Penn State Nittany Lions: Da'Quan Davis

Head coaches from the Big Ten East Division, along with a player from each team, addressed the media this afternoon on teleconferences. The West Division players and coaches spoke Wednesday.

Here's a closer look at the East:

INDIANA
  • Defense has been a lingering Indiana concern for years, but coach Kevin Wilson believes he's starting to see a change, thanks to new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr. The scheme hasn't changed radically, but the Hoosiers return 10 starters there -- and Wilson's seen a promising spring so far with an added focus on competition and communication: "They've for sure held their own on a daily basis -- and, in some ways, probably even better -- against the offense."
  • Wilson believes teams need to invest scholarships into the kicking game, but he thinks it's also too risky to offer recruits straight out of high school. If you look at the NCAA's top 25 kickers, Wilson estimated at least 15 started out as walk-ons. So he's hoping to find some walk-ons who are willing to work for a scholarship, rather than be granted one right away.
  • At 5-foot-7, Shane Wynn is the Hoosiers' leading returning receiver, and he's transitioning to playing the outside. It's been a little different for Wynn, who said he's had to watch more film as a result. He's reading the corners now, instead of the safeties, as just one example.
MARYLAND
  • Maryland coach Randy Edsall is confident in his offense and believes the Terrapins have enough options so that opponents can't focus on just one person. If defenses lock on to wideout Stefon Diggs, then quarterback C.J. Brown can take off running or receiver Deon Long can pick up some slack. "The No. 1 thing I do like," Edsall said, "is we can spread the field."
  • Maryland's staff has already started looking at film of Big Ten teams, so they know what to expect when the conference season begins. Edsall said he wants to at least get a feel for their personnel and what kind of schemes he'll face. He's also confident the Terps will be ready: "We fully expect to be able to compete when we get into the Big Ten this year."
  • Brown said one of the main reasons he committed to Maryland was the coach who recruited him at the time, former Terps assistant and current Penn State coach James Franklin. He's looking forward to squaring off against Franklin this season, and Edsall said there's no question he would like to develop a rivalry with the Nittany Lions.
MICHIGAN
  • The quarterback derby will continue, and Brady Hoke included all three of his options in the discussion heading into the offseason. The Wolverines coach did acknowledge, though, that Devin Gardner “probably would be” the starter if there was a game on the schedule this weekend. There isn’t, so Shane Morris and Wilton Speight will continue to be in the conversation.
  • The first opponent on the schedule will always stir emotions for Michigan fans, but Hoke didn’t attach any revenge or sentimentality to his reasons for wanting to take on Appalachian State in the opener this fall. “We needed a game,” Hoke said. “I thought it would be a good game.” Defensive end Frank Clark was certainly aware of the history between the programs, even though he was still years away from joining Michigan and getting a shot at making up for the upset loss in 2007 -- which he called “shocking” and “shows how hard those guys play.”
MICHIGAN STATE
  • Michigan State is coming off a Rose Bowl victory, but coach Mark Dantonio and quarterback Connor Cook would prefer not to think about that any longer. Dantonio said they've talked a lot these last four months about not growing complacent, and Cook only echoed his coach. "A lot of people keep bringing up the Rose Bowl," Cook said. "But we're past that. We're focusing on the now."
  • The offensive line has made some big strides since January, at least according to Cook. He felt like he had no time in the pocket last spring and said the pass rush was getting to him every time. This spring? He doesn't feel rushed in the pocket, and he thinks that's pretty indicative of how far this line has come.
  • Jeremy Langford earned a lot of praise from Cook, who said the running back has become a much bigger part of the passing attack. "He's improved a lot with catching the ball," Cook said, complimenting Langford's versatility. "He's done so many different things for us."
OHIO STATE
  • There is still work to be done in addressing the most glaring weakness on the team last season, but Urban Meyer called Ohio State’s pass defense “drastically improved” and will be watching closely for more signs of progress in Saturday’s spring game. The Buckeyes will play a traditional game, but the emphasis will be on throwing the football and assessing the skill players on both offense and defense -- giving Meyer a chance to evaluate backup quarterback Cardale Jones in a live setting in addition to checking out the secondary.
  • Arguably the strongest part of last season's team is undergoing a transition without four senior starters, and the offensive line is somewhat of a concern for Meyer heading into the offseason. With guard Pat Elflein the only other player to have earned a first-team slot to play alongside junior Taylor Decker at this point, that competition is likely to spill over into preseason camp in August. Both tackle Darryl Baldwin and guard Antonio Underwood were praised for their work by defensive tackle Michael Bennett, and Billy Price and Jacoby Boren are dueling at center.
PENN STATE
  • Franklin said he knew exactly what he was getting into at Penn State, in terms of the current depth and sanctions. He and former coach Bill O'Brien worked together at Maryland, and he said the two had a lot of honest conversations about the current state of the Nittany Lions. The two have continued to talk since.
  • Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia are both making transitions from defensive tackle to offensive guard, and Franklin said he has been pleased with their performances so far: "They're doing a good job for us -- and they have to. We're thin at that position."
  • Franklin said he feels especially comfortable with the talent at running back and defensive line. Middle linebacker Mike Hull was more specific about naming the players who impressed him, pointing to backup linebacker Gary Wooten and cornerback Da'Quan Davis. Hull said Wooten is always around the football and that Davis, who missed part of the spring with a hamstring injury, has come up with several interceptions.
RUTGERS
  • Another open competition at the most critical position on the field -- quarterback -- is still playing out at Rutgers, and coach Kyle Flood isn’t ready to declare a winner in what would seem to be a wide-open battle. Flood indicated that Gary Nova, Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano are all “really vying for that first-team job.”
  • The change in conference affiliation has been welcomed with open arms by the Scarlet Knights, who can “feel the energy” as theypractice for their first season in the Big Ten. Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton said the team was already buzzing with excitement about the opportunity, and Flood called joining the league a “positive in every way.” The move also presents the opportunity for a rivalry to develop with new divisional neighbor Penn State, with both Flood and Hamilton citing the proximity between the schools as a bonus.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The first week of Penn State’s spring practice is underway so a lot of eyes will be on different position battles and rising starters. But what about those under-the-radar players?

