Penn State Nittany Lions: Brandon Moseby-Felder

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 22, 2014
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Winter stinks. Warm me up with some of your emails:

Darren from Spring Hill, Fla., writes: I'd appreciate your thoughts on Indiana's coordinator situation. I've also thought the pecking order in the BCS era is 1. SEC, 2. (3-way tie depending on year) Pac-12/Big 12/Big Ten; 3. ACC 4. Varies. So why would a coordinator leave IU for the same position at UNC (Littrell) ... is the ACC and, say, the Mountain West more appealing than a low-tier Big Ten school? Thanks.

Brian Bennett: While it's somewhat unusual to see a Big Ten coordinator leave for the same job at what is at best a mid-tier program in the ACC, we have to remember Indiana is not exactly a football power. The Hoosiers have been to one bowl game since 1993 and often play in front of a bunch of empty seats, and the program has not historically provided much of a springboard for coaches' careers. So if Seth Littrell wanted to move on after two very successful years, that becomes more understandable.

We also don't yet know the money situation here. Early reports said Littrell would also be named assistant head coach at North Carolina, which suggests a pay raise. Indiana has made a much bigger commitment to football in recent years but still isn't among the top-paying Big Ten schools when it comes to coaches' salaries. Perhaps the most interesting aspect here is that Littrell -- a former Oklahoma player with deep Sooners ties -- is leaving former Oklahoma coordinator Kevin Wilson's staff to join that of former Oklahoma State play-caller Larry Fedora.


Lachlan from Winterpeg writes: Hey BB, with the hiring of the new assistants at PSU, I see two that stand out to me. The defensive coordinator and the receivers coach. The defense last year had many ups and downs (mostly downs) and bringing in a guy that fielded a top-25 defense last year in the SEC brings in hope. On the other end, a receivers coach that has produced a couple of All-American receivers takes on the task of taking the remaining WR group for PSU that was lackluster last year, and trying to turn them into a threat in the passing game seems challenging. Which of these two do you expect to have a better handle on things being as both have issues to work with, depth with the defense and a group of unproven receivers on the other?

[+] EnlargeBob Shoop
Sean Meyers/Icon SMINew Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop takes over a defense that loses just three starters and he should have plenty of talent to work with this season.
Brian Bennett: Just in terms of talent and experience to work with, new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop should have an easier go of things right away. Shoop -- whose brother, John, is Purdue's offensive coordinator, giving us a Big Ten Shoop-Shoop -- led a Vanderbilt defense that really was the backbone of that team during its nine-win seasons each of the past two years. While Penn State's defense had its struggles in 2013, the unit loses only three starters (DaQuan Jones, Glenn Carson and Malcolm Willis). Shoop will need to develop leaders on that side of the ball and improve the secondary, but there is talent in place.

Receivers coach Josh Gattis has a tougher assignment. No player outside of Allen Robinson really produced a whole lot at wideout for the Nittany Lions last year, and Brandon Felder is gone, too. Geno Lewis has solid potential but still needs polishing. Gattis will likely have to quickly coach up some incoming freshmen such as De'Andre Thompkins and Chris Godwin. The receiver group will have to make a lot of progress this offseason to give Christian Hackenberg some help. Remember, too, that head coach James Franklin has coached receivers in the past, and Penn State has also reportedly hired former Temple receivers coach Terry Smith for an unspecified role. So that position should get a lot of attention.


John from Minneapolis writes: Hey, Brian. In Monday's chat you answered a question about Philip Nelson and stated, " Nelson himself didn't light it up as a passer, but he might not want to run it as much as Minnesota seems to want from its QB. If that's the case, I have no problem with him transferring somewhere else." I understand what you're saying, but whatever happened to sticking with a commitment? It smells like weak character to me. That same attitude is why the divorce rate is 50 percent. That's it, thanks.

Brian Bennett: The problem is that commitment and loyalty too often is a one-way street in college sports. A player such as Nelson is supposed to fulfill his four years to the school, yet coaches can leave at any time and his scholarship is up for renewal every season? And Nelson will have to sit out a year unless he transfers to a lower level. The reality is that college sports is a business, and players have to look out for themselves. If Nelson believes his future will be better served by playing in a different system, more power to him.


Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: The Gophers certainly are not in the top half of the B1G as far as budget, but they bought not only a quality head coach but a whole staff that will not be easily influenced by a few extra bucks. You have any thoughts about whether Jerry Kill and his staff deserve raises?

Brian Bennett: Kill made a reported $1.2 million last year, which is hardly chump change but still ranked as the lowest in the Big Ten. Minnesota officials said they would work on bumping up Kill's pay this offseason, and Kill would like raises for his assistants, too. After an eight-win season, that staff is definitely in line for some salary increases. The price of keeping a high-quality head coach in the Big Ten is escalating rapidly. The good news for the Gophers is I don't think Kill is looking to leave anytime soon.


Dave from Millstone, N.J., writes: So, Brian. We're BaAAaack. ... When is the date when you'll start covering Rutgers in the blog? We missed you since you bolted the Big East for the B1G -- now we're following you, haunting you, filling your dreams. We're coming; you can't stop it now. Oh, sure, you can change assignments and head to the ACC, where Andrea abandoned us to last year. But we will find you, no matter what. Now write one of you famous opinions on how RU will never be great. Go ahead, make my day! Seriously, looking forward to getting picked on by the big boys of the B1G for a few seasons before we take over. So when's the warm welcome start on the blog?

Brian Bennett: You made me laugh, Dave, so good job. I'm looking forward to reuniting with Rutgers and visiting Piscataway again. Maybe I should start increasing my workouts now in anticipation of hitting a grease truck. We typically incorporate new schools right after signing day. So look for coverage of the Scarlet Knights -- and Maryland -- in the Big Ten blog in just a couple more weeks.

Injury impact: Big Ten

October, 24, 2013
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Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game. Every team must deal with them, but some teams get hurt harder than others. Today, we're taking a look at the teams that have been impacted the most this season. Here's our ranking of the top three:

1. Northwestern: Injuries have played a major role in the Wildcats' 0-3 start in Big Ten play. All-American kick returner and star tailback Venric Mark has been healthy enough to play exactly one full game -- against Ohio State. Quarterback Kain Colter has been banged up just about all season as well. Both were reinjured at Wisconsin and missed all of last week's loss to Minnesota. In addition, top defensive tackle Sean McEvilly has played in only three games, while starting cornerback Daniel Jones suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener at Cal.

2. Penn State: The Nittany Lions had major depth issues to begin with because of NCAA sanctions. It hasn't helped that they have also dealt with a series of injuries. Tight ends Matt Lehman and Brent Wilkerson and defensive end Brad Bars were lost for the season. Linebacker Mike Hull was hurt for most of the first two months, as was tight end Kyle Carter. Wide receiver Brandon Felder missed the Indiana loss with an ankle problem. Linebacker Ben Kline has been limited after offseason shoulder surgery. Safety Ryan Keiser has been dealing with a hand injury since the Kent State game. This team can't afford many more injuries as it approaches the homestretch of the season.


3. Nebraska: The Huskers' injury problems haven't adversely affected them -- at least not yet. Still, it's never easy when you lose your four-year starting quarterback, and Taylor Martinez hasn't played since Week 3 versus UCLA because of turf toe. He could be back this week, but All-American guard Spencer Long was lost for the season in the last game against Purdue with a knee injury. He'll be tough to replace.

Midseason power rankings: Penn State

October, 17, 2013
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It's the halfway point of the season, and that can only mean one thing. It's time for the midseason Penn State power rankings.

Each player was ranked based on his production, performance and importance to the team. Here's the top 10:

1. WR Allen Robinson: Does this one really need to be explained? Without Robinson, there might not be much of a passing attack. He's been incredibly dependable, he can turn short receptions into long passes, and he can make huge catches when the game calls for it. It's debatable whether he's the best overall offensive player in the conference, but it's clear he's the MVP to his team. He might just be the best receiver in school history.

2. DT DaQuan Jones: He entered the season with quite a bit of fanfare, as Gil Brandt named him the nation's best senior defensive tackle. But he's lived up to those expectations -- actually, he might have even surpassed them. He leads the conference in tackles-for-loss (8.5), and he's second on the team in tackles (31.5). And, get this, no one on Penn State -- not even the linebackers -- boasts more solo tackles than his 24. He stepped up after Jordan Hill's departure, and he's a big reason why teams have struggled to run inside.

