PSU Nittany Lions: Allen Robinson
Spring PSU player power rankings
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2012 conference record: 6-2 (second, Leaders Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 6, kicker/punter: 2
RB Zach Zwinak, WR Allen Robinson, TE Kyle Carter, OG John Urschel, OT Donovan Smith, DE Deion Barnes, LB Glenn Carson, CB Adrian Amos
QB Matt McGloin, FB Michael Zordich, C Matt Stankiewitch, DT Jordan Hill, LB Michael Mauti, LB Gerald Hodges, CB Stephon Morris
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Zach Zwinak* (1,000 yards)
Receiving: Allen Robinson* (1,013 yards)
Tackles: Gerald Hodges (109)
Sacks: Deion Barnes* (6)
Interceptions: Michael Mauti (3)
1. "Tight End U." If there's one position the Nittany Lions don't have to worry about, it's this one -- and that's probably why some PSU players have taken to dubbing the university "TEU." Kyle Carter's injured wrist should be just fine once the season rolls around, and there's plenty of depth here. Teammates have pointed to the offseason work of 6-foot-7 target Jesse James, who really came on strong in the second half of last season. He was also the receiving star in the annual spring scrimmage with five catches and 77 yards. Couple him with Matt Lehman, Brent Wilkerson and Adam Breneman, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see quite a few formations with multiple tight ends on the field.
2. Versatility at a premium. Bill O'Brien doesn't mind moving players around. Wideouts Malik Golden and Trevor Williams switched over to the secondary, and Williams has especially picked up the position quickly. But those two aren't the only to play at different positions. Adrian Amos can play safety or cornerback, and a lot of Penn State's younger DBs have the ability to slide between those two. Penn State's trying to combat a lack of depth with versatile players here, so players who can play at multiple spots are especially valuable.
3. Young standouts. Several true and redshirt freshmen could contribute heavily this season, and O'Brien has praised multiple first-year players for picking things up quickly. On defense, DT Austin Johnson looks to be a starter after a redshirt season, and LB Nyeem Wartman has a leg up on an injured Ben Kline. On offense, WR Eugene Lewis made a one-handed grab in the spring scrimmage to show he can make the tough catches, and RB Akeel Lynch has also made a strong case for playing time. PSU doesn't historically have many four-year starters, but this year could change that.
1. Quarterback question marks. Neither option, early enrollee Tyler Ferguson nor incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg, has ever thrown a pass in the FBS -- and one of those two players will be the Penn State starter. Inexperience is a big concern, and the QB will have to learn a complicated offense in a short period of time. Hackenberg has a lot of potential and Ferguson showed glimpses, however inconsistent, in the spring game. But the offense's strength last season was the quick no-huddle offense -- and it remains to be seen whether either of these signal callers can pull the fast playing style off.
2. Withstanding lack of depth. O'Brien has gotten this team down to about 67 scholarships in preparation for 2014 when the 65-scholarship limit kicks in, so depth is a real concern this season. If a quarterback or linebacker becomes injured, PSU could be in trouble. The Lions need to remain healthy to have a shot at repeating last year's success. And one injury could really have a ripple effect on this team. Health is one question, one uncertainty, that can't be answered anytime soon.
3. Kicking game. Sam Ficken was just 14-of-21 on field goals last season and didn't make a single kick over 39 yards. He did wind up converting his last 10 attempts, but his inconsistency carried over in the spring game when he missed a 37-yard field goal and an extra point. O'Brien was known for leaving the special-teams unit on the sideline a lot on fourth downs last season and, if Ficken struggles again, that would put even more pressure on the young quarterbacks. Or force O'Brien to use incoming walk-on kicker Chris Gulla.
The subject of Bench transferring wasn't broached over the weekend. His father said they chatted about school and, well, football -- what else?
The topic of those Bench family conversations shifted dramatically on Tuesday, when the sophomore quarterback sat down with Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. The Benches were somewhat light on details -- but it came down to Bench feeling he didn't have a shot at the starting job.
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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.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien crossed his arms and furiously chewed a piece of gum when the inevitable question was asked Saturday: Was the Penn State coach any closer to naming a starting quarterback?
