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Monday, April 22, 2013
Spring game: Five lessons learned

By Josh Moyer

Steven Bench
Quarterback Steven Bench was impressive in the first quarter of Penn State's spring game.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Welcome to Year 2 of the Bill O'Brien era.

Fans saw the first glimpse of what's in store for the Nittany Lions this season during Saturday's annual Blue-White Game. And while many starters saw limited time and others were held out for precautionary reasons, there were still a few encouraging developments.

1. Quarterbacks still trying to separate themselves

In the spring game, it's usually best to ignore the numbers because of the stripped-down version of the offense that's been implemented. Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson both finished 9-of-15 without any interceptions, but inconsistency plagued the signal callers. In a span of four plays, Ferguson followed up two great passes with a near-pick and then took a sack. Bench opened the first quarter by impressing on-lookers but then was outplayed in the second.

There's obviously potential here. But, at this point in the spring, that's all it is right now. Both have a long way to go before they can approach the efficiency of Matt McGloin's 26 touchdowns-to-five interceptions season. There was a lot of good -- but also quite a bit of bad on Saturday.

2. Changes in secondary

Adrian Amos again flashed his versatility by playing a lot of safety, and the cornerbacks played pretty well. WR-turned-CB Trevor Williams nearly came down with a pick at one point, and he's made a lot of progress in a short period of time. Jordan Lucas, who's practiced with the first team, was also pleased with his performance.

Defensive coordinator John Butler also said Amos will see more of a role at safety this upcoming season. Butler said a few months ago he wanted to keep offenses guessing by changing up a few things during games, and Amos' versatility should make him quite a weapon on the defense.

3. WR/TEs show great potential, depth

Eugene Lewis, the headliner of the 2012 class, didn't take long to make a statement. On Ferguson's first pass, Lewis reeled in a one-handed grab as the crowd took to oohing and aahing. Allen Robinson didn't see much time, and Brandon Moseby-Felder was held out -- in addition to quite a few of the tight ends -- but the backups showed they were more than competent.

Lewis was recruited as the WR of the future, and nothing he did showed otherwise. TE Jesse James, who's given the linebackers fits this spring, might have caught the most eyes with 77 receiving yards. And again, ignoring the stats, he still showed great hands and the ability to get open. At 6-foot-7, he should play a bigger role in the offense this year. These two positions are much different than past years; there's a lot to be excited about here.

4. Nyeem Wartman

His hard-hitting reputation is apparently well-earned. He quickly diagnosed a screen pass and popped the receiver but, ever the perfectionist, Wartman said he was disappointed in the hit. He said he "was licking my chops way too much," and he failed to wrap up the ball-carrier. Granted, the runner still crumpled to the turf -- but Wartman knew that wouldn't always be the case.

With the departure of Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, Wartman's play will be key this year. He's the likely starter, and he played well Saturday. Wartman was able to read the simplified offense well and wasn't really out of position, but opposing teams will definitely try to confuse him in the early-going.

5. Running attack could be interesting

This was basically Akeel Lynch's debut, and he showed he could get to the corner quickly. Teammates have said all spring that he's been a guy to watch out for, and Saturday's performance was pretty commonplace according to those same players.

Zach Zwinak should still be the workhorse this season, but an improved Bill Belton and an added ball-carrier in Lynch will make for an interesting three-headed attack. Belton and Lynch are more agile and can catch out of the backfield, while Zwinak can wear a defense down. And, while it was just a scrimmage, run-on Deron Thompson also flashed some speed -- and, on the surface, at least appears to be an upgrade over Derek Day.