Big Ten: Curtis Drake

We're nearing the end of our Big Ten position rankings, and it's time to finish up the defense rundowns with a look at the secondaries. Let's start off with the unit rankings.

As a reminder, we're basing these mostly on last year's performance and who returns, along with potential for the 2012 season.

The top four groups could be very good, while the next five have question marks but potential. Even the bottom three groups have realistic opportunities to make strides this fall.

Let's get rolling ...

[+] EnlargeJohnny Adams
Bruce Thorson/US PresswireJohnny Adams should help make Michigan State tough to beat through the air in 2012.
1. Michigan State: The Big Ten's most formidable defense once again should be very strong in the back four. Although All-Big Ten safety Trenton Robinson departs, Michigan State returns its other three starters, led by standout cornerback Johnny Adams. Some project Adams as a potential first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Safety Isaiah Lewis could have a breakout season, and the Spartans have recruited well here to build good depth.

2. Ohio State: The defensive line has bigger names and more hype, but the secondary might turn out to be Ohio State's best unit in 2012. The Buckeyes bring back all four starters, including arguably the league's top cornerback tandem in Bradley Roby and Travis Howard. Expect Roby to take another big step as a sophomore. Hard-hitting safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant return, and Ohio State can go two- or three-deep at most positions.

3. Michigan: This group has come a very long way from the Rich Rodriguez era and should be the strength of Michigan's defense in 2012. Safety Jordan Kovacs is an excellent leader who blossomed in Greg Mattison's system last fall. The Wolverines also boast a promising cornerback tandem in J.T. Floyd and Blake Countess, and have good overall depth at both corner and safety.

4. Nebraska: While the Huskers lose the Big Ten's top defensive back in Alfonzo Dennard, they should have greater overall depth and the potential for new stars to emerge. Hard-hitting safety Daimion Stafford leads the group, and P.J. Smith provides a veteran presence at the other safety spot. Nebraska is loaded with options at cornerback, including the improved Andrew Green and juco arrival Mohamed Seisay. New assistant Terry Joseph should get a lot out of this group.

5. Purdue: The rankings already have mentioned some good cornerback tandems, and Purdue adds another in Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson. They've combined for 48 career starts, and Allen has led the team with three interceptions in each of the past two seasons. Max Charlot returns at safety after recording 41 tackles in 2011, but there are some question marks around him.

6. Illinois: Terry Hawthorne rarely gets mentioned as one of the Big Ten's top defensive backs, but he should. The senior has been a natural playmaker throughout his career and will lead Illinois' secondary in 2012. Senior Justin Green brings experience to the other corner spot. Although the Illini return both of their starting safeties -- Steve Hull and Supo Sanni -- they need more consistency from that position this fall.

7. Wisconsin: The Badgers lose a key player at both cornerback (Antonio Fenelus) and safety (Aaron Henry), but they have a chance to improve upon last year's performance and rise up these rankings. They'll undoubtedly benefit from the return of cornerback Devin Smith from injury. Head coach Bret Bielema doesn't downplay what Smith's absence meant last season. The Badgers need more consistency out of projected starters Dezmen Southward and Marcus Cromartie.

8. Iowa: The Hawkeyes have a nice piece to build around in playmaking senior cornerback Micah Hyde, but they'll need more after a so-so season in 2011. Tanner Miller returns as a starter at safety, and hopes are high for junior B.J. Lowery at the other corner spot. Iowa's depth looks better at corner than it does at safety.

9. Penn State: Most see the secondary as Penn State's weak link, to which Malcolm Willis and Stephon Morris say, "Bring it on." Still, the Lions have questions to address after losing all four starters from the 2011 team. Morris, Willis and sophomore Adrian Amos all have been in the fire a bit, but Penn State needs them to take steps and remain on the field. Depth is a significant concern after the offseason departures of Curtis Drake and Derrick Thomas.