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsSo far, Penn State true freshman Christian Hackenberg has lived up to the status he arrived with as the nation's No. 1 quarterback prospect.
3. QB Christian Hackenberg: For a player who's been on campus for about four months, he's done a remarkable job. Heck, for a player who would have enrolled early, this would be a great job. True freshmen historically struggle in this first season, but Hackenberg has thrown nearly twice as many TDs (11) as interceptions (6) so far. He's on pace to break Matt McGloin's single-season record for passing yards, and he'll likely leave Happy Valley with every meaningful school passing record. He's shown poise beyond his years, and he's an easy pick for this spot.

4. LB Glenn Carson: There hasn't been a lot of consistency on the defense, and that's what makes Carson so important. He's not the flashiest player to ever don the Blue and White, but he gets the job done week in and week out. He leads the team in tackles (34.5), and he's one of the leaders on this defense. He won't end up on the semifinalist list for the Bednarik Award, but he deserves credit for helping shore up the middle of this defense. He's a big reason why PSU has the nation's No. 19 run defense.

5. RB Bill Belton: Let the debate begin. Who's been more valuable to this team -- Belton or ZZ? Belton gets the slight edge right now after a strong game against Michigan, which saw him make a key fourth-and-1 run in addition to the game-winning touchdown. He's made some nice catches this season, has averaged 5.3 yards a carry -- a full yard per carry more than the other guy -- and come up big in clutch situations. Belton looks like the surprise of the offense so far this season.

6. RB Zach Zwinak: OK, OK, let's address the elephant in the room. He did not have a good game against Michigan. At all. But point to another Penn State player who has had six strong games. It's not easy. He's been the workhorse, the player who can pick up short yardage and wear a defense down. He's had eight rushing touchdowns so far this year, and he's played no small role in PSU's No.17-ranked red-zone offense. He still leads the team with 393 rushing yards.

7. LB Stephen Obeng-Agyapong: Think about just how important he's been this season, especially when Mike Hull went down. Maybe he's not the best linebacker in recent memory, but he gets bonus points for switching positions and exceeding expectations. The Nittany Lions could've walked away with a Week 1 loss had Obeng-Agyapong not stepped up, especially considering that Syracuse targeted him constantly that game. He's already run the gamut of football stats -- he has a sack, a pick, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery so far this season. He's obviously good in pass coverage, and he's been a speedy blitzer when called upon. The safety-turned-linebacker has helped hold this thin corps of LBs together.

8. WR Brandon Moseby-Felder: If we were just going off the U-M game, Moseby-Felder might be as high as second or third. But he missed the Indiana game due to injury and went a span of three weeks with four catches for 39 yards. He's clearly important to this team, as evidenced by that game against the Hoosiers, and he made several critical catches against the Wolverines -- including a back-shoulder grab for a touchdown. If he can keep that up, he'll undoubtedly make his way up this list by the end of the season.

9. CB Jordan Lucas: The secondary has not been a strong point for PSU, but Lucas seems to have had the best season so far. He's a first-year starter, but defensive coordinator John Butler has used him in quite a few ways. He's blitzed off the edge a bit, has been decent in run support and has made some nice plays as cornerback. He leads the team with eight pass deflections, seven pass breakups and an interception. Also, believe it or not, he's second on the team with 4.5 stops in the backfield. He hasn't played error-free football, but he's done well.

10. DE C.J. Olaniyan: He obviously had a monster game against Michigan, as he was named the Big Ten defensive player of the week. But even before that, he was doing pretty well. He's first in sacks (3.5), second in tackles for loss (6.5), fifth in tackles (21.5), and he also has a forced fumble and two pass breakups. If Olaniyan can string together more games like that, he'll earn quite a reputation for himself in the Big Ten. For now, though, his stock is on "hold" because he needs to show he can consistently perform like that.

Bye week to-do list: Penn State

October, 16, 2013
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Sure, Penn State's bye week comes just three weeks after its first one. But it certainly comes at a good time.

