sure, there are several run-ons — although only Charles Idemudia is listed on the official depth chart — and Amos may line up at LB, but it appears that Ron Vanderlinden will have his hands full juggling Linebacker U’s current corps.
5) Will the specialists be better?
Penn State’s kicking game really struggled at times last year, but it wasn’t as terrible as some people remember. Alex Butterworth had his problems, but he was solid at pinning opponents inside their 20, something he did 19 times last season. He also had five punts of 50 yards or more. His 37.4 yards per punt was bad, but he definitely had his moments.
And then there’s Sam Ficken. Everyone remembers that, at one time last season, he was 2-8 on field goals, which is awful unless you’re only taking field goals from 60 or more yards (he wasn’t). However, not everyone remembers that he finished the season making 10 kicks in a row, including the game winner against Wisconsin. If he is able to carry that momentum into 2013, he can easily be one of the most improved kickers in the country.