Every year, coach James Franklin said there are at least one or two surprise players who jump into the spotlight. So here’s a look at five current backups who could make an impact:

1. RB Akeel Lynch
2013 stats: 9 games played, 60 carries, 358 yards, 1 TD
Currently behind: Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton

[+] EnlargeAkeel Lynch
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMIAkeel Lynch is primed to have a breakout season for Penn State.
Synopsis: He’s on quite a few reporters’ breakout lists this fall -- and for good reason. He has made an impression every time he has received a sizable workload. He was the star of the spring scrimmage in 2013, rushing 13 times for 83 yards, and he twice surpassed the 100-yard mark during the nonconference season. He’s a speedy runner who clocked a 4.48-second 40 last spring, and he could evolve into a nice spark plug. He needs to become more well-rounded, as he saw limited time last season due to blocking and similar concerns. However, he’s clearly excellent at carrying the ball.

Running backs coach Charles Huff said in January that a good system needs three good options on the ground. So Lynch will see an increased workload, and Franklin will have the ability to discover whether he has the talent to be the primary ball-carrier in 2015.

2. DE Brad Bars
2013 stats: Missed season due to injury
Currently behind: C.J. Olaniyan, Deion Barnes

Synopsis: Bars stood inside the Lasch Building last February and told the media that he felt 2013 would be a breakout year for him. He felt he could start or, at the very least, contribute heavily. But in July, Bars ruptured his Achilles’ tendon and was forced to miss the season. Franklin has repeatedly declined to address such injuries, but Bars’ initial rehabilitation plan was expected to end -- at the latest -- sometime in January. And the senior seemed fine on Monday when he sprinted during drills and took direction from the staff.

Bars won’t end up as a starter in 2014, but he could still see considerable playing time. Defensive line coach Sean Spencer likes to utilize a lot of different looks and rotations, and Franklin once again alluded to a scheme that would sometimes feature four defensive ends. With Anthony Zettel moving inside on a permanent basis, the Nittany Lions need some quality depth -- and Bars could be that answer. It might turn out that his prediction was just a year off.

3. S Malik Golden
2013 stats: 12 games played, 8 tackles, 1 pass breakup
Currently behind: Adrian Amos, Ryan Keiser

Synopsis: There are two ways this could go for Golden, and either way is significant. The redshirt sophomore could challenge Keiser for playing time this season -- or he could lose out. But, even if he doesn’t start, this season is no less important for his future. Both Amos and Keiser are seniors, so Penn State will need someone to step up in 2015.

