Linebacker Sean Lee, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will be back on the field when Penn State begins spring practice today.Don Carey THE TIMES LEADER file photo
One month, 15 practices and plenty of questions.
Penn State players and coaches will convene on the field for the first time since the Rose Bowl today as spring practice gets under way.
Between now and the Blue-White Game on April 25, the Nittany Lions are hoping to get some answers.
Here are the most pressing issues at each position for Penn State this spring.
QB: How quickly can Kevin Newsome pick up the offense?
The true freshman has a head start on things by enrolling a semester early and the Lions are certainly hoping he’s a fast learner. Aside from the fact that Newsome will likely be starting in 2010, Penn State could be in deep trouble if Daryll Clark gets knocked around behind a rebuilt offensive line.
Joe Paterno and his staff need to be able to trust the mobile Newsome in case of an emergency this season.
RB: Where will Brandon Beachum make an impact this season?
With Stephfon Green and Brent Carter both still recovering from surgeries, the rising sophomore Beachum should get an extensive look behind Evan Royster over the next month. Though the position has been used less in the new offense, Penn State also has to find a new starting fullback, and the spring could determine where Beachum – a highly-rated recruit a year ago – will stick.
WR: Who will take the reins?
Penn State is looking for new starters here for the first time since 2005, and the team can only hope things go half as well this time around. Three starting spots are up for grabs, with former walk-on Graham Zug being the most likely to nab one of them.
Junior Brett Brackett and sophomores Derek Moye and Chaz Powell are the other top candidates, but things could change this summer when a large group of incoming freshmen hit campus and make their case for playing time.
OL: Can DeOn’tae Pannell fill Gerald Cadogan’s shoes?
With only one player returning in the same spot as last season on the line – Dennis Landolt at right tackle – it will be critical for the new left tackle to mesh quickly. That player is likely Pannell, a rising sophomore who cracked the two-deep last year as a true freshman.
If Pannell, whom the coaches are very high on, can get comfortable quickly, the rest could fall into place. Stefen Wisniewski will shift over a spot to play center, leaving both guard positions open for competition. Johnnie Troutman and Lou Eliades are the names at the top of that list.
DL: Can position coach Larry Johnson adapt to losing both Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans?
Recent history would definitely suggest that he can. There isn’t a unit on the team that has faced more attrition – injury, suspension, transfers, early jumps to the NFL – but somehow Johnson manages to not just plug the holes, but make the line stronger.
Ideally, Jerome Hayes will be able to be at full strength after his second rehab from a torn ACL to step into Josh Gaines’ old spot. On the other side, rising sophomore Jack Crawford is the most intriguing prospect, with Eric Latimore and Kevion Latham also in the mix.
LB: Where will Sean Lee play?
Returning from a torn ACL, Lee has spent his entire career as an outside linebacker but was practicing in the middle when he was injured last spring.
What’s certain is that Lee and Navorro Bowman will both be starters, but the competition for the third starter may be the most intense of the offseason. Josh Hull filled in admirably last year, but he could be back on the bench if Lee moves to the middle, opening things up for players like Bani Gbadyu, Michael Mauti and Nate Stupar.
DB: Can A.J. Wallace raise his game?
The starting secondary will likely be contested long into the summer, but the biggest key may be Wallace’s consistency. The senior has plenty of talent but hasn’t been able to lock down a starting job for more than a few games at a time.
The Lions need him to take charge in the defensive backfield, as three players who have never started before will be joining him there when September rolls around.
ST: Who will replace Kevin Kelly?
Anthony Fera is the heralded recruit and is already on campus. Collin Wagner was the backup last year. David Soldner will also be in the mix.
The coaches would love one of them to just blow away the competition and stick as the starting kicker.