He had to know the question was coming. That was the storyline of the Blue-White Game, the main topic fans discussed in the stands, and a topic that reporters have peppered him about every time O'Brien has made himself available.
"No, I'm not any closer," he said. "But I enjoy coaching both guys and, eventually, we'll have to make a decision. But I'm not ready to make that right now."
Inconsistency appeared to be theme of the day for junior college newcomer Tyler Ferguson and returning sophomore Steven Bench. O'Brien didn't use that term, but he might as well have. He said the pair obviously would've liked to have some plays back but also made some nice throws.
Saturday will be the first time most of last season's freshmen will play in front of a crowd, the first time fans can size up the quarterback race and the first time the media can see the progress this team has made over the spring.
The Blue-White weekend has taken on a carnival-type atmosphere these past few years, and there's plenty to see. But on the field, NittanyNation takes a closer look on what fans should keep an especially close eye on.
Tom Hauck for ESPNTyler Ferguson and Steven Bench are side by side in Penn State's quarterback competition this spring.
Bill O'Brien said in the past no quarterback separated himself yet. Maybe, just maybe, someone will gain an edge Saturday.
BRING ON THE MAN COVERAGE
Defensive coordinator John Butler acknowledged last season that PSU couldn't play be as aggressive in the secondary because of the depth. But that is improved this season. Jordan Smith and Anthony Smith enrolled early, while wideouts Malik Golden and Trevor Williams switched to defensive back.
PSU began practicing the nickel this spring, and fans can expect finally to see that package this season. There's no telling who might start alongside Adrian Amos come August -- Jordan Lucas is currently practicing with the first team -- and fans should keep an eye on the young corners here.
PROJECTED (RS) FRESHMAN STARTERS
DT Austin Johnson and LB Nyeem Wartman are just redshirt freshmen, but it already looks as if they'll crack the starting lineup this season. Both very well could wind up as the rare four-year PSU starter, and expectations are high for these two.
Johnson already is up to 302 pounds, and O'Brien has praised his ability since he was asked about his top freshmen last season. And the hard-hitting Wartman, whom PSU fans already are familiar with, blocked a punt in his PSU debut before an injury in Week 2 that sidelined him for the season (and allowed him to pick up a medical redshirt). With the departures of Mike Mauti and Gerald Hodges, Wartman will have to play well right off the bat for PSU to remain strong here. One recruit said he was especially impressed watching No. 5, because he was all over the field during one practice. Let's see what they can do in a scrimmage.
(Also, Akeel Lynch and Eugene Lewis might not be starters ... but is there anyone who doesn't plan to keep a close eye on them?)
HOW MUCH BETTER HAVE THE BEST GOTTEN?
Practice observers and teammates have pointed constantly to Allen Robinson when asked who has impressed so far this spring. He broke the single-season school record for receptions last season, and he has gained needed weight while maintaining his speed. Robinson was the best in the Big Ten last year, and now he's even better. That's hard to picture on the field.
Mike Hull, Deion Barnes, Zach Zwinak, Amos, etc. all have earned a lot of praise this spring. Zwinak has improved his strength, Barnes is shoring up his run-stopping, Hull is embracing a starting role ... and Amos? Well, he's probably PSU's most versatile player. Returner, safety, cornerback -- he can do everything. And it'll be interesting to see just how much he does Saturday.
TIGHT END U?
It's pretty incredible just how much this position has evolved in about 15 months. Kyle Carter won't play in the Blue-White Game, but fans still will be able to look at Matt Lehman, Jesse James and Brent Wilkerson.
MLB Glenn Carson mentioned James as the player who has impressed him the most overall. He broke out during Carter's absence late in the year, and he boasts good speed for a 6-foot-7 target. James has "red-zone target" written all over him, and it'll be interesting to see how this young corps does in the scrimmage. It'll be an even bigger bonus if Adam Breneman is able to play.
Welcome to NittanyNation's mailbag! We asked you to tweet or email your questions, and we've selected three to answer in depth this week.
Corey Hunter (@realhuntdog23) writes: What REALISTIC expectations should fans have at the Blue-White Game? Isn't Bill O'Brien likely to keep things (plays/personnel) close to the vest?
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He remained stoic as he explained "no guy has really stood out above the other guy." Consistency has been the buzz word this spring, and that seemed no different at practice No. 10, which was open to the media for about 30 minutes.