There are plenty of freshman safeties enrolling over the summer, but Golden will obviously be the most experienced of that crew. He’s in a somewhat similar situation as Lynch, in that his play this season will determine whether he’s a future starter or just a career backup. He appears to be the next man up at safety, though, so he will see the field in 2014 -- it’s just a matter of how much and whether he can challenge Keiser.

4. CB Jordan Smith
2013 stats: 12 games played, 5 tackles
Currently behind: Jordan Lucas, Trevor Williams

Synopsis: Williams may be the projected starter at cornerback for now, but this position battle is far from decided. Lucas has taken Smith under his wing, not unlike Stephon Morris did for him, and Smith isn’t afraid to work. When he battled with insomnia in high school, he often did a couple hundred push-ups to pass the time. Also, it didn’t hurt that he trained with former NFL great Troy Vincent, either.

He wasn’t ready for a big role as a true freshman last season, but he’s definitely a player to watch as a sophomore. And he has the potential to follow in Lucas’ footsteps. As a sophomore, Lucas beat out a more-experienced player (Da’Quan Davis) for the starting job. Now, as a sophomore himself, Smith is hoping for the same.

5. OT Albert Hall
2013 stats: 5 games played
Currently behind: Donovan Smith, Andrew Nelson

Synopsis: Hall isn't just on this list because he’ll see a lot of playing time this season, or even in the future. There's more to him. He’s a converted tight end and a walk-on and is one of just four offensive tackles currently on the roster, and Franklin offered him a lot of praise on Monday.

“That guy is going to find a role on this team somehow,” Franklin said. "I’ve called him out in front of the team a number of times because I’ve been so impressed with him: His approach, his demeanor, his attitude.”

Hall should, at the very least, be an important member of the scout team -- and will likely see plenty of time on special teams. It’s not necessarily Hall's play that’s going to be important to this team. It’s the intangibles. There are a lot of walk-ons on this team, and Franklin only singled out Hall. So he’s definitely worth a second look.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- We’ve finally reached the end of this week’s countdown involving the top position battles to watch this spring.

Up next is a position that caused a lot of head scratching last season ...

[+] EnlargeJordan Lucas
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAYJordan Lucas seems set at one corner for Penn State, but the other starter is anyone's guess at this point.
No. 1 position battle: Cornerback

Departures: None

Returning players: Jordan Lucas (65 tackles, 16 pass deflections, 3 INTs), Trevor Williams (24 tackles, 2 INTs), Da'Quan Davis (5 tackles), Anthony Smith (1 tackle), Jordan Smith (5 tackles), Kasey Gaines (redshirted), Grant Haley (incoming freshman), Amani Oruwariye (incoming freshman), Daquan Worley (incoming freshman)

Breaking it down: There are other defensive backs who could slide over from safety -- such as Adrian Amos and Jesse Della Valle -- but, right now, it looks as if cornerback is the position with the question marks. Lucas will take up one starting spot. But the other? At this point, you might as well just throw the names in a hat and pick one out.

Back in 2012, Davis started the season as the No. 3 cornerback before fizzling out and seeing less time as the season progressed. He played in 11 games as a true freshman and just six as a sophomore. In 2013, Williams began the season as a starter before fizzling out and watching Amos move from safety to reclaim his spot. It sure seems like it’s time to write Davis off as a starter, but is it too early to write Williams off? If Williams, who switched positions from receiver last season, can’t bounce back, then this position truly gets interesting. It seems as if Jordan Smith would be next in line since he’s quickly earned a reputation as a hard worker.

Then again, Smith’s work could all be for naught. There are several incoming freshmen who could challenge for immediate playing time -- including safety Christian Campbell, who could also play corner -- once they arrive over the summer. This position battle might not be totally decided in the spring, but it should go a long way in answering some of the biggest questions on the defense.

Pre-camp edge: None. That’s right -- no one has an edge right now. That’s a big reason why this battle is the top spot on the countdown. This is one starting spot that’s ripe for the taking. The players who have seen the most time (Davis, Williams) haven’t played well, and there’s really no strong way to gauge the others since they’ve seen so little time. Williams might be in the best shape right now, but Jordan Smith should be right behind him. At this point, it seems as if those two corners might be the ones to keep a close eye on this spring ... but anything can happen at corner.

More position battles to watch:

No. 5: Kicker
No. 4: Tight end
No. 3: Defensive tackle
No. 2: Offensive guard/center
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Spring practice is still several weeks away, so we're bringing you a different countdown every week to try to make that time tick a little faster.