10. Minnesota: This is a bit of a projection pick, but I like Minnesota's potential to take a step forward in the secondary this fall. The biggest reason for optimism is cornerback Troy Stoudermire, who returns for a fifth year after missing most of last season with a foot injury. Stoudermire was on track for a big year before the injury. Cornerback Michael Carter had a strong spring and could finally reach his potential. The bigger concerns here come at the safety spots.

11. Northwestern: Three starters depart from a secondary that struggled to stop anyone and endured major communication breakdowns far too often in 2011. Northwestern is younger in the back four, but it also could be more talented this season. Sophomore safety Ibraheim Campbell comes off of a 100-tackle season, and cornerback Nick VanHoose impressed during the spring. A few veterans return, but the coaches can't be afraid to go with the youth movement here.

12. Indiana: The Hoosiers finished eighth in the Big Ten in pass defense last fall, but only because teams had their way with IU on the ground. Indiana surrendered a league-high 26 pass touchdowns and only recorded five interceptions. There's hope, though, as the Hoosiers return three starters, including top cover man Lawrence Barnett. If Mark Murphy and Greg Heban make strides, and some newcomers help right away, Indiana could be decent in the back four.
On Wednesday, we ranked the top individual wide receivers and tight ends in the Big Ten heading into 2012. So of course that means it's time to look at the position group as a whole throughout the league. Remember, we're weighing past performance heavily here with consideration given to potential.

It's go time.

1. Northwestern: We didn't rank a single Wildcat in our top 10 individual receivers or tight ends, yet we have the group No. 1. Have we lost our minds? Well, maybe. But we really like the depth of this group, even with star Jeremy Ebert off to the pros. Demetrius Fields, Christian Jones, Tony Jones and Venric Mark are all very good, and if Kyle Prater gets eligible this might be the deepest receiving corps in the league. The drawback is the lack of an experienced tight end to take over for Drake Dunsmore, but that's less important in a spread offense.

[+] EnlargeChristian Jones
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireNorthwestern's Christian Jones helps form one of the best wide receiver groups in the Big Ten.
2. Nebraska: The Huskers might not be the most prolific passing team, but they've got a lot of options. Kenny Bell emerged as a real weapon last season, and Quincy Enunwa, Jamal Turner and Tim Marlowe all bring something to the table. Add to that one of the league's top tight end duos in Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton, and this is a strong group.

3. Wisconsin: Bonus points here for star power, as receiver Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen enter the season as the top-rated players at their respective position. There are a lot of other question marks at receiver, though the Badgers have a large cast of candidates. And they're loaded at tight end.

4. Iowa: Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley form one of the best returning receiving tandems in the Big Ten. C.J. Fiedorowicz could become a star at tight end. Marvin McNutt is gone, but James Vandenberg should still have plenty of targets.

5. Purdue: The Boilers bring back three of their top four pass-catchers from a year ago, led by Antavian Edison. They need to stretch the field more, and perhaps star kick returner Raheem Mostert can add more playmaking ability to the group. They have a deep group of tight ends that could be one of the strengths of the offense.

6. Michigan: Junior Hemingway is gone, but the Wolverines are hopeful Roy Roundtree can fill his role. Jeremy Gallon is tiny but manages to make big plays. Michigan will need a third receiver to emerge and for someone to take over for Kevin Koger at tight end. Brandon Moore is the top candidate for that.

7. Penn State: Justin Brown gives the Nittany Lions a solid top option, but the loss of Curtis Drake and Devon Smith hurt the depth. Penn State's tight ends have mostly been anonymous, but that -- along with overall passing game production -- should change with the new staff.

8. Indiana: There's talent here, if the Hoosiers can harness it. Kofi Hughes can be one of the league's top receivers and is complemented by Duwyce Wilson, Cody Latimer and the diminutive Shane Wynn. Ted Bolser had a nice spring and looks ready to be very productive at tight end.

