Big Ten: DeOn\'tae Pannell

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- They came from across the country and across the decades. They were white-haired and dreadlocked, stiff-kneed linemen from years ago and hard-bodied starters from last fall, pushing strollers and using canes. Joe Paterno’s football family came to a private viewing of the late former Penn State coach’s casket at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on campus Tuesday morning.

“These guys in suits and ties, that’s the identity that Joe started with his teams,” said John Heinze of Boiling Springs, Pa., a manager from 1954-56. “Looking good, lot of class, discipline. These guys with each other are like family. These are so many of the little things that he used to preach, that he demanded, what you see now. You see a lot of young and not-so-young guys who are close, who look good. It’s kind of moving.”

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarMourners pay their respects to Joe Paterno at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center.
A few feet in line behind Heinze stood DeOn'tae Pannell, a senior guard on the 2011 Nittany Lions. He described the men around him as “the tip of the iceberg of how many lives Joe has touched.” Former players, Pannell said, “would tell us how much of an impact he had on them when they were playing, after they were playing. They kept up a relationship with Joe after they left. He was really an important part of a lot of people’s lives.”

Christian Marrone was one of those players in the mid-1990s. When multiple knee operations could not heal his injured left knee, Paterno called him into his office.

“Joe sat me down,” Marrone said. “And said, ‘You’re done. I don’t want you to play anymore. I want you to have a quality of life. I want you to focus on school now. Not that you weren’t before. I want you to go to law school.'

“When I got hurt, I kind of lost my purpose. I could have gone to school anywhere and done well. I came here to play football. I wanted to be a part of this. He refused to let me do anything but be a part of the team. He made me a part of the staff. I attended coaching meetings. Whether I liked it or not, that’s the way it was going to be.

"His sayings: ‘Do the little things right. Don’t cut corners.’ Every time I wanted to not read, not brief a case, I would always think of him,” Marrone said. “When I was thinking about law school, I didn’t do it right away, he got all over me.”

Marrone went to Temple University Law School at night. He earned a master’s in government administration by going to Penn on Saturdays. Marrone eventually went to work for former Secretary of Defense Williams Gates in the George W. Bush Administration. He was one of four who remained with Gates in the Obama Administration. Last fall, after Gates’ resignation, Marrone went to work for 3M in Washington.

“One of the things Secretary Gates said to me before I left,” Marrone said, “he grabbed me and said, ‘You know, I’ve seen you and your work ethic. It just reinforces all the great things I’ve heard about Joe Paterno. What a wonderful program.’ That kind of encapsulates not just my story. That’s everybody’s story.”

At the public memorial service Thursday at Bryce Jordan Arena, one player from each of five decades in which Paterno coached at Penn State will speak. John Cappelletti, the 1973 Heisman Trophy winner, will represent the 1970s. Seattle Seahawk running back Michael Robinson, the quarterback of Paterno’s Big Ten champion in 2005, is flying from the Pro Bowl in Honolulu to speak.

Marrone, who barely got to wear a uniform, will represent the 1990s.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Two games into the 2011 season, the most important question surrounding the Penn State Nittany Lions hasn't been answered.

It isn't whether or not coach Joe Paterno will retire after the season (keep on asking, folks).

It isn't even who should start at quarterback, although that question is closely related. But the issue goes deeper than Rob Bolden vs. Matthew McGloin.

What is Penn State's offensive identity?

"It's definitely still a work in progress," McGloin said. "Today was definitely a football game to be able to see we're at offensively. In my opinion, we're not where we want to be yet."

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesPenn State quarterback Rob Bolden (1) split time with Matthew McGloin against Alabama.
That much is clear after a 27-11 loss to No. 3 Alabama. But how can Penn State's offense expect to make progress without a clear identity?

"Offensive identity?" receiver Derek Moye said. "Honestly, we don't have one. I don't know. We've got to get one."

Other players remain just as mystified.

"It's still early, we've still got a lot of games," running back Silas Redd said. "I really can't tell you what our identity is."

Asked to identify Penn State's offense, guard DeOn'tae Pannell offered a hopeful answer.

"Untapped potential," he said.

Pannell paused.

"We don't really have an identity."

You can't beat the No. 3 team in the country -- and quite possibly the best defense in the country -- without knowing who you are on offense. And you certainly can't pull off the upset on a day when that team figures out who it is on offense.

Alabama's offense isn't a finished product, but the Tide know who they are and who will lead them in the coming weeks. Coach Nick Saban made the decision to go with AJ McCarron at quarterback, and the sophomore came through with a solid, mistake-free performance in his first career road start.

Penn State's coaching staff could take a cue from Saban when it comes to Bolden and McGloin.