This week's countdown involves a look back at the past decade of recruiting classes, from 2004 on, and figuring out the five most impactful groups. Up today is a more recent class, so the names here will definitely ring a bell ...

No. 5 most impactful class: Class of 2011

Top prospects: DB Adrian Amos, DE Deion Barnes, RB Bill Belton, TE Kyle Carter, LB Ben Kline, OG Angelo Mangiro, WR Allen Robinson, OT Donovan Smith, DL Anthony Zettel

[+] EnlargeAllen Robinson
AP Photo/John BealeAllen Robinson came to Penn State as a two-star prospect. He left as one of the greatest wide receivers in school history.
Biggest surprise: Robinson. He came in as a two-star prospect with the second-lowest grade of the class, behind only OL Anthony Alosi. Three years later, he's leaving Penn State early as one of its greatest wide receivers ever. He set the single-season school records for both catches (97) and yards (1,432), and accounted for more than 46 percent of the Nittany Lions' passing offense in 2013. He was the team's best player this past season and the offense's top threat in 2012.

Impact player: Besides Robinson? Amos. There's some good variety to choose from here -- hence why this class is No. 5 -- and, although Amos struggled some as a sophomore, he's still the team's most athletic defensive back. He's going to finish his career as a four-year starter and, if he sticks with cornerback or starts off hot at safety, he should bounce back from that sophomore "slump." He's got a high ceiling and has the ability to to be an All-Big Ten player.

Why the class is important: Depth was not a strength for PSU in 2012 or 2013, and this class hit just where it needed to when it needed to. Take a look at who's currently behind some of the key players from this class. Imagine a 2013 receiving corps without Robinson or a 2013 offensive line that was forced to start Adam Gress and Garry Gilliam every game. How about a 2012 secondary led by Stephon Morris and ... Da'Quan Davis? Or a defensive line without Barnes and Zettel? If this class was a bust like 2010, the Nittany Lions would not have bounced back quite so strongly after the sanctions.

This was the class of the "Supa Six," and although that nickname's now gone along with A-Rob, there are plenty of players who'll turn out to be three- or four-year starters. Amos, Barnes, Carter and Smith are among them. This wasn't a flashy class when it signed -- only two ESPN 150 prospects were included -- but it's more than made up for that with its production and potential.

Looking to the past & future: DBs

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
1:00
PM ET
It's never too late -- or too early -- to see what we learned from this past season and also look ahead to next season. So, we've started breaking down each position on the Nittany Lions.

Up today: Defensive backs.

REWIND

[+] EnlargeAdrian Amos
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsAfter switching from cornerback to safety and back to cornerback, Penn State's Adrian Amos could have a breakout season in 2014.
Expectations entering the 2013 season: The season before was such an awful one that many believed PSU had already hit rock bottom and that it couldn't possibly get any worse.

With Adrian Amos' move to safety, many took that as a sign that defensive coordinator John Butler was confident with the new cornerbacks (Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams) and that this group wouldn't be the liability it was in 2012. Penn State was forced to play more zone coverage than it wanted to in 2012, but 2013 appeared as if the secondary could at least earn the status of "average." It wouldn't be a defensive strength, but it wouldn't be a complete disaster either.

How they fared: Maybe it wasn't a total disaster ... but it was close. Amos' position switch to safety was a total bust, and he was moved back to cornerback later in the season. The safeties were once again the Achilles' heel on the team and, despite returning both starters from 2012 (Malcolm Willis and safety-turned-linebacker Stephen Obeng-Agyapong), the position of safety somehow managed to take a step back.

Ryan Keiser caught the ire of fans quite a few times, and it wasn't unusual for a defensive back to be completely out of position. PSU didn't press often, the corners gave opposing receivers plenty of room and third-and-long wasn't an automatic prelude to a punt. This was the worst unit on the team -- by far. Again.

What we learned: Butler doesn't have a lot to work with here. CB Da'Quan Davis saw time early in 2012 but hasn't played much since. Wideout-turned-cornerback Williams was looked upon as the better option and, well, you know how Williams fared. He was pulled about six games into the season. Nearly all of the prime options in the secondary are underclassmen. Outside of Willis, PSU had to resort to former walk-ons at safety.