PSU played Michigan to a four-hour, 11-minute 4 overtime classic Saturday night that caused several members of its thin roster to tweet about how sore they were -- on Monday. As a result, coach Bill O'Brien said he held a scrimmage Monday with the younger players and only had the veterans work on conditioning.

[+] EnlargePenn State
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarReceiver Brandon Felder caught six passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns in the Nittany Lions' win over Michigan.
After the quadruple-OT win, the Nittany Lions are looking to make a splash in the Big Ten. Here are three things they'll have to do to achieve that:

1. Heal up, and forget about Michigan. There's no question this is at the top of PSU's priorities. The atmosphere at Beaver Stadium was about as electric as any home game since the PSU-OSU game in 2005, so it's difficult to blame players if they dwelled on the win a bit longer. Many were still tweeting about it early in the week. And, as a result of the back-and-forth game, PSU is obviously nursing quite a bit of strains and soreness. Said O'Brien: "The biggest goal for us this week is to get healthy." The week off should certainly help out safety Ryan Keiser, who's still recovering from a hand injury. But everyone could use some extra time to rebound after an energy-draining contest like that, especially considering the Nittany Lions only boast approximately 61 scholarship players.

2. Shore up the secondary. Some things never change, and the Nittany Lions' DBs have been a glaring question mark since last season. That isn't going change over the bye, but something clearly has to be done here. Michigan's players dropped several balls -- including at least one touchdown pass -- and wideout-turned-cornerback Trevor Williams has to show more improvement. Defensive coordinator John Butler made a few tweaks to the defensive line, and that seemed to pay dividends. Maybe it's time to take a closer look at the secondary now.

3. Find playmakers not named Allen Robinson. Michigan could be a turning point for several players. Brandon Felder was the leading receiver Saturday -- the first time all season -- and made one back-shoulder catch that really got fans talking. The Nittany Lions have needed another receiving target to step up and, if Felder can continue to perform like that, quarterback Christian Hackenberg should take a giant step forward in the conference season. It's not just at wideout, though. Running back Zach Zwinak committed a critical fumble in the third quarter, and he has been hindered by those turnovers since he took over last season. Bill Belton filled in nicely for him and, if Zwinak can't get those problems under control, Belton might be the answer. Even if Zwinak can, Belton might be the answer anyway. He's more of a home-run threat than Zwinak, and he could wind up being an offensive playmaker. PSU needs more of those.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 13, 2013
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Recognizing the best and brightest from the Big Ten in Week 7:

  • Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford: Unlike Penn State last week, the Spartans realized that running the ball against Indiana is usually a good idea. And Langford was the star of that strategy, carrying the ball 23 times for 109 yards and three touchdowns in Michigan State's 42-28 victory over the Hoosiers. His last touchdown, a 32-yarder, put his team ahead 35-21. In all, the Spartans rushed for 238 yards as a team.
  • Nebraska DE Randy Gregory: There aren't many Big Ten defensive ends playing better than Gregory right now. The one-time Purdue commit and Indiana native haunted his home-state school with two sacks, a fumble recovery and a safety in the Huskers' 44-7 blasting of the Boilermakers. The entire Nebraska defense deserves a nod after holding Purdue scoreless until the final 39 seconds.
  • Wisconsin's defense: The Badgers held Northwestern -- a team that had scored at least 30 points in seven straight games -- to just two field goals in a dominating 35-6 win. Seven different Badgers had at least one sack. Chris Borland led the way with 10 tackles, but this was a total team effort -- and a very impressive one at that.
  • Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: With only four games this week, we give a second sticker to a deserving Badger. Gordon rushed 22 times for 172 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown, in a bounce-back performance from his showing at Ohio State.
  • Penn State RB Bill Belton: We could have gone a number of ways in the Nittany Lions' wild, weird 43-40 win over Michigan in four overtimes. Christian Hackenberg made some great throws down the stretch, Brandon Felder provided a strong complement to Allen Robinson and Michigan's Devin Funchess was great for a second straight week. But we ultimately went with Belton, whose final numbers (27 carries, 85 yards) might not stand out in a box score. But Belton picked up the crucial first down on fourth-and-one in overtime No. 4 before finally ending things with a 2-yard touchdown run. That's enough to earn a sticker.