Make. A. Decision.

The coaches had all spring to evaluate the quarterbacks and all fall camp. They also had the season opener against FCS Indiana State. And yet there's still no decision on a starter.

Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said the plan was to give Bolden two series Saturday and then give McGloin two series. And that's exactly what Penn State did.

The rotation continued throughout the game: Bolden, McGloin, Bolden, McGloin.

Like a blinking light for an offense stuck in neutral.

"It would be good to have one quarterback, yeah," Redd said. "But both of those guys are good. That's no excuse for us."

Both of them are good, at least in practice, according to Jay Paterno. One hasn't separated himself. They continue to push each other. The competition is good for both and for the team.

The neck-and-neck race Monday through Friday has spilled over into Saturday.

"When they're both practicing really well," Jay Paterno said, "it's kind of hard to tell one to sit down."

But you have to in order to help the offensive identity take shape.

Although neither quarterback lit up Alabama, Bolden appeared to separate himself Saturday. He led both Penn State scoring drives, accounted for 11 of the team's 12 completed passes and all 144 of its passing yards. While he was intercepted once and nearly had other passes picked off, he made some good throws and showed some decent mobility, diving into the end zone for a two-point conversion.

McGloin's line: 1-for-10 passing, zero yards.

"I wish I could have just went back-to-back-to-back, but it's Joe's decision and I have to do what he does," Bolden said. "If I was running things, I would be the only guy out there."

Joe Paterno remains the man in charge. Paterno didn't put Saturday's loss on Bolden and McGloin.

"I thought the quarterbacks played a pretty good football game," Paterno said. "They had one or two throws I'd like to get back, but [the receivers have] got to catch the ball from them. ... The kids handled themselves well, didn't get a lot of help."

Paterno is right. The receivers and tight ends could be helping Bolden and McGloin.

A diving Devon Smith couldn't corral a beautifully thrown ball by Bolden on the first play of scrimmage. The normally sure-handed Moye couldn't come down with some catchable passes. Penn State lost momentum for good in the second quarter after tight end Andrew Szczerba fumbled the ball after catching a pass from Bolden.

"As a receiving corps, we've got to make some more plays," Moye said.

Penn State needs all its offensive position groups to step up and form an identity. But figuring out the quarterback is a vital step in the process.

Can an offense have an identity with two quarterbacks?

"Yes," Jay Paterno said. "We had it in '99 with Rashard Casey and Kevin Thompson. We were a very, very good offensive football team that year."

Penn State also had one of the nation's most talented teams in 1999. It opened the season by thumping No. 4 Arizona 41-7 in the Pigskin Classic. The Lions haven't beaten an Associated Press top-5 team since that day.

Times have changed. Penn State is no longer a nationally elite program, as Saturday showed.

Joe Paterno said he still feels he has a good team, a message echoed by his players. Penn State's defense showed some good signs Saturday, particularly in the front seven.

"We've got a lot of big goals this season," Pannell said. "Whichever way can lead us to a Big Ten championship, that's what I want done."

Can Penn State get to Indianapolis with a two-quarterback system?

"I've seen it done," Pannell said, "but not much."
Depth chart indecision day marches on with the Penn State Nittany Lions, who -- surprise, surprise -- didn't name a starting quarterback on their depth chart for Saturday's season opener against Indiana State.

Sophomore Rob Bolden and junior Matt McGloin are listed as co-starters for the opener. It's not a major shock, but I'm not sure what else the Penn State coaches need to evaluate at this point. Bolden and McGloin competed throughout spring ball and into fall camp. Both have started games. Is there still no clear separation? Hard to believe. Don't be surprised to see Penn State play both men against Indiana State before the Week 2 showdown with Alabama.

Other depth chart nuggets:
  • Sophomore John Urschel and senior Johnnie Troutman are listed as co-starters at right guard. Veteran DeOn'tae Pannell has emerged at left guard -- at least for now -- ahead of Mark Arcidiacono. There are no surprises on the rest of the first-team line.
  • Silas Redd is listed as Penn State's starting running back ahead of Brandon Beachum. Curtis Dukes is the third-stringer, while Stephfon Green, who rejoined the team last week, doesn't appear on the depth chart.
  • Sophomore Shawney Kersey and junior Justin Brown are listed as starting wide receiver alongside All-Big Ten candidate Derek Moye. Devon Smith is the backup to Brown.
  • Sophomore Glenn Carson translated a strong preseason camp into the starting middle linebacker spot ahead of classmate Khairi Fortt. Michael Mauti has shifted to outside linebacker, where both he and Gerald Hodges will start. Former starter Nate Stupar is listed as Mauti's backup. In case it isn't obvious, Penn State is loaded at linebacker.
  • Senior Eric Latimore, who missed most of the 2010 season with a wrist injury, is listed as a starting defensive end opposite Jack Crawford. Promising redshirt freshman Kyle Baublitz will back up Latimore.
  • Senior Chaz Powell has edged junior Stephon Morris for the starting right cornerback spot.
  • Anthony Fera is listed as a backup at punter, kicker and holder, most likely the result of his citation for purchase/possession of alcohol by a minor last month. Junior Evan Lewis is Penn State's top kicker for the opener, while Alex Butterworth will handle the punting duties.
  • Only two redshirt freshmen appear as backups on Penn State's depth chart: Baublitz and outside linebacker Mike Hull.
You've asked for it and you've been very patient, so here it is. The Big Ten All-Name team.