Grading the position: D. If this unit was average, Penn State might've been at least 9-3. But even teams like run-first Minnesota were able to pass on the Nittany Lions. Lucas was a nice surprise, but one nice surprise couldn't overcome missed expectations everywhere else. Amos admittedly didn't live up to expectations, the safeties were a mess, and there really wasn't a whole lot of good to say here.

FAST FORWARD

Key losses: Willis. He wasn't a great player, but he still helped other players in the secondary adjust. He was the quarterback of the defense and a vocal leader who helped the underclassmen. PSU probably will be able to replace his production, however. Can Keiser or Jesse Della Valle really be that much worse?

Position stock watch: Trending upward. Penn State had to hit rock-bottom in 2013; it had to. It really has nowhere to go but up. The cornerbacks should actually be above-average in 2014, and this could finally be the breakout season everyone was waiting for from Amos. Safety is obviously a huge concern but, once again, it really can't get that much worse.

Key to next season: Getting average play from the safeties. They don't have to be great, or even all that good. Simply being average would be a big step up. That being said, it might be difficult for this unit to improve that much. Malik Golden could be the answer, as he saw some significant time toward the end of the season. And it's always possible that a freshman could contribute here. Lucas can also play safety ... but that'd likely cause some head-scratching after the failed experiment with Amos.

PSU position preview: Cornerbacks

August, 16, 2013
8/16/13
9:00
AM ET
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: Cornerbacks.

Projected starters: Trevor Williams (2012 stats, as WR: 10 receptions, 97 yards; four kick returns, 79 yards) and Jordan Lucas (one tackle).

Key losses: Stephon Morris (60 tackles, five tackles-for-loss, five pass deflections)

[+] EnlargeDa'Quan Davis
Vinny Carchietta/Icon SMIDa'Quan Davis is still a bit undersized, but he has experience and is currently the No. 3 corner.
Next in line: Sophomore Da'Quan Davis played in 11 games last year but saw limited time as a cornerback. Still, he stepped up when Morris suffered an injury -- and he likely will be called upon more in 2013. He's the No. 3 corner right now.

Davis gained only three pounds in a year's time and remains undersized at 5-foot-10, 164 pounds. Still, cornerback-turned-safety Adrian Amos could always step back into the position if he's needed. Other players vying for time include true freshmen Anthony Smith and Jordan Smith, who both enrolled early.

What to expect: Neither starter saw any significant time at cornerback last season -- Williams was a wideout, after all -- but the Nittany Lions seem more confident at the position this season. For one, they moved Amos to his natural position of safety, despite returning both starters there ... which they wouldn't have done if defensive coordinator John Butler viewed corner as a weakness.

Williams made tremendous strides over the offseason at cornerback, and the staff has complimented Lucas since he stepped on campus. Replacing Morris' speed will be no easy task, but the new starters at least have size on their side as they're both at least 6-feet tall. (Lucas is 6-0; Williams is 6-1).

Williams' experience at wideout should help him grab interceptions, something this secondary sorely lacked last season. (The secondary, as a whole, finished with only three picks on the season. Linebacker Michael Mauti had three himself.) Lucas, on the other hand, is more polished, and scouts have said he shows a good burst to recover. The two new starters are obviously wildcards, since they really haven't seen B1G competition as cornerbacks, but there's enough potential here to allay fans' concern.

Recruiting trail: Butler was adamant that he wasn't very pleased with the depth he inherited last season, so he spent the 2013 class -- and, now, the 2014 class -- to restock.

The Nittany Lions already grabbed two CB commits in four-star athlete Troy Vincent Jr. (Baltimore/Gilman) and three-star prospect Daquan Worley (Coatesville, Pa./Coatesville). But they're not done just yet.

The Lions continue to go after ESPN 300 athlete Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), who's one of their top remaining priorities in this class. PSU has a good shot here, but WVU likely still holds the slight edge right now.

Looking ahead, PSU is hoping to grab ESPN Junior 300 CB Minkah Fitzpatrick (Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter's) in the 2015 class. And fellow 2015 prospect Kareem Ali Jr. (Erial, N.J./Timber Creek Regional) is very high on PSU and could be the first commit of the class.

Best-case scenario: Williams is able add a few interceptions to the secondary this season, and Lucas shows that he'll be a solid three-year starter for PSU. Amos is able to stay at safety because the corners hold their own, and they boast an above-average season that paves the way for a brighter future.

Worst-case scenario: Bill O'Brien said last year that, sometimes, you don't know what you have until you see your team in action -- and the group struggles against Syracuse. Williams shows potential but is caught out of position for long gains and is targeted by the offense. Amos is forced to move back to cornerback at some point, and the secondary shows no progress from last season.