O'Brien's calm demeanor dissolved two hours following that interview once practice began and his quarterbacks guided the team during a two-minute drill. It was the only time the media were able to watch the signal-callers face the defense -- and they did so inside Holuba Hall as thunder rumbled around the facility.
"Don't film this!" O'Brien barked during the 7-on-7s.
Steven Bench took snaps with the first team and, again, showed glimpses of greatness and inexperience. He completed three straight passes by finding three different receivers, and Mike Hull's blanket coverage on Jesse James prevented a fourth straight completion.
But it was the following pass attempt that caused O'Brien to pull Bench aside and gesture to him.
The quarterback dropped back and attempted to rifle in a ball over the middle. The pigskin went right through safety Ryan Keiser's fingertips, and a coach called out, "Game's over right there. Gotta get that!"
Bench rebounded on the next play by finding Allen Robinson in the end zone to finish off the two-minute drill. Tyler Ferguson then took over and completed two straight passes before faltering.
He spiked the ball to stop the clock, then held on too long, and appeared as if that counted as a sack. He followed up by completing a short pass to Richy Anderson, but it was too late. O'Brien whistled the drive dead as the marker showed fourth down.
"They both had their moments," O'Brien said prior to the drill. "I've been very impressed by how hard each guy has worked."
The media were allowed to attend about 30 minutes of Penn State's fifth spring practice, and the defense seemed to get the better of the offense during a brief battle. Juco quarterback Tyler Ferguson took snaps with the the first team during the offense-defense competition, while Steven Bench went with the second team. (They alternated first-team snaps during walk-throughs.)
The offense had four chances to reach a first down, and Ferguson opened up by connecting with Allen Robinson on a seven-yard pass. That was the offensive highlight of the two series, however, as linebacker Glenn Carson stopped Zach Zwinak at the line of scrimmage, then Ferguson was nearly "sacked" on a play-action pass.
Bench didn't fare any better and didn't complete a pass in four downs. In what might have been the best overall play, defensive end Brad Bars made nice penetration, then leaped in the air to deflect a screen pass. His teammates yelled, "Oooooh," because of the impressive vert, but Bench actually caught the rebound. Still, the play was whistled dead.
Bill Belton ran twice without much success, and Bench then held on to the ball for what seemed like an eternity. At least two linemen could've sacked him had he not been wearing a red shirt, and he ended up scrambling to the outside. That play also was blown dead.
The offense was forced to do five hit-its as a result of losing the competition. Obviously, eight snaps and a handful of passes don't genuinely reflect the quarterbacks' overall success, but it at least offered a glimpse.
Injury report: Tight end-turned-offensive tackle Garry Gilliam did not take part in practice because of an injury to his right calf. He's week-to-week. ... Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (shoulder) and Kyle Carter (wrist) wore red shirts but practiced. ... DT DaQuan Jones spent the first few minutes of practice with the first team during walk-throughs but was not wearing pads and did not participate in contact drills. The nature of his injury was not immediately clear, but a spokesman said it wasn't serious. ... Tight end Adam Breneman also wore a red shirt -- something he didn't do in the first practice -- and had his right arm taped up.
Visitors: Members of the Cornell coaching staff were on hand to watch practice, and two 2014 recruits also walked around the practice field to take in the sights.
ESPN Watch List QB Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy) and cornerback Marcus Whitfield talked to their respective position coaches and watched from the sideline.
Starting lineup: At wide receiver, Robinson and Brandon Moseby-Felder lined up as the starters, while both Austin Johnson and C.J. Olaniyan practiced with the first-team defense.
In a curious move, Donovan Smith was limited while Eric Shrive replaced him. Smith received some one-on-one instruction at times, and it wasn't clear if he was injured.
Regardless, it didn't seem serious. Smith is the clear starter, and reporters were told this was the first practice where Smith was treated like that.
Special teams' woes: The field-goal unit practiced what appeared to be extra points. (The yardage markers run parallel to the posts, so it's not clear.) On one snap, center Ty Howle tossed it back a little low and the holder wasn't able to get a handle it.
