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Thursday, February 28, 2013
Spring drills: 5 position battles to watch

By Josh Moyer

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With spring drills just a few weeks away, NittanyNation decided to break down several of the brewing position battles.

Steven Bench
Rising sophomore Steven Bench showed last fall he can run Bill O'Brien's fast-paced offense.
QUARTERBACK
Who they lost: Matt McGloin, a fifth-year senior who who threw 24 TDs to five INTs and set a school record for single-season passing yardage.
In the mix: Sophomore Steven Bench, early enrollee Tyler Ferguson, incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg (won't enroll until summer).
NittanyNation's projected starter: Bench.

Synopsis: Penn State was most effective last year while using the NASCAR no-huddle offense, which required a smart signal-caller who didn't force the ball. Bench has now had a full season to learn the offense and has the head-start over Ferguson and Hackenberg. Bill O'Brien said he likely wouldn't name a starter in the spring, but if he does, it almost certainly will be Bench. Hackenberg is the quarterback of the future, but Bench will act as the Band-Aid until he's ready.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
Who they lost: Gerald Hodges, a Butkus Award semifinalist who led the team in tackles (109) and pass breakups (7).
In the mix: Redshirt sophomore Ben Kline, redshirt freshman Nyeem Wartman, redshirt freshman Gary Wooten.
NittanyNation's projected starter: Kline.

Snyopsis: Mike Hull could play either outside spot but likely will take over for Michael Mauti. The other outside position is more difficult to predict. Wartman blocked a kick and impressed on special teams, but he played in just two games before a season-ending injury that led to a medical redshirt. With the time Wartman missed, Kline has to have a slight advantage right now. He played in every game, and he was the No. 5 linebacker when it came to tackles -- behind only Hull and the starters. NittanyNation just hasn't seen enough of Wartman at this point to put him ahead of Kline.

DEFENSIVE END
Who they lost: Sean Stanley, who was second on the team with 9.5 tackles-for-loss and finished with four sacks.
In the mix: Redshirt junior C.J. Olaniyan, redshirt sophomore Anthony Zettel, redshirt junior Brad Bars.
NittanyNation's projected starter: Zettel.

Synopsis: No matter who starts here, Larry Johnson likely will utilize a rotation with Deion Barnes and two others seeing a lot of time on the field. Olaniyan might be the more athletic end, but Zettel could be a huge force here. In the last two drives of the Navy game in particular he flashed his potential. Zettel ended up with six tackles and two sacks -- and there were just 12 plays, not counting incompletions.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Who they lost: Jordan Hill, a future NFL player whom ESPN's Big Ten bloggers ranked as the eighth-best player overall in the conference.
In the mix: Redshirt junior Kyle Baublitz, redshirt freshman Austin Johnson, redshirt freshman Brian Gaia, redshirt freshman Derek Dowrey, redshirt senior Nate Cadogan.
NittanyNation's projected starter: Baublitz.

Synopsis: Johnson will push for the starting job this season and definitely will start by the time 2014 rolls around, but Baublitz is likely the favorite right now. Johnson redshirted, so he still doesn't boast the experience of Baublitz. The redshirt freshman will see plenty of time along the interior --NittanyNation still thinks Johnson could be a sleeper player this season -- but the odds are definitely in Baublitz's favor this spring. Zettel also has the potential to make a switch inside if O'Brien isn't happy with the performance here.

CENTER
Who they lost: Matt Stankiewitch, a Rimington Trophy finalist who anchored the line and has a future in the NFL.
In the mix: Redshirt senior Ty Howle, redshirt sophomore Angelo Mangiro, redshirt junior Miles Dieffenbach.
NittanyNation's projected starter: Howle.

Synopsis: An injury last season set back Howle, but teammates consistently lauded his quick recovery and improvement. John Urschel said earlier this month that Howle has stepped into a leadership role, and PSU needs that now with the departure of Stankiewitch. Expect Mangiro to still see plenty of time along the interior, but Howle is likely the favorite right now. Dieffenbach will stay at his starting guard spot.