9. Ohio State: By now, you know the stat. No Buckeye had more than 14 catches last year. No matter how many times you hear it, it's still a little hard to believe. At least Ohio State has talented players to work with in guys like Corey Brown, Devin Smith and freshman Michael Thomas. And Jake Stoneburner could thrive under Urban Meyer at tight end. Expect the group's numbers to soar.

10. Illinois: It was almost A.J. Jenkins or bust for the Illini receivers last year. They'll need to find new playmakers in the spread offense. Darius Millines has to step up, along with Spencer Harris. Jon Davis had a promising freshman year at tight end.

11. Michigan State: The Spartans lost their top three receivers and their starting tight end, so no wonder they're so low on this list. The addition of Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett helps, and Andre Sims Jr. and Keith Mumphery had good springs. Still, playing time here is wide open, and true freshmen will get a chance to contribute. Dion Sims has as much physical talent as any Big Ten tight end.

12. Minnesota: Quick, name a Minnesota receiver. If you're not a Gophers fan, you probably are still thinking. This is a group of largely unknown guys who'll have to raise their profile this fall. Brandon Green, Malcolm Moulton and Devin Crawford-Tufts are the leading returning receivers. Transfer Isaac Fruechte and some youngsters will be counted on to contribute. Senior John Rabe brings experience to the tight end spot.
Before spring practice, Penn State defensive backs Malcolm Willis and Stephon Morris sat in their apartment, brainstorming a way to motivate the secondary.

They decided to tell their teammates the truth. At least the truth according to those outside the program.

At the end of each workout in the spring and now in the summer, Willis and Morris gather the other Lions defensive backs.

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Willis
Rob Christy/US PresswireMalcolm Willis has challenged Penn State's younger defensive backs to step up this season.
"We huddle them up, we talk to them and say, 'We're supposedly the worst unit on this team,'" Willis told ESPN.com "Everybody is doubting us, everybody is doubting our ability. We know what we can do. We know the ability we have and what we're capable of."

The outside skepticism makes sense. Penn State loses all four starters from 2011: safeties Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino, and cornerbacks D'Anton Lynn and Chaz Powell. Although players like Willis, Morris and sophomore cornerback Adrian Amos have been very much in the mix -- they combined for 65 tackles, two interceptions and nine pass breakups in 2011 -- depth is a significant question mark, especially with the offseason departures of cornerbacks Derrick Thomas and Curtis Drake.

The Lions will need their young defensive backs to step up in a big way. And that's who Willis and Morris direct their message to following workouts.

"Every day we say that, these younger guys, they're hyped up, they're juiced up and they want to do extra work," Willis said. "Right after that, they want to go watch some film with us, or they want to go work on their footwork, just giving that extra effort and that extra attention to detail. It really shows me these guys want to be great this year."

Penn State's defensive fortunes could hinge on the secondary this season. While there are significant changes in State College, namely the arrival of new defensive coordinator Ted Roof and his "multiply aggressive" scheme, several elements remain the same.

The front seven, as usual, should be very strong. First-team All-Big Ten linebacker Gerald Hodges returns, along with Michael Mauti, back from a knee injury. Pete Massaro also returns at defensive end and joins a line featuring tackle Jordan Hill, end Sean Stanley, tackle DaQuan Jones and end Deion Barnes, an extremely promising redshirt freshman. The line and linebackers also both return their position coaches -- Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden, the only two holdovers from the previous staff -- while the secondary has a new boss (John Butler).

Add in the new scheme, which includes some Cover 3 but not nearly as much as the system under Tom Bradley, and the secondary can be seen as one giant question mark.

"A lot of people say we're the weakest group on the team," Willis said. "We were like, 'We need to motivate these guys to let them know what people think.' Reading it is one thing on the Internet, but when somebody says it to your face, it has to hit a nerve. And you really have to be offended by it."

Willis and Morris are getting the desired result so far. Willis has been impressed with the way fellow safeties Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Tim Buckley have approached the offseason. Obeng-Agyapong is projected to start alongside Willis, while Buckley saw some time with the first-team defense this spring.