Who doesn't love a good name? And there are some very strong candidates around the Big Ten this season.

The only criteria, besides having an awesome name, is a player must be on a Big Ten roster entering the 2011 season. Incoming freshmen are eligible. Names that could have a football connotation help your cause.

Let's do this ...

Coach: Jerry Kill, Minnesota


QB: Moses Alipate, Minnesota
RB: Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan
RB: Mika'il McCall, Iowa
FB: Jared Crank, Purdue
OL: Fou Fonoti, Michigan State
OL: Jack De Boef, Purdue
OL: Rocko Khoury, Michigan
OL: Seung Hoon Choi, Nebraska
OL: Riki Kodanko, Wisconsin
WR: Fritz Rock, Illinois
WR: Xzavian Brandon, Minnesota
WR: Tariq Tongue, Penn State
WR: Nick Toon, Wisconsin
TE: Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State


DL: DeJazz Woods, Illlinois
Kyle Baublitz, Penn State
DL: Wisdom Onyegbule, Illinois
Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
LB: Storm Klein, Ohio State
LB: Coddye Ring-Noonan, Wisconsin
Kaulana Judd, Purdue
DB: Miami Thomas, Illinois
DB: John Lowdermilk, Iowa
DB: Peniel Jean, Wisconsin
DB: Shady Salamon, Minnesota


P: Alex Butterworth, Penn State
K: Carson Wiggs, Purdue

  • Zepheniah Grimes, LB, Illinois
  • Griffen Dahlstrom, LB, Indiana
  • Curenski Gilleylen, WR, Nebraska
  • Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
  • Caleb TerBush, QB, Purdue
  • Takudzwa Kubvoruno, WR, Michigan State
  • Dakota Getz, LB, Iowa
  • Darius Millines, WR, Illinois
  • Dusty Kiel, QB, Indiana
  • Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, Northwestern
  • DeOn'tae Pannell, OL, Penn State
  • Khairi Fortt, LB, Penn State
  • Sahr Ngekia, TE, Minnesota
  • Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
  • Silas Redd, RB, Penn State
  • Nick Stoner, DB, Indiana (nod to Adam's hometown of Berkeley, Calif.)
  • Marlandez Harris, DL, Indiana
  • Logan Link, DB, Purdue
  • Stone Pinckney, LB, Northwestern

Fresh Faces: Penn State

August, 8, 2011
We're doubling up on fresh faces today as camps open around the league. This series looks at freshmen, redshirt freshmen, transfers or returnees ready to move into much bigger roles this season for each unit on a team.

Let's examine Penn State:

Offense: John Urschel, OG, Soph., 6-3, 284

Urschel emerged as the starting right guard after spring practice and will try to hold onto that this fall while battling DeOn'tae Pannell. Urschel made one start as a redshirt freshman against Indiana. Penn State hopes he can replace Stefen Wisniewski and be part of a more dominant offensive line. As a side note, Urschel is an outstanding student just like Wisniewski. The math major has a 4.0 GPA.

Defense: Kyle Baublitz, DE, Fr., 6-5, 261

Baublitz showed his potential by registering two sacks in the Blue-White spring game. A redshirt freshman who enrolled in January 2010, he could provide depth to a position that is looking for more top-flight contributors. Penn State has seniors Eric Latimore and Jack Crawford at the end spots, but both have had health issues. The Nittany Lions need to develop a more productive pass rush, and Baublitz could push for playing time with a big fall camp.

Special teams: Sam Ficken, K, Fr.

The Nittany Lions need to find a replacement for the departed Collin Wagner at place-kicker. Perhaps Ficken could be that guy. After all, Penn State gave him a scholarship in the 2011 class, which is rare for kickers. Ficken booted a 52-yarder in high school, but he'll have to beat out Anthony Fera and David Soldner this fall.
Apologies for posting this late, but here's a full wrap-up from the Big Ten chat today. The Gunner Kiel news hadn't broken yet, or I'm sure I would have received a few questions about Indiana's most heralded recruit in recent memory.