Top position question: Can this group be better than last year? Let's not dance around this question. The answer's yes.

There's enough depth here that Butler can get creative if something happens, and most importantly -- because of the added experience at safety -- PSU should play even more aggressive man coverage this season. Lucas and Williams will be put more in position to succeed, and they should be able to top last year's measly two interceptions by the corners.

The secondary was the big question of the year entering 2012, and it slightly outperformed low expectations after a bumpy start. If the secondary as a whole can stop those long third-down conversions in the opener, it'll go a long way in showing this group can have a successful season.

Polling PSU: Who's next to break out?

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
9:00
AM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Every season, someone new steps up to have a breakout season. But which Penn State player is poised to do so in 2013?

We recently polled eight players to get their takes on who's had the best offseason and who seems ready to take their game to the next level. Here's what they had to say:

OG John Urschel: "Of course, Ty Howle would be my favorite answer -- but I'm going to try to think of someone else. ... I'd say Mike Hull has made some big strides, and I think he's ready to be a big-time player in this conference. I mean, you guys have already seen some big things from him, and we know he's a very, very talented football player. And I think you're going to see a breakout year from him."

S Stephen Obeng-Agyapong: "I think Da'Quan Davis. He's one of the guys that really stood out, especially these last couple practices. He's been going really hard at practice and giving these receivers everything they can handle."

TE Jesse James: "The best offseason, hmmm, that's tough. It's hard to say, but Urschel's just been getting so much stronger. He's improved a lot, and he's really taken on a leadership role. So I'd have to say him."

WR Eugene Lewis: "One guy that I definitely see doing well is Akeel Lynch. He goes out there and works hard every day. He's a dog; he's a beast in the weight room. He's doing really well."

MLB Glenn Carson: "I'm really high on Hull right now. He's really put in the extra effort. He's really gone above and beyond, and he's always been a hard worker -- but I feel as though he took it up a notch this offseason. His strength is phenomenal and, for his size, he's one of the strongest on the team -- definitely one of the strongest pound for pound."

DT DaQuan Jones: "Urschel. He's really been working hard this offseason. He's been doing great stuff, and he's just dominated. He does got me on the bench max -- but it's close."

S Malcolm Willis: "Trevor Williams, DaQuan Jones, Jordan Lucas. Those are three guys who have stepped up their game and have gotten a lot better."

WR Allen Robinson: "I would say all our receivers. We've really come a long way as a group, just with those guys improving every day. It's really hard to say that someone's particularly stuck out in the offseason. All our guys really worked their butts off, so that's a really tough question."
CHICAGO -- While linebacker Glenn Carson fiddled with his phone on the plane to Big Ten media days, playing Candy Crush, teammate John Urschel played his own game.

And, of course, the offensive guard's smart phone app involved math -- Brain Crunchers: Math workouts. (And, if there was any doubt, the player currently pursuing his second master's degree put the setting on the highest difficulty.) Out of curiosity, Carson and Malcolm Willis decided to try the game out.

[+] EnlargeRex Burkhead
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesLinebacker Glenn Carson holds down the middle and kills on Candy Crush ... but no math, please.
It didn't end well.

"I was on expert or whatever he was on, and I got lost in like three seconds," Carson said with a laugh. "And then we put it on easy, and Malcolm and I still couldn't get it down. It was a little embarrassing."

Urschel tested the game out on the media Thursday morning on medium difficulty. Numbers would flash on the screen: Add 20, multiply by seven, subtract eight, divide by three, etc.

"Can I write this down?" asked one flustered reporter.

"No," Urschel said, smiling.

In the end, only two of about six reporters got the right answer. Urschel seemed in his element.

"I'm just like any other kid," Urschel insisted. "If I'm bored on the bus, I'm waiting for something or for class to start, I get on my phone just like everyone else and play my little games. But my games happen to be math games, that's all."

That's not to say this is the kind of math Urschel focuses on. When asked if he's ever seen the movie "Good Will Hunting" and could solve that problem on the blackboard, Urschel hesitated because he couldn't remember the equation in question. But that's the kind of math he enjoys, he said, the kind that doesn't really involve numbers.

"I like the challenge," he said. "You don't get far into math until all of a sudden there are no numbers."

Carson smiled and added that he's sticking to Candy Crush.