It rocketed behind the kicker when Ryan Keiser couldn't grab it in time. PSU was inconsistent on special teams last season, and mistakes like that are exactly what it can't afford in the regular season.
Tom Hauck for ESPNTyler Ferguson showed off his big arm at practice Monday.
"Eyes here," Fisher told sophomore Steven Bench in a conversational tone, pointing to his his right. "Work through it, work through it."
Bench or Tyler Ferguson could wind up as the starting quarterback come Aug. 31, and Monday offered a glimpse of the two signal-callers. Media were invited to attend 20 minutes of open practice, and O'Brien began by calling together a competition: A defensive back would line up against a wideout or tight end in press coverage, while Bench and Ferguson would alternate snaps.
The first team -- offense or defense -- to win three battles would be declared the winner. The losers would be forced to perform five hit-its. It was more for honor than anything and only four passes were thrown while the quarterbacks tried to shake off the rust.
Bench began by just overthrowing Allen Robinson on a roughly 35-yard pass, and Ferguson then hit Jesse James in stride downfield on an over-the-shoulder grab. Bench followed that up by throwing behind his target on cross route, and Ferguson barely overthrew Matt Lehman for two straight incompletions.
The offense, along with Ferguson and Bench, then hit the turf for their hit-its while the defense cheered.
"They're both athletic, they both can throw the football," O'Brien said during a Monday news conference. "Now it's going to depend on how well they make decisions and how accurately they throw the ball.
"They sit in the front row, they pay attention, they take a lot of notes. It's a fun group to be around."
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Allen Robinson smiled and cocked his head to the left when asked how he plans to improve, how he hopes to follow up his record-breaking 2012 season.
It's not that he needed to search for words or that he didn't know the answer. The junior wideout just didn't know where to begin.
"I just want to improve all my weaknesses I had in my game last year," he said matter-of-factly.
After setting a school record with 77 receptions, Robinson's weaknesses might not be so evident. His route-running and leaping ability set him apart and made him one of the most dangerous wideouts in the Big Ten.
He finished his first year as a starter with 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns, more than twice as many as Penn State's No. 2 target. But, on Saturday afternoon, he rattled off a list of improvements almost as long as his list of accolades.
First off, he said, he needs to increase his weight and improve his diet. He finished 2012 hovering around 198 pounds, so he felt tired and sore as the season wore on. He's now eating three meals a day --- instead of the usual two if he wakes up later -- and put himself on a 2,500-calorie diet.
"I'm at about 208 right now," he said. "So I just want to be more of a durable receiver, able to get across the middle and take those hits and be a better blocker in the run game."
He's also watching more film, trying to pinpoint cracks in his technique. He wants to throw more footballs with Steven Bench and the stable of young quarterbacks. And he's hitting the weight room -- early and often.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With signing day just a day away, all the focus will be on the four-star talent and the big-name players. But it's not always the elite recruits who contribute most.
After all, where did Penn State's current starters rank when they were recruits?
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But, hey, some performances do need recognition. With that in mind, we're listing the Top 10 individual performances by Big Ten players from the 2012 season today. Degree of difficulty is a factor here, so we'll reward those players who shined against tough opponents over those who piled up stats vs. cupcakes. And, ideally, the performance came in a victory for the player's team.
Enough with the intro. A drum roll, please, for our Top 10:
10. Penn State's Michael Mauti vs. Illinois: Mauti was very vocal with his displeasure at Illinois' attempt to poach Nittany Lions players last summer. The senior linebacker backed up his words with six tackles and a pair of interceptions, including a 99-yard return to end the first half. He came up inches short of a touchdown on that pick but definitely proved his point.
9. Ohio State's John Simon vs. Wisconsin: In what would turn out to be his final college game, the Buckeyes defensive end went out with a bang against the Badgers in Madison. He had four sacks, which set a school record and were the most by a Big Ten player since Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan registered four vs. Michigan in 2010.
8. Ohio State's Braxton Miller vs. Michigan State: Miller had better statistical days than the one he turned in against the Spartans, but none were grittier. Hit over and over again, he somehow kept answering the bell and finished with 136 hard-earned rushing yards and 179 passing yards in Ohio State's 17-16 road win. Teammates said after the game that their quarterback was in a tremendous amount of pain, but he earned he even more respect from them.