Week 7 helmet stickers

October, 13, 2013
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Recognizing the best and brightest from the Nittany Lions in Week 7:

Wideout Brandon Moseby-Felder. Maybe for the first time all season, Allen Robinson wasn't the key wide receiver. Moseby-Felder finished with a team-high six catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns -- and those were some hard-earned yards. On the second score, Moseby-Felder made a back-shoulder catch that happened about 40 yards from a white sign that referred back to SportsCenter's top 10 plays. Maybe Moseby-Felder didn't make the SportsCenter cut, but you can bet that play will make the PSU highlights. The Lions needed a No. 2 target to step up on Saturday, and it got that -- and more -- from Moseby-Felder.

[+] EnlargeBill Belton
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarBill Belton's game-winning TD run wouldn't have happened without his fourth-down conversion run a few players earlier.
Tailback Bill Belton. If you took one glance at the stats, you might be questioning this pick. If you watched the game, however, there wouldn't be a question. When Zach Zwinak fumbled to start the third quarter, Belton took over. He had 69 of his 85 rushing yards after halftime, and he made several key plays in overtime. On fourth-and-1 on the game-winning drive, Belton showed patience and didn't immediately hit a jumbled line. He stutter-stepped and then found an opening for the first down. That might've been a bigger play than what might seem more obvious -- when he sprinted in for the game-winning 2-yard touchdown a few players later. Belton said he'd remember this game 10 years from now. If it wasn't for Belton, there might not be a win to remember.

LB Mike Hull. He has struggled because of an injury, but he sure looked healthy on Saturday. He broke up a touchdown pass in overtime and, if it wasn't for him, the Wolverines might be celebrating right now. That wasn't the only play where he succeeded, though. He had 10 tackles and two stops in the backfield. The Nittany Lions are definitely happy that he's back in the lineup.

DE C.J. Olaniyan. Was this the best game of the career? "Yeah," Olaniyan said. He finished with eight tackles and 2.5 sacks, and he was a constant force. He nearly had an interception and finished with a team-high two pass breakups. With Deion Barnes on the sideline to start the game, Olaniyan stepped up in a big way. He also forced a fumble, so it's an easy decision to give the man a helmet sticker.

DT DaQuan Jones. Michigan had next to no luck running inside, and Jones was the big reason why. Sure, Devin Gardner scrambled and found quite a few rushing yards when things broke down. But Michigan running backs? Well, they finished with 30 carries for 28 yards. That's not a misprint. The 318-pound defensive tackle had nine tackles, two of which came in the backfield, and had a fumble recovery. He looked as dominant as he was in the first two games, as this defensive line had one of the best games it had all season.

What we learned: Week 6

October, 6, 2013
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Lesson learned (the hard way) from Penn State's 44-24 loss at Indiana in Week 6:

1. The issues with the pass defense are real and worrisome: Penn State players didn't want to relive their loss to UCF this week when talking about Indiana. But the defense went out and basically repeated the same performance against the pass. The Hoosiers have a legitimately powerful aerial attack and possibly the best overall receiving corps in the Big Ten. Still, the Nittany Lions -- outside of an Adrian Amos interception off a tipped ball -- were mostly unable to make stops, harass the quarterback or deflect balls in the air. Indiana threw for 336 yards -- or 48 more yards than UCF managed in its win at Beaver Stadium -- and scored 31 points in the second half. There just aren't enough playmakers on the entire defense, as Deion Barnes has been held in check, and linebacker Mike Hull is battling through injury.

2. Allen Robinson needs some help: Robinson was nearly Superman against Indiana, catching 12 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns. But he can't do it all alone. The Nittany Lions' second-leading receiver, Brandon Moseby-Felder, did not play Saturday because of an ankle injury, putting more pressure on the other receivers and tight ends to deliver. It was good to see Kyle Carter healthy and adding six catches for 79 yards, but no one else had more than 35 yards receiving. Penn State's vaunted tight end corps has dealt with injuries and hasn't been the weapon we expected in the preseason. Head coach Bill O'Brien also was too quick to go away from the running game against an Indiana team that was last in the Big Ten in rush defense. When Christian Hackenberg is throwing 55 passes and completing only 18 of them to people not named Allen Robinson, that's a problem.