"When I see the D-backs, I see a whole bunch of hard-working people," wide receiver Justin Brown said. "They're always out there trying to get better, trying to do one-on-ones, anything to help the defense.

"I don't see any weak link."
Four days after naming Matthew McGloin as Penn State's starting quarterback entering the fall, new Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien has issued his summer depth chart. Penn State opens preseason practices Aug. 6.

The first thing you'll notice is 13 offensive positions listed. Penn State can only have 11 players on the field at once, but as O'Brien explains in a news release, "We will be a multiple personnel grouping team, particularly at wide receiver and tight end." Translation: this isn't the old Penn State offense. Get ready for a lot of passing.

BO'B adds that aside from quarterback and a handful of other positions, Penn State will have competitions at most spots when camp kicks off in August.

O'Brien announced three position changes today: sophomore Adrian Amos moves from safety to cornerback, sophomore Kyle Baublitz moves from defensive end to defensive tackle; and redshirt freshman Anthony Zettel moves from defensive tackle to defensive end. The Amos move makes sense after Curtis Drake, who moved from wide receiver to cornerback this spring, left the program.

Four positions feature co-starters on the depth chart. They are:
All four should be interesting competitions, particularly the one at middle linebacker, where Carson started in 2011 and recorded 74 tackles and two forced fumbles. Fortt has shown promise at times, racking up 33 tackles, including six for loss, as a reserve last fall.

Some more notes and thoughts on the Lions' two-deep:
  • Penn State has redshirt freshman Donovan Smith listed as the starting left tackle, while Adam Gress, one of the standouts of spring practice, checks in as the starting right tackle. The right side looks strong with Gress and John Urschel, but there are some question marks on the left side.
  • Garry Gilliam is listed as one of the starting tight ends ("Y" position) ahead of promising freshman Jesse James, who impressed me while I was at practice in April. It's interesting to see redshirt freshman Kyle Carter listed ahead of junior Kevin Haplea at the other tight end spot ("F").
  • Two secondary spots seem fairly set -- junior free safety Malcolm Willis and senior cornerback Stephon Morris -- while the others should be interesting to watch in August. Senior Jake Fagnano is a somewhat surprise starter at strong safety ahead of Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, while Amos and Thomas will compete at the right cornerback spot.
  • Penn State's starting defensive line looks strong with Jordan Hill and DaQuan Jones at the starting tackle spots, and Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley at the starting end spots. The key is whether several former heralded recruits like Baublitz and C.J. Olaniyan, or promising young end Deion Barnes, bolster the depth up front.
  • Bill Belton is listed as the No. 2 running back behind Silas Redd. Curtis Dukes isn't listed, but O'Brien confirmed last week that Dukes is rejoining the squad after clearing up some academic issues. The 6-1, 242-pound Dukes should be in the mix for a good chunk of carries.
  • Justin Brown and Devon Smith, who had an off-field issue this spring, are listed at two of the starting wide receiver spots. Kersey is listed as Brown's backup, while the speedy Alex Kenney likely will push Smith.
  • Anthony Fera handled the double duties of kicker and punter quite well in 2011, converting 14 of 17 field-goal attempts and averaging 42 yards per punt. He's once again listed as the starter at both spots entering camp.
  • Amos and Belton are listed as the top two kickoff returners. Amos shared the role with primary returner Chaz Powell last fall. Brown is listed as the top punt returner, followed by Belton.
  • Two young players worth watching are the men wearing jersey No. 18: James and Barnes.

Thoughts on the Penn State depth chart?

Bill O'Brien has done a good job winning over Penn State fans the past few months.

He could have scored a few more points with the base Friday by announcing Paul Jones as the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback for the 2012 season. Jones is a fan favorite for two main reasons:

1. He looks like a talented player.

2. Penn State fans are tired of the other options.

While Jones could be the long-term answer for Penn State, the best thing he had going for him, like many backup quarterbacks, is that the men in front of him have struggled. Penn State fans had seen enough bad decisions and interceptions from Rob Bolden, and they didn't feel a whole lot better about Matthew McGloin. Jones, who has had academic issues the past two seasons, has yet to appear in a game, giving him an air of mystery that gets people excited about his potential.