Some highlights:
Dan (Iowa City): Adam, great work with the blog. With Iowa this season, which side of the ball do you see them having more trouble with? On offense they start a new quarterack, a unknown but possible gem at RB with Coker, and only 1 real WR option. On defense the D-line is virtually gone, Sash/Greenwood are out of town, and the LB's have a lot of unprovens. What side should I be worrying about?
Adam Rittenberg (12:11 PM): Dan, I'd have some concern on both sides, but a little more on defense. The offensive line will be solid, you have a top-line WR in McNutt and an experienced TE in Brad Herman (along with the promising C.J. Fiedorowicz). Also, both Coker and Vandenberg have proven something, albeit in limited action. Losing three multiyear starters on the defensive line and two multiyear starters at safety seems to be bigger issues.
Rick M (Louisville, KY): Adam, Why does it seem that you are afraid to admit that you do not want to see Nebraska win it. It will make the B1G look weak. I am of a differing opinion. I think that the Husker are a strong team and have too many weapons to deny their superior talent. Please, don't mis-interrupt my statement as arrogant. I look at it as confidence in my Huskers.
Adam Rittenberg (12:32 PM): It's not about being afraid. I don't care who wins the Big Ten. But in assessing whether a Nebraska title is good for the league in Year 1, I would say no. It will take time for Nebraska to be regarded nationally as a Big Ten program. If the Huskers win the league in Year 1, especially with their schedule, most will look at it as a poor reflection of the Big Ten, a conference that is still in many ways trying to repair its national reputation. So it's nothing against the Huskers, who certainly could win the league. But I have a pretty good grasp on national perception -- helps to work at ESPN -- but I don't think this would be favorable for the Big Ten.
Derek (NC): Do you think Penn State's OL will start this year more solid and consistent than last year's OL?
Adam Rittenberg (12:52 PM): Derek, the good news is that most of these linemen have been around for a while. Guys like Okoli, Barham, Troutman, Pannell, even Stankiewitch. They know one another and have been in the program for multiple years. It should ease the process of coming together as a line, but you're absolutely right that Penn State must start off the season much stronger up front than it did in 2010.

Also, here are some updates on Big Ten undrafted free agents who have found NFL homes. Check out the full list.

Michigan State P Aaron Bates: Pittsburgh Steelers

Wisconsin LB Blake Sorensen: Seattle Seahawks
The preseason position rankings march on with the offensive lines. Team rankings are below, and we'll take a look at the individual rankings for tackles, centers and guards early next week.

Looking at the league landscape, offensive line could be a major strength throughout the Big Ten this season. Although standout players such as Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi and All-American Stefen Wisniewski depart, I see improved depth for several teams as well as quite a few multiyear starters.

Honestly, there aren't any bad lines in the league; just some with more question marks than others.

Let's get to the rundown.

1. Wisconsin: Talk about an ability to reload. The Badgers lose All-Americans Carimi and John Moffitt, plus the versatile Bill Nagy, and they still shouldn't take any steps backward. Injuries have allowed Wisconsin to build depth the past few seasons, and four of the five spots look extremely solid. Tackle Ricky Wagner, center Peter Konz and guard Kevin Zeitler lead a group that will block for the league's top running back tandem. Wisconsin's track record up front is impossible to ignore, and this year's line should continue the trend.

[+] EnlargeRiley Reiff
David Purdy/Getty ImagesWill arm length be an issue for former Iowa left tackle Riley Reiff in the NFL?
2. Iowa: The line is undoubtedly Iowa's biggest strength and should be one of the nation's elite units in 2011. Iowa returns starting experience at all five positions and should have decent depth. Left tackle Riley Reiff, projected as a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft, will enter the fall as a leading candidate for the Outland Trophy. James Ferentz is one of the league's top centers, and Markus Zusevics is poised for a big year at right tackle.

3. Ohio State: Depth is the only reason the Buckeyes' line isn't higher in the rankings. Ohio State boasts arguably the nation's top center in Mike Brewster, and first-team All-Big Ten tackle Mike Adams will be back after a five-game suspension to begin the season. The Buckeyes need big things from tackle Andrew Norwell during Adams' absence, and tackle J.B. Shugarts must play like a veteran. After struggling to put two sets of capable linemen on the field this spring, Ohio State has to find more depth in preseason camp.

4. Michigan: This is another group that could climb up the rankings by season's end. Center David Molk is a terrific piece to build around, and if gifted players like Taylor Lewan and Patrick Omameh continue to develop, Michigan's line will be a major strength. The concerns are Molk's ability to stay healthy and an adjustment to a new offensive system under Al Borges. The line did an excellent job of protecting Denard Robinson in 2010, allowing a league-low 11 sacks.