3. It's not going to be easy: O'Brien has done such a great job of managing the sanctions so far that it was easy to think Penn State could avoid being crippled by them. But a 20-point loss to Indiana -- in a game the Nittany Lions trailed 42-17 with 10 minutes left -- was the worst loss of the O'Brien era and pointed to troubling depth and personnel issues. O'Brien mentioned in his postgame news conference that his team is competing with 61 scholarship players and 40 walk-ons, and when guys like Felder and Hull get hurt or aren't 100 percent, that makes matters even worse. With Michigan and Ohio State up next and Nebraska and Wisconsin closing out the schedule in back-to-back weeks, Penn State could be in for some more pain before this season is over.

Bye week to-do list: Penn State

September, 27, 2013
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At 3-1, Penn State is feeling relatively good during the bye week. Sure, its record could be better -- but the Nittany Lions lost to a good UCF team and already are ahead of where they were last season.

This is the perfect time to shore up some weak spots, heal up and regroup before the Big Ten season begins. Here are a few things Penn State needs to work on to take a step forward:

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsFreshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg needs more pass catchers to step up.
1. Find a solid No. 2 receiving target. Allen Robinson is the most dangerous receiver in the Big Ten, but the Nittany Lions' passing attack can't rely just on him. When Kent State shut him down in the final three quarters, Christian Hackenberg went just 6-of-25 with an interception. And Big Ten opponents undoubtedly will focus on the receiver come passing downs. That means someone else -- anyone else -- needs to step up. Brandon Moseby-Felder had six catches in each of the first two weeks but had 39 yards combined in the last two weeks. Only one other target has caught more than three balls in a game, and that's true freshman Adam Breneman -- who has just five catches total this season but had four for 22 yards vs. UCF. Penn State has to hope Kyle Carter returns to his old self in a hurry, Eugene Lewis takes a giant step forward or Moseby-Felder can form more consistency. A-Rob can't do it all.

2. Tighten up the secondary. OK, sure, PSU shut out Kent State and limited Colin Reardon to a QBR of 9.4. But PSU's next opponent, Indiana, has a high-powered passing attack that more closely resembles UCF -- and the Lions did not fare well against the Knights. Wideout-turned-cornerback Trevor Williams was targeted repeatedly early in that game, as UCF threw short when he played off receivers and threw longer when he played tight. Defensive coordinator John Butler eventually benched Williams and slid safety Adrian Amos to his spot, and Butler again will have to gameplan around another good offense in Indiana. Williams isn't the only issue here -- the young corner certainly has had bright spots this season -- but the secondary as a whole has issues that need to be ironed out during the bye.

3. Continue to improve on third downs. For the first three weeks of the season, no team in college football was worse on third down than Penn State. The Lions converted just four of 34 third downs, and nothing they did seemed to work. Bill O'Brien played it conservative by mostly calling run plays in Week 1, and the third downs didn't go well. Then he passed on eight straight third downs in Week 2, and it didn't go well. And then he mixed it up in Week 3, and it still didn't go well. PSU did better against Kent State by converting 7-of-18 ... but the opponent was Kent State. Penn State still ranks 120 out of 123 teams in the third-down department, and it can't expect to live off big offensive plays in the conference season.

PSU position preview: Wide receivers

August, 23, 2013
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Allen RobinsonRich Barnes/US PresswireJunior Allen Robinson returns after setting PSU's single-season record for receptions in 2012.
As part of an ongoing series, NittanyNation will preview a different position leading up to the season opener against Syracuse on Aug. 31. Up today: Wide receivers.

Projected starters: Allen Robinson (2012 stats: 1,013 yards, 77 catches, 11 touchdowns) and Brandon Moseby-Felder (437 yards, 31 catches, one touchdown)

Key losses: None

Next in line: Redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis was close to playing last year but, as a former high school quarterback, he needed an extra year to learn the receiver position. He's a fast, exciting playmaker who should add another wrinkle to this offense.

Matt Zanellato also will see an increased workload this season and said he's been practicing at all the receiver positions. He's versatile, so Zanellato should help catch some defenses off-guard. In the slot, Alex Kenney is the top guy -- with true freshman Richy Anderson backing him up.