McGloin's career numbers aren't overly inspiring: 10 starts, 243-for-448 passing (54.2 percent), 22 touchdowns, 14 interceptions. But unlike Jones, he has played a significant amount of football in the Big Ten. And, unlike Bolden, he has performed decently for stretches and not constantly hurt his team with mistakes.

O'Brien was ultimately left to choose between experience (McGloin) and potential (Jones). Factor in the complex, straight-from-the-NFL offense O'Brien intends to run this fall, and McGloin became the best option.

Rather than make a popular decision, O'Brien made a sensible one Friday in announcing McGloin as Penn State's starting quarterback entering the season. Jones will be the backup, while Bolden, the team's opening-day starter the past two seasons, slips to No. 3 on the depth chart. All three men competed for the job this spring.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State coach Bill O'Brien has indicated Matthew McGloin has the best grasp of his complex offense.
McGloin might not have All-Big Ten skills, but he's a smart guy who has been in the fire. He also doesn't lack confidence, and won't get down on himself if he struggles early. Jones could be a very effective quarterback down the line -- perhaps even this season if things go badly for McGloin -- but to trot him out there for the opener in this type of offense is asking for problems.

O'Brien cited McGloin's consistency during spring practice as a primary reason to give him the nod. I thought it was telling what O'Brien told me about his quarterbacks when I visited State College in April.
McGloin: "He's a bright guy who understands our offense right now. He's doing a decent job of operating the huddle and things like this."
Jones: "He's picking it up and shows flashes of being a really good quarterback. When guys ask good questions, which Paul does, Paul asks a lot of good questions, you understand that they are getting it, to a certain degree. They all have good questions."

Translation: McGloin gets it right now better than the others. Jones is taking the right steps toward that point, but he's not there yet. McGloin gives us the best chance to win.

McGloin should operate on a short leash, and O'Brien should try to get Jones in games early this fall. It's imperative that Jones gets opportunities, even if it's a trial-and-error situation.

As for Bolden, rumored to have left the team last month, it will be interesting to see what his future holds. O'Brien said Bolden will continue to work out with the team this summer. The coaches are excited about incoming quarterback recruit Steven Bench, and Penn State has a verbal commitment from standout recruit Christian Hackenberg for 2013. While Bolden gives Penn State another option at quarterback, you have to wonder whether he'd be better served at another position.

O'Brien also announced Friday that cornerback Curtis Drake is no longer with the program and won't return. The coach didn't specify a reason for Drake's departure. Drake, who moved from wide receiver to cornerback this spring, was involved in a locker-room scuffle with McGloin in December that left McGloin concussed and unable to play in the TicketCity Bowl.

Big Ten lunchtime links

May, 21, 2012
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Here is your linked-in invitation:

Penn State spring wrap

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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.
Earlier today, I had a Q&A with new Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien where he talked about spring practice. O'Brien met with the media this afternoon and gave out some new information on the Nittany Lions spring, including the news that wide receiver Curtis Drake is moving to cornerback.

Drake played a big role in the win over Ohio State late in the season as a Wildcat quarterback, but he did not make the trip to the team's bowl after getting into a locker-room altercation with quarterback Matt McGloin. O'Brien said Drake had a "clean slate" as far as discipline and that he was needed to bolster the numbers in a secondary where all four starters graduated.

"What I saw with Curtis on the football field was good size, good feet, good hips, instinctiveness, and I think that he's a guy that can contribute over there," O'Brien said. "He's got to keep up his end of the bargain by doing well in school and keeping his nose clean, and then we'll give him a shot to play over there this spring."