5. Illinois: The Illini flat-out punished opponents at the line of scrimmage on several occasions last season, and I really like the potential for the front five in 2011. The biggest reason? Left tackle Jeff Allen, one of the Big Ten's most experienced linemen. Allen and center Graham Pocic will contend for All-Big Ten honors, and if Corey Lewis gets healthy, this should be one of the league's top offensive lines.

6. Purdue: Expectations are high for a line that coach Danny Hope thinks will be Purdue's strength in 2011. Left tackle Dennis Kelly is an All-Big Ten candidate with NFL potential who has started the past 24 games. Center Peters Drey and tackle Nick Mondek help anchor the group. The big question is whether mammoth guard Ken Plue, a multiyear starter, can get out of Hope's doghouse to help lead the way. Plue will be pushed by James Shepherd this summer. The combination of experience up front and the return of running back Ralph Bolden bode well for the Boilers.

7. Northwestern: The Wildcats boast the nation's second most experienced line (137 combined career starts), but experience must start translating to production. This group still must prove it can spark a decent rushing attack after several years of decline. Left tackle Al Netter is an All-Big Ten candidate and center Ben Burkett enters his fourth season as the starter. If Northwestern gets more consistent play from right tackle Patrick Ward and others, it should be a solid group.

8. Penn State: This is a big year for Penn State's O-line, which has heard the criticism and has vowed to erase it in 2011. The tackle spots look solid with Quinn Barham and Chima Okoli, but Penn State needs to shore up the interior after losing Wisniewski, a mainstay for the past four seasons. If veterans like Johnnie Troutman and DeOn'tae Pannell step up and turn in consistent performances, the line should hold up nicely.

9. Nebraska: The Huskers ranked ninth nationally in rushing last season but have quite a few question marks up front. Center Mike Caputo is a building block and sophomore tackle Jeremiah Sirles is a returning starter, but Nebraska has little proven experience. The Huskers will benefit from a healthy Marcel Jones at right tackle, and Yoshi Hardwick adds depth. This could turn out to be a decent group, but the experience issue combined with a scheme change creates some uncertainty.

10. Michigan State: Not to put too much pressure on the line, but arguably no position group will have more influence on Michigan State's season. The Spartans must replace both starting tackles and their starting center, never an easy task. All-Big Ten guard Joel Foreman returns to lead the group, but Michigan State needs immediate contributions from unproven players. The coaches feel they've upgraded the athleticism up front by moving players like Dan France and Blake Treadwell over from the defensive side.

11. Minnesota: The Gophers boast a mix of veterans and youth, and it'll be interesting to see whether the group comes together this fall. Hopes are high for young tackles Eric Olson and Jimmy Gjere, but they'll need help from seniors like Ryan Wynn and Chris Bunders on the interior. Minnesota needs to regain its swagger as an elite rushing offense, and it starts up front this fall. This is a group that certainly has a chance to make strides.

12. Indiana: I like some of Indiana's individual pieces, but as a group, the Hoosiers must show they can create space for the running backs. Indiana switched to the pistol offense in hopes of sparking the ground game but produced barely 100 rushing yards a game in 2010 (112th nationally). The line allowed only 12 sacks and must continue to protect its unproven quarterbacks this fall, but getting the run game going is paramount. Returning starters Will Matte, Justin Pagan and Andrew McDonald give Indiana hope.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Joe Paterno didn't hide his concern about Penn State's offensive line when addressing reporters last week.

"We don't have any depth there," the coach said. "We don't have a good, solid first-string offensive line yet. That's our first job."

It's hardly a revelation that the Big Ten's best teams are strong along the offensive line. Wisconsin and Iowa have elevated their programs largely because of their line play. Michigan State will become a perennial league title contender when it churns out great lines year after year.

[+] EnlargeStefen Wisniewski
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarThe Lions have to replace Stefen Wisniewski, who started all 13 games at guard or center the past two seasons.
Not surprisingly, Penn State's best teams in recent years have been superb on the offensive front, but last year's line endured inconsistent play. Although the Lions allowed only 12 sacks -- tied with Michigan for 10th fewest nationally -- they couldn't get the run game going until the second half of the season. Penn State finished ninth in the league and 74th nationally in rushing, its lowest finish since 2004 (81st nationally).

"For all the [talk about] the offensive line being such a big question mark, we didn't give up that many sacks, we were able to get [Evan] Royster the rushing record, so there were definitely some bright spots," right tackle Chima Okoli said. "Myself included, there's a good amount we also have to work on. By no means are we done."