What to expect: This group is clearly better than last year, and with Lewis' addition to the lineup, the quarterback here shouldn't have to just turn to A-Rob and the tight ends for targets. Moseby-Felder and Lewis have good speed, and this position is definitely in good shape. It's deeper, more experienced and more talented than in 2012.

Robinson was the best wideout in the Big Ten last season -- and he only has gotten better. That should be a scary thought for opposing defenses. Outside of Robinson last year, the Nittany Lions really didn't have a No. 2 wideout the first few games of the season -- Moseby-Felder had a lingering injury -- but that's not a problem this year.

A lot of the receivers have the ability to play at different spots, and that should keep defenses guessing. The statistics might not match last year's, but this is one of the most-improved units on the team.

Recruiting trail: The Nittany Lions didn't need to grab three receiver commits in the 2014 class, but it's hard to say no to some of the top guys on your recruiting board. PSU received verbals from ESPN 300 wideouts in De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) and Chris Godwin (Middletown, Del./Middletown), in addition to three-star WR Troy Apke (Pittsburgh, Pa./Mount Lebanon).

The Lions have arguably the best group of receiver commits in the country, and it's very safe to say PSU is done at this position for this class. Looking ahead to 2015, it seems as if PSU would take either one wideout or none. It already has offered Van Jefferson (Brentwood, Tenn./Ravenwood).

Best-case scenario: Robinson earns All-America honors, grabs a bunch of jump balls and breaks his own single-season record. Debates begin as to whether he is PSU's best receiver ever. Meanwhile, Lewis has a breakout season, while Moseby-Felder builds off last year and Zanellato plays well when called upon.

Worst-case scenario: Robinson is better than last year, but it doesn't show. With a struggling quarterback, teams shadow Robinson and he is unable to make the same impact he did in 2012. Lewis gets confused on some routes, and Moseby-Felder doesn't improve enough to take some of the pressure off of Robinson. This group is good, better than last year, but it's difficult to see.

Top position question: Will Robinson declare early for the NFL draft? Obviously, this question is a bit premature -- but it's one every Penn State fan wants to ask. He has the ability to play in the NFL, and it really wouldn't be that surprising for him to at least inquire about his draft grade.

We recently asked Robinson's father, also named Allen, about declaring early for the NFL. Here's what he had to say:

"What I would really like him to do is play his senior season," Robinson's father said. "Allen is young. I think he can get much better. I think he can put on some more weight, and I think he can get faster before he goes to the next level. But that's just my own thoughts.

"We'll see how things turn out."
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- True freshman DaeSean Hamilton, a four-star wideout from Virginia, is out for the season with a wrist injury while tight end Brent Wilkerson is "out for a while" with a back injury.

Penn State coach Bill O'Brien wouldn't elaborate on the severity of Wilkerson’s injury, but he confirmed both both players’ statuses at Thursday's press conference inside Beaver Stadium.

Wilkerson redshirted last year, but he was expected to see more time this season as a backup. O'Brien hadn't ruled out four tight end sets, and Wilkerson was poised to offer the starters a breather.

"Brent Wilkerson will be out for a while, and I'll leave it at that," O'Brien said.

Hamilton arrived in camp with a wrist injury suffered in high school, but he was a redshirt candidate prior to the announcement of his injury. His injury shouldn't impact the Nittany Lions in the short term, with Allen Robinson and Brandon Moseby-Felder penciled in as the starting wideouts. Matt Zanellato and Eugene Lewis will be their backups on the outside.

Both injuries happened at fairly deep positions, so PSU should be just fine here. Still, any injuries aren't good news during the scholarship limitations.
CHICAGO -- When asked about the absence of junior college quarterback Tyler Ferguson, Bill O'Brien has usually fallen back on a familiar refrain: What's the big deal? Summer workouts aren't mandatory.

He expressed that sentiment Friday and, during Big Ten media days this week, he again brushed off a question about the kind of setback the Californian's month-long absence might be: "The last time I read the NCAA rule book, summer's voluntary."

O'Brien's absolutely right. But workouts sure are important -- and, for the quite a while now, those workouts have basically been "voluntarily mandatory." Players, especially potential starters, just don't miss them. Summer is when the team bonds, when those talks over lunch and those unwatched 7-on-7s translate to touchdowns and passing yards in the fall.