Reversing the sanctions: O'Brien and athletic director Dave Joyner were both tight-lipped about any future actions the Nittany Lions might take regarding the sanctions. Both declined to comment about possibly approaching the NCAA in the future, saying they both hoped to focus on the 2013 season.

Other Big Ten players and coaches also refused to comment on Penn State's situation. The closest thing to an actual opinion -- on whether the sanctions should be cut back -- came from Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.

"At the end of the day, I'm for what's best for the student-athletes," he said. "Again, I can't speak for Bill or his program but, obviously, under his leadership and what's transpired, you have to be nothing but impressed. The way that senior class a year ago -- under Coach's leadership and that coaching staff -- came together and fought through that time, it was nothing short of impressive.

"... They do things the right way and you hope that, for the student-athletes that are currently in the locker room, they get the experience that every student-athlete gets."

Back to normal: Last year's Big Ten media days obviously felt a lot different to O'Brien and the Nittany Lions. The issue of the sanctions and just how they would affect the program became interview staples.

Questions on the sanctions still popped up this time around, but they were no longer the focus. And Urschel shared an interesting response when asked if everything seems back to normal now, like when he first arrived on campus.

"I'd say better," he said. "We're blessed to have Coach O'Brien on our coaching staff. We're blessed to have Fitz [Craig Fitzgerald] in the weight room. This is the best football situation I've ever been a part of. We have a great group of coaches."

[+] EnlargeZach Zwinak
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesTailback Zach Zwinak is ahead of schedule in recovery from his injured wrist but still could skip some contact drills when camp opens
Injury/player update: Both tailback Zach Zwinak and tight end Kyle Carter are expected to be healthy in time for camp, O'Brien said, although they're on different timetables.

Zwinak injured his wrist in the Blue-White Game and is ahead of schedule but likely will miss some contact drills. Carter, who hurt his wrist last season, is expected to participate in all drills once practice starts Aug. 5.

Bill Belton, who has taken time to focus on his academics, also will return for camp. O'Brien said Belton is not in danger of being academically ineligible. There was still no concrete return date for Tyler Ferguson, either, although O'Brien said he'd be back for camp.

Secondary stepping up: Willis said he has been pleasantly surprised by three young CBs this offseason: Da'Quan Davis, Trevor Williams and Jordan Lucas.

"Those are three guys who have stepped up their game and have gotten a lot better," Willis said. "They've caught on to a lot of things that we do, mentally, and also on the field. Just seeing their body change over the summer -- seeing how much hard work they're putting in and how it's paying off with their physique."

Who's at linebacker?: The projected depth chart obviously has Carson as the starting MLB, with Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman as the outside players. But O'Brien said the staff has been thinking about possibly plugging in two other players at linebacker -- DB Adrian Amos and safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.

That's not to say the two defensive backs will be leaving safety to focus on linebacker, but it's not out of the realm of possiblity they could line up at the position on some plays.

"Again, it all comes down to health," O'Brien said. "Can Obeng play some [weakside] linebacker, things like that? We kind of sit in there and talk about different scenarios, and I know John Butler does it a lot more than I do with the defense."

Change in the ticket policy: Want to buy tickets to the Michigan game on Oct. 12 or the Nebraska game on Nov. 23? Turns out you also will have to purchase the same number of tickets for Eastern Michigan or Kent State games.

Joyner addressed that issue Wednesday, telling reporters the change was made for reasons both related to getting more people into the stadium and increasing finances.

Joyner believed big-screen televisions and the home experience have "a lot to do" with declining attendance, so he said PSU also is hoping to make the Beaver Stadium experience a little better.

"We're really working a lot of ways to increase the fan experience at the stadium and make things really interesting that they can't see at home," he said, adding enhanced wi-fi and "better things" on the Jumbotron are among future changes.

DB McRae hoping to follow mentor's path 

June, 20, 2013
6/20/13
10:00
AM ET
Juantez McRae (Towson, Md./Calvert Hall) can't remember exactly what words were exchanged or how the topic was brought up that day. He just remembers the moment -- the sun peaking beneath the horizon, relaxing on the porch in gym shorts and the warm, sticky air -- right before his epiphany.

The 2015 prospect's friend and role model, the kid from two or three houses down, turned to him and asked McRae -- then a freshman -- what he wanted to do with his life. McRae glanced up at the neighbor, Trevor Williams, a starting PSU cornerback now but a Calvert Hall receiver then, and mouthed some hesitant answer about football and education.