Penn State should be fine at the tackle spots as starters Okoli and Quinn Barham both return. Senior DeOn'tae Pannell has nine career starts and Johnnie Troutman started the final 11 games last season at left guard.

The Lions must replace standout Stefen Wisniewski, who started at both guard and center during his career. But overall depth, as Paterno noted, could be a problem.

"We've got four seniors," Okoli said, "and as you get older, you've kind of earned your right in the hierarchy to say what you'd like to get done with the younger guys."

Penn State's line play has become a testy topic for fans the past two seasons.

The Lions' last elite offensive line led the team to a Big Ten title in 2008. It included Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley and three first-team All-Big Ten players (Shipley and tackles Rich Ohrnberger and Gerald Cadogan).

"They definitely set the bar," Okoli said. "If we can be anywhere close to those guys' level, we'll definitely compete for things I believe we're due for."

Opening camp: Penn State

August, 5, 2010
Schedule: First practice takes place today in State College. Practices will be scheduled around the end to Penn State's second summer academic session, which has final exams beginning Aug. 13.

What's new: Quite a lot. Penn State loses six first-team All-Big Ten performers from 2009, including quarterback Daryll Clark and defensive tackle Jared Odrick, the league's co-Defensive Player of the Year. All eyes will be on the quarterback spot as last year's backup, Kevin Newsome, competes alongside Matt McGloin and two true freshmen, Paul Jones and Robert Bolden. The Lions also will have a new-look lineup at linebacker, although Nate Stupar and Bani Gbadyu are familiar names.

Key battle: Everyone knows about the quarterback race, which likely won't be decided until late in camp. But there are other battles, too. The offensive line has to be better this year after struggling against elite defensive fronts like Iowa and Ohio State in 2009. Penn State is set with standout Stefen Wisniewski at right guard, but the left guard spot will feature plenty of competition between DeOn’tae Pannell and Johnnie Troutman. Both players have experience but one needs to emerge.

New on the scene: Penn State brings in the Big Ten's top recruiting class and should see some immediate contributions from its freshmen. You know about the quarterbacks, but keep an eye on defenders like Khairi Fortt, Dakota Royer, C.J. Olaniyan and Mike Hull. Penn State must replace five starters on defense and build depth there as well.

Switching it up: Chaz Powell ranked fourth on the team in receiving last season, but he practiced at cornerback this spring and could be a big contributor there. Sophomore Stephon Morris did some good things as a true freshman in 2009, but Powell should push him.

Breaking out: You just know Penn State will have a new group of stars on defense after losing Odrick, Navorro Bowman, Sean Lee and others. Devon Still is poised for a big season at defensive tackle if he can stay healthy, and Jack Crawford could take the next step and become one of the league's premier pass-rushers. The linebacker group should be very interesting, as Michael Mauti, a fan favorite, gets his opportunity to shine. If Penn State finds a capable quarterback, wide receiver Derek Moye might have a breakout season.

Back in the fold: Mauti tore his ACL in camp last summer and missed the entire 2009 season. He'll definitely be in the mix for a starting spot, most likely at outside linebacker.

Quoting: "We've got a tough schedule and we've got a good young squad that's got a long way to go to be good. We've got a bunch of kids that'll work at it and get better each week. Before it's all over, we'll be a pretty good football team. How many games we'll win? I don't know." -- Head coach Joe Paterno
Stefen Wisniewski is back to where he started at Penn State, and this time, he thinks he'll stay there.

Wisniewski, a consensus first-team All-Big Ten center in 2009, is once again practicing at guard this spring in Happy Valley. He made the move after the Nittany Lions' fourth practice, as senior Doug Klopacz is working as the team's starting center.

Wisniewski started 12 games at guard in 2008 before shifting to center last year as Penn State had to replace Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley.

"I know the coaches like me at guard," Wisniewski told me. "They think I'm a better guard than I am a center, which I think I agree with. I've been playing exclusively guard, but I don't know for sure if that's a permanent move."

Wisniewski admits he's more comfortable at guard but would move back to center without objection if it was what the team needed. After some initial struggles with the switch to center, he settled in more as the season went on, despite being a "more natural" guard.

The switch back is one of several tweaks coaches have made to the line, as they hope to find the right combination to protect a young quarterback in 2009. Lou Eliades, the team's starting right guard last season, has shifted to right tackle. DeOn'tae Pannell, who started four games at right tackle last year, is working at left guard this spring but could be moved back to the edge of the line. Wisniewski recognized both Eliades and Pannell for their play this spring.