Friday mailbag: Lewis, Shell & 'ships 

July, 5, 2013
7/05/13
10:00
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Welcome to NittanyNation's mailbag! We asked you to tweet or email your questions, and we've selected three to answer this week.

Jack Brown writes: What kind of season can we expect from Eugene Lewis? Can he catch 50 balls this season, and do you think he can be as good as Allen Robinson?


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Penn State released an updated depth chart today and, although quarterback remains a question mark, some positions certainly became clearer.

Here's a closer look at some of the notable changes:

1. Lots of movement in the secondary.

Adrian Amos
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesA starting cornerback last season, Adrian Amos currently tops the depth chart at safety.
Adrian Amos is the top DB for the Nittany Lions, and he shined at cornerback last season. The versatile player practiced a lot at safety this offseason, though, and the depth chart now lists him as a starting safety alongside ... well, apparently, the other starter still isn't a lock.

Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who started last season, is listed as Amos' backup. The other starter isn't yet decided, as Bill O'Brien put the "OR" next to Malcolm Willis' name, meaning a competition is still under way between him and walk-on-turned-scholarship athlete Ryan Keiser.

At cornerback, which saw Amos and the graduated Stephon Morris as the 2012 starters, there are two new names to watch. Sophomore Jordan Lucas grabbed one starting spot, while wideout-turned-corner Trevor Williams is listed at the other. Da'Quan Davis is Lucas' backup.

2. TE-turned-OT Garry Gilliam is now up to 305 pounds.

That's a huge turnaround in less than a year. He played the role of blocking TE last year and started the season at 262 pounds. So, in about 10 months, he's gained 43 pounds. That says quite a bit about PSU's strength and conditioning program. He's currently listed as Dononvan Smith's backup at left tackle.

3. Kyle Baublitz will start alongside DaQuan Jones at DT.

Redshirt freshman Austin Johnson received a lot of praise over the spring, and he seemed poised to grab the starting spot. But the more-experienced Baublitz is instead part of the first-string lineup.

Baublitz played in six games last year, and the most recent roster puts him at 286 pounds -- 32 pounds lighter than Jones and 11 pounds lighter than Johnson. He had two tackles and one sack last year.

4. The long-snapper is ... MLB Glenn Carson?

At least for now, it is. Sean Corcoran is an incoming run-on who's expected to compete for the starting snapping jobs, so Carson's name there could be short-lived.

5. Bill Belton remains the No. 2 RB, while Brandon Moseby-Felder will still start opposite WR Allen Robinson.

Neither was a big surprise, but there were questions surrounding both players. Akeel Lynch is the no. 3 RB, while Eugene Lewis-Matt Zanellato are the receiving backups. (Lewis should still see a considerable amount of time on the field, obviously.)

Moseby-Felder nursed a leg injury last season, which slowed him down in the early going, and he could be a nice surprise this season. Early enrollee Richy Anderson might have garnered his share of pats on the back, too, but he's listed as a fourth-stringer. A redshirt could be in his future.

6. Charles Idemudia is the non-scholarship LB to watch.

Yes, the starting lineup is still Mike Hull-Carson-Nyeem Wartman ... but that was never really in doubt. With just five scholarship linebackers on the roster -- six once Brandon Bell gets on campus -- a walk-on was poised to see some time.

PSU's players threw around a couple names, such as Adam Cole and Matthew Baney, but Idemudia is the only non-scholarship LB listed on the depth chart.

7. Kick/punt returners listed.

PSU tried a few different players on special teams last season. But as of now Belton and Alex Kenney are listed as the top-two kick returners, with Jesse Della Valle as the top punt returner. Those three had the most kick/punt returns last season, so it's not a huge shock to see those names again. One interesting change, though? Anderson is the No. 2 PR.

Spring game: Five lessons learned

April, 22, 2013
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Steven BenchMatthew Holst/Getty ImagesQuarterback 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.

(Read full post)

Notebook: QB race remains murky

April, 20, 2013
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Steven Bench and Tyler FergusonAP Photo, USA Today SportsThe quarterback battle at Penn State between Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson will continue, and they'll be joined by top recruit Christian Hackenberg this summer.

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.

(Read full post)

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