7. Northwestern's Kain Colter vs. Indiana: Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald sprung a surprise on the Hoosiers by repeatedly lining Colter up at receiver. Colter caught nine passes for 131 yards and also ran for 161 yards and four touchdowns on just 14 carries.
6. Penn State's Matt McGloin and Allen Robinson vs. Indiana: We're cheating a bit here by including both players, but it's hard to separate the two from this record-setting performance. McGloin shredded the Hoosiers' defense for 395 passing yards and four touchdowns, while Robinson was as usual the main recipient of his throws. The sophomore grabbed 10 catches for 197 yards and three scores in the best day for a Big Ten receiver in 2012.
5. Michigan's Denard Robinson vs. Air Force: How's this for an individual feat: Robinson accounted for more than 100 percent of his team's offense vs. the Falcons, a statistical oddity we may not see again any time soon. He totaled 426 yards -- 218 rushing, 208 passing -- while a couple of late kneel downs left Michigan's team total for the day at 422. Robinson also scored four touchdowns in the 31-25 win.
4. Michigan's Devin Gardner vs. Iowa: In just his second start at quarterback, Gardner wrote his name in the Michigan record books. He accounted for six touchdowns -- three passing, three rushing -- in becoming the first Wolverines quarterback to do that since Steve Smith in 1983. He also threw for 314 yards and let everyone know Robinson wasn't getting his old job back.
3. Wisconsin's Montee Ball vs. Purdue: Ball finished his career with all sorts of NCAA and school records, but he never had as many rushing yards as he did in West Lafayette this fall. He ran for 247 yards on 29 carries and and scored three times to establish himself as the Big Ten's all-time leader in touchdowns.
2. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez vs. Northwestern: Martinez's best statistical showing came in the opener against Southern Miss (354 passing yards, five TDs), but that was against a team that finished 0-12. His signature performance was in the comeback win at Northwestern. He threw for 342 yards and three scores and ran for another touchdown while leading two 75-plus yard scoring drives in the final six minutes. Of course, he also threw two passes in the fourth quarter that should have been intercepted, but that's just part of the ride with Martinez.
1. Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell vs. Boise State: In just the second game of the season featuring a Big Ten team, Bell set a bar that could not be cleared. He was Superman against the Broncos, rushing for 210 yards and two touchdowns on 44 carries and catching six passes for 55 yards. The unbelievable 50 touches in the opener was both a testament to Bell's strength and a flashing red warning sign of Michigan State's dearth of playmakers.
Honorable mention: Bell vs. Minnesota and TCU; Miller vs. California; Ball and James White vs. Nebraska in the Big Ten title game; Robinson vs. Purdue; Ohio State's Ryan Shazier vs. Penn State; Ohio State's Carlos Hyde vs. Nebraska; Indiana's Cody Latimer vs. Iowa; Penn State's Jordan Hill vs. Wisconsin; Northwestern's Venric Mark vs. Minnesota; Michigan's Jeremy Gallon vs. South Carolina; Iowa's Mark Weisman vs. Central Michigan; Minnesota's Michael Carter vs. Purdue and Texas Tech; Purdue's Kawann Short vs. Notre Dame.
These scholarship players came in with little fanfare but have since established themselves with conference honors, broken records and solid performances. Here they are:
1. WR Allen Robinson, Class of 2011, Two stars (Grade: 72)
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Kim Klement-US PRESSWIREShawney Kersey made four starts in his career at Penn State, including two in 2012 before leaving the team.
Although he's a rising redshirt senior, he doesn't have to sit out a season as a result of Penn State's NCAA sanctions, which allow players to transfer without penalty until preseason camp opens in August.
Kersey came into Happy Valley as a high-level three-star recruit, but he struggled to find meaningful playing time. In three seasons, he played in 23 games and garnered four starts. But he finished his career with just 12 catches for 154 yards.
His absence didn't hurt a Penn State offense in which Matt McGloin finished with a school-best 3,266 passing yards and Allen Robinson set the single-season receptions record with 77 catches. He should compete for immediate playing time at Marshall, however, and becomes the third Penn State player to transfer to the Conference USA school.
Cornerback Derrick Thomas and wideout Devon Smith transferred there last year.