Sophomore Quinn Barham has been working as Penn State's top left tackle, and while he lacks experience, he brings "that left-tackle build," according to Wisniewksi, and good athleticism to the position.

Is Penn State's line shuffling complete? Probably not. Given the importance of building chemistry up front, Wisniewski and his line mates would like to see a resolution soon.

"I'd certainly like to see that as soon as possible," he said, "but however long it takes us to figure out who our best five are, we want to have our best five out there. I'd imagine those kinds of decisions will be made finally during camp in the fall.

"If it would happen earlier in camp, it would make things easier for us, definitely."
Saturday was scrimmage day around the Big Ten, as teams from State College to Minneapolis engaged in several forms of game-like simulations. Though no Big Ten team has officially held a spring game -- five are on tap Saturday -- these scrimmages are often just as important, if not more so.

Nine of the 11 Big Ten teams provided media access and/or statistics from Saturday's scrimmages. Michigan's official Web site has some video and tidbits from Saturday's 115-play closed scrimmage, and Mgoblog has a few reports as well. Iowa's official site also has some video and interviews from Saturday's scrimmage.

Here are some tidbits from the other nine scrimmages, from reports around the league:


Illinois let its quarterbacks get hit Saturday, but the offense delivered most of the damage. Nathan Scheelhaase continued to make a strong case for the starting job with a 40-yard run, a 30-yard touchdown pass to Zach Becker and a 22-yard pass to A.J. Jenkins. Jacob Charest also remains very much alive in the QB race and connected on several long passes, including a 50-yarder to Jenkins. The running game also looked good as Mikel Leshoure had a 65-yard run. Cornerback Tavon Wilson provided a defensive highlight by picking off a Scheelhaase pass. It's encouraging to see this type of progress from Illinois' offense, which lost several key pieces from 2009 and returns virtually no experience at quarterback.


Defense is the primary focus for IU this spring, and the unit stepped up in Saturday's scrimmage, holding the offense to only one touchdown. Defensive tackle Adam Replogle recorded two sacks and three tackles for loss, and linebacker Jeff Thomas, a junior college transfer, forced a fumble. Safety Kyle Dietrick recorded the lone interception of the scrimmage. The Hoosiers continue to see good things from freshman running back Antonio Banks, who had 42 rushing yards and a touchdown Saturday. The backup quarterback competition continued as Dusty Kiel recorded a touchdown pass and a 35-yard completion, while Edward Wright-Baker completed 8 of 10 pass attempts. Nick Zachery, who moved from safety to wide receiver just last week, had four catches for 46 yards.


The Spartans' defense rallied to win the jersey scrimmage as a secondary that struggled mightily last fall saw two players, Marcus Hyde and Mitchell White, return interceptions for touchdowns. Hyde picked off starter Kirk Cousins, while White intercepted an Andrew Maxwell pass and raced 40 yards for a touchdown. Cornerback Chris L. Rucker also had a big day with an interception, a pass breakup and a tackle for loss. Michigan State's defense got a big lift from end Denzel Drone, who stuffed Edwin Baker on fourth-and-1 from the 1-yard line to seal the win. Cousins completed 19 of 30 passes for 188 yards with two touchdowns, including a 30-yarder to Keith Nichol, and two interceptions. Maxwell, who played some with the first-team offense, threw for 199 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Wide receivers Keshawn Martin (12 catches, 109 yards), Bennie Fowler (nine catches, 84 yards, 48-yard rush) and Nichol (four catches, 70 yards) stood out.

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Joe Paterno opened his news conference Wednesday afternoon by apologizing for delaying his pre-spring meeting with reporters.

Then, in classic Paterno fashion, he muttered, "I'm here. Unfortunately, so are you."

Yes, we missed you, JoePa.

Joe Paterno
AP Photo/Carolyn KasterPenn State coach Joe Paterno sports his new glasses while meeting with the media on Wednesday.
We haven't heard much from the Penn State head coach since the Capital One Bowl, though his vision surgery and the auctioning of his famous glasses kept Paterno in the spotlight. Paterno addressed a number of topics in Wednesday's media session, and here are a few takeaways:

  • There's no timetable on a decision to name a starting quarterback. Paterno is open to modifying the offense so it fits the players' strengths. "We want to get them comfortable, see what they can do, and not do more than what they can handle," he said.
  • Paterno reiterated that former walk-on Matt McGloin is very much in the mix at quarterback, while wide receiver Brett Brackett hasn't been working with the signal callers this spring. Paterno is making the rounds in spring ball and hasn't seen much of early enrollee Paul Jones. JoePa is happy with the way Kevin Newsome handles himself in the huddle, saying Newsome "has made a lot of progress."
  • Wide receiver Chaz Powell is getting a look at cornerback this spring. Powell ranked fourth on the team in receptions with 28 last fall. He also served as the team's primary kickoff return man and finished second in all-purpose yards (67.8 ypg). Powell played both defensive back and wide receiver in high school and was a standout on special teams. "I'm not sure Powell's going to be a corner," Paterno said. "Obviously, Powell's a good athlete. He could play offense or defense."
  • Asked about the situation at offensive tackle, Paterno jokingly asked reporters if they had a big sheet of paper with them. Penn State is auditioning several players at the tackle spot, including DeOn'tae Pannell and redshirt freshman Eric Shrive. "We argue every morning, can so-and-so handle the pass protection?" Paterno said. "For me to make any kind of statement on where guys will play is ridiculous right now."
  • Starting safety Drew Astorino (shoulder) and linebacker Michael Mauti (knee), who many project as a starter in 2010, are out for the spring with injuries. Reserve running back Brandon Beachum (knee) will only do some light running this spring. Paterno didn't sound too concerned about the linebacker position and likes what he has with Bani Gbadyu, Nate Stupar and Chris Colasanti.
  • Paterno doesn't expect starting running back Evan Royster to do too much this spring, as he has little to prove to the coaches. Backup Stephfon Green and Shaine Thompson, a former walk-on who recently received a scholarship, will be in the spotlight there.
  • The jury is still very much out on defensive tackle Brandon Ware, who has struggled with academic issues and weight problems. "I think he's still a little too heavy," Paterno said. "But he's got a long road to go academically before I'm going to think about him playing."
  • Doug Klopacz is back for a fifth year and will back up Stefen Wisniewksi at center. Running back Brent Carter and defensive tackle Tom McEowen are no longer with the team.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Quick hits on injury news from around the league after the Big Ten teleconference.
  • Ohio State defensive tackle Dexter Larimore will miss Saturday's game against Wisconsin (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) with a strained right knee. Head coach Jim Tressel said Larimore doesn't need surgery. Todd Denlinger will start in Larimore's place after filling in well against Indiana with his first career interception. Running back Dan Herron (ankle) practiced Sunday and Tressel is anxious to see how the sophomore responds in today's workout.
  • Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki (ankle) is going to try to practice today after missing the last three games, head coach Kirk Ferentz said. Moeaki has battled a multitude of injuries throughout his career.
  • Penn State tackle Nerraw McCormack is doubtful for the Eastern Illinois game after sustaining an ankle injury last week against Illinois. McCormack made his first career start at left tackle against the Illini. Sophomore DeOn'tae Pannell will be ready to step in at tackle, though head coach Joe Paterno isn't sure if Pannell will be 100 percent.
  • Minnesota senior center Jeff Tow-Arnett will miss the remainder of the season with a broken leg suffered against Wisconsin. Sophomore Trey Davis will start at center this week against Purdue. Davis started five games at center as a redshirt freshman in 2008 but hadn't played this season until last Saturday.
Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State's Week 1 depth chart is out, and most of the familiar names are where they're supposed to be: quarterback Daryll Clark, running back Evan Royster, linebackers Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee and defensive tackle Jared Odrick.

There were a few notable items on the two-deep for Saturday's opener against Akron:
  • Juniors Graham Zug and Brett Brackett and sophomore Derek Moye are listed as the starters at the three wide receiver spots. Backups are Chaz Powell (Brackett), A.J. Price (Moye) and Patrick Mauti (Zug). Also, it was a bit surprising to see Mickey Shuler and Andrew Quarless listed as co-starters at tight end. Quarless is on the preseason watch list for the Mackey Award.
  • Center Stefen Wisniewski and left tackle Dennis Landolt are no-surprise starters, but here's the rest of the revamped line: right tackle DeOn'tae Pannell, right guard Lou Eliades and left guard Matt Stankiewitch.
  • A lot of people will be rooting for fifth-year senior Jerome Hayes, who's listed as a starting defensive end opposite promising sophomore Jack Crawford. Hayes has had some terrible luck with knee injuries and gets one final chance to shine this fall.
  • Penn State's new-look secondary features Knowledge Timmons and D'Anton Lynn as the cornerbacks and Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay as the safeties. Timmons is listed ahead of senior A.J. Wallace, who likely will be suspended for the first game or two because of cutting class this summer.
  • Backup running back Stephfon Green and Powell will handle kickoff returns, while Astorino serves as the punt returner. Former star wide receiver Derrick Williams was a difference maker at both spots last year.
  • Junior Collin Wagner is listed as the starting place-kicker ahead of true freshman Anthony Fera.

Big Ten lunch links

August, 14, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State and Penn State both held their media days Thursday, so that's where we begin.