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Friday, May 11, 2012
Penn State spring wrap

By Adam Rittenberg

2011 overall record: 9-4
2011 conference record: 6-2 (T-first, Leaders division)
Returning starters: Offense: 5; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

LB Gerald Hodges, DT Jordan Hill, LB Michael Mauti, S Malcolm Willis, CB Stephon Morris, RB Silas Redd, WR Justin Brown, C Matt Stankiewitch

Key losses

DT Devon Still, DE Jack Crawford, S Nick Sukay, CB Chaz Powell, LB Nathan Stupar, T Quinn Barham, G Johnnie Troutman, WR Derek Moye, T Chima Okoli

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Silas Redd* (1,241 yards)
Passing: Matthew McGloin* (1,571 yards)
Receiving: Derek Moye (654 yards)
Tackles: Gerald Hodges* (106)
Sacks: Jack Crawford (6.5)
Interceptions: Nick Sukay (3)

Spring answers

1. Offensive line taking shape: Penn State's offensive line has underachieved to varying degrees since 2008, and with only one starter back (Stankiewitch), there were concerns entering the spring. But after a strong winter in the new strength program -- no group benefited more than the offensive linemen -- the front five performed well during the spring session. Junior Adam Gress emerged as the answer at left tackle, and John Urschel locked up a starting spot at right guard.

2. Hodges primed for huge season: After earning first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2011, linebacker Gerald Hodges made more strides this spring. He moved to the strongside position -- one he notes previous Lions stars have played as seniors -- and consistently looked like the best player on the field during practices. Penn State could have the Big Ten's top linebacking corps in 2012, and Hodges will be leading the charge.

3. Redd alert: While Hodges and defensive tackle Jordan Hill are the defensive stars, junior running back Silas Redd will be the team's primary offensive weapon for the second consecutive season. Redd already has reinvented himself at Penn State, going from a small, shifty back to a bigger, workhorse type. His next step: "Combine those together -- when I need to stiff-arm a guy, when I need to make a guy miss, when I need to run through an arm tackle -- and become a more complete back," Redd told ESPN.com. He certainly looked like an All-Big Ten back this spring.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback: Penn State entered the spring with a three-man race at quarterback and left the spring with very little resolved under center. New coach Bill O'Brien wants to reduce the candidate pool from three to two, but the competition will continue into the first part of camp. O'Brien is dealing with quarterbacks who are either unproven (Paul Jones) or needing improvement (Matthew McGloin, Rob Bolden). Add in the fact the quarterback are still absorbing O'Brien's complex offense and it means a lot of work must be done in August.

2. The Patriot Act: Speaking of O'Brien's offense, it remains very much a work in progress as Penn State's players learn a system used by the New England Patriots in 2011. O'Brien's approach this spring was to throw a very dense playbook at his new team and see what sticks. It'll be important for Penn State to identify what it can run effectively during preseason camp and fine-tune those plays as much as possible before Sept. 1.

3. Filling out the secondary: Penn State's defensive front seven will be the strength of the team in 2012, but the Lions lose all four starters in the secondary and need to build depth there. Some nice pieces return in safety Malcolm Willis and cornerback Stephon Morris, but Penn State will be looking for more from guys like Adrian Amos, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Curtis Drake, who moved from wide receiver to cornerback this spring. If the secondary can hold its own, Penn State's defense could be scary good this fall.