Some other notes from O'Brien:
  • He reiterated again that there is no starter at the quarterback spot right now and that he might not name a starter until the night before the season opener against Ohio.
  • Linebacker Michael Mauti (ACL) won't participate in contact drills this spring, but O'Brien said Mauti "has had a heck of a winter just in the things that he has been able to do. He's definitely obviously one of the core players on this football team, just both from his leadership and from his work ethic, his family."
  • Running back Curtis Dukes will sit out the spring to concentrate on academics. That will leave Derek Day as the backup to Silas Redd. Incoming freshman Akeel Lynch will be given a long look this summer at tailback as well.
  • O'Brien said he didn't watch much film of Penn State last season and when he did, he mostly watched the defense. He said he wanted all the players to have a clean slate and preferred to focus his time on academics, recruiting and conditioning aspects of the program. He'll get his hands-on work done this spring. "The spring is about, in many ways, just like mini-camps in the National Football League," he said. "The spring is about experimentation, maybe practicing a guy at one spot for about five practices and then moving him to another spot and seeing how he does in different areas and trying to get your best players on the field."

Big shoes to fill: Penn State

February, 23, 2012
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As we count down the days before spring practice, we're taking a look at how each Big Ten team will replace key players on their depth charts. We're picking two departed players who left big shoes to fill and identifying who might be ready to do that filling.

Up next, Penn State.

[+] EnlargeDevin Still
Jeffrey G. Pittenger/US PresswireDevon Still piled up the postseason honors last season after recording 17 tackles for loss.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Devon Still, DT

Why: It's never easy to replace the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. Still was the epicenter for Penn State's defense, a disruptive force who regularly required double teams. He recorded 17 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, but his value went far beyond the numbers. As Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald noted before his team faced Penn State, Still causes "complete and total chaos in the backfield." Although Penn State has shown it can reload up front, it will miss No. 71.

Replacement candidates: Jordan Hill (6-1, 297, Sr.); DaQuan Jones (6-3, 312, Jr.); James Terry (6-3, 317, Sr.); Evan Hailes (6-1, 303, So.)

The skinny: Hill will start at one defensive tackle spot, but I include him here because he'll need to increase his production to help account for Still's departure. Jones and Terry served as the backup defensive tackles in 2011 and combined for 18 tackles and a quarterback hurry. Jones has played both inside and outside but is clearly suited to the defensive tackle spot. Hailes came in as a decorated recruit but battled a blood clot issue last spring and appeared in only two games last fall. Penn State's best bet is to have an All-Big Ten type season from Hill and generate depth at the other tackle spot.

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Derek Moye, WR

Why: While Moye didn't have the year some had hoped, Penn State's problems at quarterback had a lot to do with it. He's a big body (6-5) who could stretch the field and outjump defensive backs for the ball. Moye led the team in receptions (40), receiving yards (654) and receiving touchdowns (3) in 2011, and was the team's top receiver in 2010 and 2009 as well. He's a three-year starter at a position that doesn't have much proven depth entering the 2012 campaign.

Replacement candidates: Justin Brown (6-3, 213, Sr.); Devon Smith (5-7, 155, Sr.); Shawney Kersey (6-1, 198, Jr.); Brandon Moseby-Felder (6-2, 191, Jr.)

The skinny: Penn State really needs Brown to move into the No. 1 receiver role Moye occupied for the past three seasons. Brown showed some flashes in 2011, recording 35 receptions for 517 yards, but he also had some key drops. Smith contributed 25 receptions, but Penn State had no other receiver record more than five catches. It'll be a huge spring for players like Kersey, Moseby-Felder, Bill Belton and Curtis Drake to take their games to the next level and give Penn State some additional options at receiver.
As expected, Penn State junior quarterback Matthew McGloin (concussion) will miss Monday's TicketCity Bowl matchup against Houston.

Lions interim coach Tom Bradley confirmed Sunday that McGloin is out. Sophomore Rob Bolden will step in, making his first start since Oct. 22. McGloin hasn't practiced since suffering a head injury Dec. 17 during a locker-room scuffle with teammate Curtis Drake. McGloin said he suffered a concussion and a seizure when his head hit the locker-room floor. Drake didn't make the trip to Dallas with the team.