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.

5 Questions: CB Stephon Morris

April, 19, 2013
4/19/13
11:00
AM ET
Stephon MorrisJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

Every week, NittanyNation will pose five questions to a recruit, player, alum or coach about all things Penn State.

This week's subject is cornerback Stephon Morris, an All-Big Ten honorable mention who is hoping to be drafted next week.

NittanyNation: You ran an official 4.35 on your pro day. Just how much has that helped you with getting NFL teams' attention, and how confident are you about being drafted now?

Stephon Morris: It helped me a lot. My draft stock has been tremendously high, just talking to my agents, and a lot of teams are interested, and a lot of teams are big on me. But I feel like I got four years worth of film and started 26 games -- so the only thing I really needed to prove to the scouts, especially coming up to Penn State, was that I wasn't a typical stiff, slow corner because that's how I feel they judge us.

But when I ran that, I think my stock really went higher. I don't know my draft grade right now -- some say between the fourth and seventh, so who knows? But whether I get drafted or not, I just want a chance to prove I can play at this level.

NN: You said teams approached you after pro day and commented how they wished they would've seen more of you in man coverage. Where do you think you'd be now if you had played in this defense for all four seasons?

SM: I feel that I would've been one of the top corners in the country. I started my freshman career off in the nickel, and we had guys like NaVorro [Bowman] and Sean [Lee] and everybody, so it made everything easier. So, some games, I wasn't starting and I ended up getting on the freshman All-Big Ten team and I was kind of free. I would play man then. But then -- my sophomore, junior year -- we weren't really a blitzing team, so I played more of a Cover-3 and jumping routes. I didn't really play much man between junior and sophomore year. But coach [Ted] Roof, you know he's going to blitz you.

I feel like if I would've played in Roof's scheme or someone's like Ohio State or Virginia Tech, I would've been one of the top corners in the country, hands down.

NN: Mr. Irrelevant signed a contract last year for $400,000 with a $45K signing bonus. And practice squad players can make upwards of six figures. So, if everything goes as planned, what's the first thing you plan to buy?

(Read full post)

Practice notebook: QBs, DBs & more

April, 10, 2013
4/10/13
7:45
PM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien maintained an even tone Wednesday afternoon as reporters surrounded him to pepper in questions about his two quarterbacks.

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."

(Read full post)

Springing ahead: 5 players to watch 

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
11:00
AM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With spring practice less than two weeks away, NittanyNation takes a look at five players fans should keep an eye on.

5. CB Da'Quan Davis, sophomore

Last year's stat line: Five tackles, one fumble recovery, three pass breakups

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Where they ranked as recruits: Defense 

February, 5, 2013
2/05/13
12:00
PM ET
NittanyNation takes a look at returning defensive starters -- and other key players -- to see just how much attention was paid to them back on their respective signing days:

DE Deion Barnes, Grade: 78, three stars: He clearly came in underrated. He was the nation's No. 45 defensive end and was No. 12 in the state. He now has a future playing football on Sundays, and -- if ESPN could get a mulligan here -- Barnes would easily be a top-10 four-star defensive end. He's already the top pass-rusher on the team and finished with six sacks and 10 tackles for loss last year. He was ranked behind Anthony Zettel in this class.

DT DaQuan Jones, Grade: 77, three stars: The jury's still out on Jones, but his grade doesn't seem too far off from where he'll end up. He'll be a two-year starter and he did relatively well last season. ESPN thought he could play on the offensive line, too, but believed he "should become a solid starter at the BCS level of competition."

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Signing day primer: Penn State 

January, 23, 2013
1/23/13
8:00
AM ET
With two weeks left until signing day, NittanyNation takes a closer look at what fans should know about the state of the class and this Penn State team.

Team needs: Defensive coordinator John Butler made it clear he wasn't happy with the secondary's depth last season. At cornerback, untested true freshman Da'Quan Davis was the backup, and the safeties opened the year as the team's weakness.

That's not the only concern. With Matt McGloin's departure, Steven Bench is now the most experienced quarterback on the team. And he threw just eight passes last season. Linebacker is also a position that could use a few extra bodies, especially with Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges making a run at the NFL.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Penn State Lands ESPN 300 CB Taylor
National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert breaks down what No. 12 cornerback Garrett Taylor - once a Michigan commit - means to James Franklin's defense now that Taylor has committed to the Nittany Lions.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12