While not surprising, McGloin's absence adds to the obstacles facing Penn State in its bowl game. Bolden struggled this season, completing just 42.2 percent of his passes with a touchdown and four interceptions. He played sparingly down the stretch of the regular season.

I fully expect Monday to be the Silas Redd show at Cotton Bowl Stadium, as Penn State will feed its sophomore running back over and over. Penn State will need to win with the run game and defense.

In other Penn State news, colleagues Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen report the school is now targeting New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien as its next coach. The Patriots have a bye week upcoming, and the two sides will meet to discuss the position, sources have told ESPN.

From the story:
Penn State has been eyeing, scouting and honing in on the 42-year-old O'Brien throughout the past month, sources said. He fits the profile of the head coach Penn State has been seeking. O'Brien is well-schooled and has a mixture of experience at the college and pro levels. In an odd coincidence, O'Brien even attended and played football at Brown, as [former Penn State coach Joe Paterno] did.
O'Brien is in the last year of his contract as the Patriots offensive coordinator.

O'Brien spent 12 years as an ACC assistant at Georgia Tech (1995-2002), Maryland (2003-04) and Duke (2005-06). He served as offensive coordinator at both Georgia Tech and Duke but never has been a head coach.

It certainly looks like Penn State will look to the NFL for its next coach, as Titans head coach Mike Munchak and Packers assistant Tom Clements also have been in the mix. Colleague Joe Schad reported Saturday that Munchak, who Wednesday denied he's a candidate for the Penn State job, has been wrestling with the possibility of returning to his alma mater.
Some day soon, I promise, there is going to be good news about Penn State in this space.

But for now, we've got some more tough news for the Nittany Lions as it pertains to their TicketCity Bowl game against Houston. Four players, including receivers Curtis Drake and Shawney Kersey and backup quarterback Paul Jones, didn't make the trip and won't be available to play on Jan. 2.

Drake is primarily known for two things this season: running the Wildcat quarterback in a big win at Ohio State, and for getting in a fight with Matt McGloin after a Dec. 17 bowl practice. Interim head coach Tom Bradley would only cite "personal reasons" for Drake missing the bowl trip. Getting into a scuffle with your team's starting quarterback could be considered a personal reason, I suppose.

The reverberations from that fight continue. McGloin suffered a concussion when he fell during the scuffle, and he did not take part in practice Tuesday. Bradley said McGloin will be evaluated each day by the medical staff. McGloin has a week to get back, but concussions must be treated with caution and he missed a lot of reps. Rob Bolden would start if McGloin can't go, and Bolden would have to play a lot better than he showed this season for Penn State's offense to do much. And he'll be missing two potential offensive contributors in Drake and Kersey.

The Nittany Lions had hoped to get Jones back from his academic problems to provide some quarterback depth and had even talked about getting him some snaps in the game. But Jones still isn't academically eligible, making one wonder if he'll ever get his grades in order. So if McGloin can't go, Bolden will finally have the quarterback position to himself, for better or worse.

The news will eventually get better for Penn State at some point. We swear.
Apologies for posting this a bit late, but Penn State police say they won't pursue charges in the locker-room scuffle between Nittany Lions quarterback Matthew McGloin and wide receiver Curtis Drake last Saturday.

The fight took place following practice, and McGloin had to be taken to the hospital after his head hit the locker room floor. McGloin briefly lost consciousness and suffered a seizure and a concussion.

Penn State university police chief Tyrone Parham told The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News that police "identified both people [in the incident] and neither one of them want to bring charges." The case has been closed.

McGloin, who was examined at the hospital and released, on Monday accepted full responsibility for the scuffle with Drake, so it would have been somewhat surprising if he had pressed charges. Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley said both players will face internal discipline.

McGloin's status for the Jan. 2 TicketCity Bowl against Houston is not yet known.
The significant news story from Penn State on Monday is that starting quarterback Matthew McGloin could miss the TicketCity Bowl because of a concussion suffered in Saturday's locker-room fight with teammate Curtis Drake.

McGloin confirmed he was knocked out after his head hit the floor of the locker room. The junior said he suffered a concussion and a seizure. He hasn't been cleared to practice and will undergo further testing. McGloin accepted full responsibility for the fight, which took place after he and Drake had been jawing during Saturday's practice in State College.

Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley said both McGloin and Drake will be disciplined internally. University police and the Office of Judicial Affairs also are investigating the incident.

"As a quarterback for this university, I should be held to a higher standard," McGloin said. "It should not have happened. ... I'm going to take responsibility for it. It was immature. It was ill-timed."

No one will argue with McGloin's last point. After all Penn State has been through in the past six weeks, the program certainly didn't need its starting quarterback getting involved in a situation like Saturday's at this time.

But let's also make something clear: McGloin's injury and uncertain status for the bowl game is the story that matters. The fight itself is hardly unusual. Scuffles like Saturday's take place all the time with football teams. They don't usually involve the starting quarterback and don't usually result in a player going to the hospital. But they happen. We accept that they're part of the sport and often play them up as a sign of a team's passion and fight.

I did it this spring when writing of Penn State's spring practice, "If Penn State gets through a workout without a scrap or two breaking out, it feels like something's wrong."

The easy and lazy approach is to link Saturday's incident to some sort of larger problem for a Penn State program that has dealt with tremendous scrutiny since the sex-abuse scandal broke. The McGloin-Drake fight, you'll undoubtedly hear folks say, is the breaking point for a program being held together by threads. You'll hear that things are falling apart in State College.

Let's instead call it what it is: a locker-room scuffle that ended badly for McGloin.

"If you’ve ever been a part of a sports team, you know what happened Saturday is not that big of a deal," Penn State safety Drew Astorino told ESPN.com "It's unfortunate Matt got a little hurt. He's fine now, but that kind of stuff just happens. Just because of our situation, it's been blown up so much."

Added running back Silas Redd: "Fights happen more often than people know on a football team. An unwritten rule is that once you leave the field, things are kind of squashed. It wasn't the case this time, but we're still focused."

The focus going forward should be whether McGloin is cleared to practice or play and what type of discipline comes down from Bradley and Penn State. Redd told ESPN.com on Monday that McGloin "probably won't be able to play," but offensive lineman Chima Okoli was more optimistic about a possible McGloin return.

Another issue sure to be grouped in with Penn State's other, bigger problems is backup quarterback Rob Bolden being cited for retail theft after taking a Gatorade bottle from a campus convenience store Friday. Bolden returned the bottle unopened in what Bradley described as a prank. Bradley said Bolden will be disciplined internally but won't face any playing-time penalties.

Yes, it was a lousy weekend for Penn State quarterbacks, although we learned Monday that Paul Jones could be available for the bowl game if he's academically cleared.

Are these signs of a team falling apart? Highly doubt it. It's fair to question the team's mood and how motivated the Lions will be in the bowl game after being passed over by several others.

But to link the McGloin-Drake fight and the Bolden prank with the much more significant issues Penn State is dealing with right now seems like overkill.

One more bit of Penn State news:

Video: Matt McGloin addresses fight

December, 19, 2011
12/19/11
1:00
PM ET

John Barr reports from State College, Pa., with the latest news on the fight between quarterback Matt McGloin and wide receiver Curtis Drake.

Reports: Fight in Penn State locker room

December, 17, 2011
12/17/11
7:22
PM ET

Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin and receiver Curtis Drake got into a fight in the locker room following practice, according to multiple media reports.

Linebacker Michael Mauti told StateCollege.com that McGloin was hospitalized as a result of the incident.

"Yeah, but he'll be fine," Mauti told the website.

University police told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette they are investigating and expect to release a report Saturday night.

"Everything is going to be OK," Penn State offensive tackle Quinn Barham told the Post-Gazette.

According to the reports, the team had scheduled a late afternoon meeting.

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