Penn State Nittany Lions: Deron Thompson

Notes on PSU's newest depth chart

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
12:30
PM ET
Penn State's depth chart was released on Monday and, much to no one's surprise, a starting quarterback was not named. An "OR" appears next to the names of Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg.

Still, there were a few notable changes on the depth chart and in the game notes:
  • Adam Gress was nursing an injury last week, and he was not listed as the definite starter at right tackle. He's still battling with TE-turned-OT Garry Gilliam. Bill O'Brien will likely update Gress' progress on Tuesday.
  • Von Walker, a run-on whom O'Brien complimented last week, is listed as competing for the No. 2 kickoff return spot with Akeel Lynch. Walker is an athlete whom PSU hopes to utilize as a slotback. This might be the biggest surprise on the depth chart. You can read more about Walker here.
  • D.J. Crook is listed as the third-string quarterback. He was competing with Austin Whipple and Jack Seymour for the No. 3 spot. He was listed as the third-stringer on the post-spring depth chart as well.
  • Bill Belton is still listed as the No. 2 tailback, ahead of Lynch ... but that likely doesn't mean much. Both will see carries.
  • There's an "OR" listed next to Malcolm Willis' name, signifying he's still competing with Ryan Keiser at safety. Willis is obviously expected to be the starter -- barring injury. O'Brien will undoubtedly be asked about that on Tuesday.
  • Middle linebacker Glenn Carson is still listed as the snapper at punter, despite picking up a run-on whose specialty is snapping and having Howle snapping on field goals.

PSU position preview: Running backs

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
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: Running backs.

Projected starter: Zach Zwinak (2012 stats: 1,000 rushing yards, six touchdowns, 4.9 yard average; 20 catches, 177 yards, one TD)

Key losses: Michael Zordich (301 yards, 3.8 yard average, four touchdowns; 15 catches, 162 yards)

Next in line: Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch will split carries, although there's really no clear No. 2 right now. Belton was listed as the backup on the post-spring practice depth chart, but there's no telling who'll finish with more carries by the end of the season.

Pat Zerbe is the starting fullback right now, but he's not expected to see all that much time as a ball-carrier. Redshirt sophomore Deron Thompson, who isn't on scholarship, impressed in the Blue-White Game and will likely step up if there are any injuries.

What to expect: This group isn't as deep as last season, but it should still definitely be improved. Big things are expected out of Lynch, the redshirt freshman, and he could be the big-play threat PSU needs out the backfield.

There's definitely a nice balance here. Zwinak is the straightforward, wear-the-defense-down runner. Lynch is the young speedster who can run in the 4.4s. And Belton is more balanced and should be a threat in the passing game since he played wideout as a freshman.

It took the Nittany Lions a few games last season to find an identity at tailback. Zwinak is the workhorse, while the other two can offer him a breather and the offense a bit of a different look. All three will be utilized this year, and all three will return again in 2014. This group is only going to get better, and this season should set a strong tone.

Recruiting trail: If depth is a problem now, it certainly won't be that way in 2014. PSU already garnered two RB commits here in three-star tailback Nick Scott (Fairfax, Va./Fairfax) and three-star prospect Mark Allen (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha).

Allen is coming off a torn ACL and likely won't make an early impact at Penn State. Perhaps, as a result, the Nittany Lions might not be done at tailback this recruiting season. Another tailback -- Qadree Ollison out of Buffalo (N.Y.) Canisius -- is a prospect with a unique blend of size and speed. The 6-foot-1, 228-pound back who runs a reported 4.5 is from the same high school league as Lynch, and some coaches there think Ollison might even be better.

PSU entered the race late for Ollison, but the Lions remain near the top of his list. Ollison should decide in early September, and Wisconsin is likely the biggest competition right now.

Best-case scenario: Zwinak carries this offense while the rookie quarterback gets adjusted and averages around six yards a carry. He earns at least an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team, while Lynch breaks some big, key runs and Belton contributes in a lot of different areas.

Worst-case scenario: Zwinak starts off the season a bit slow after a spring wrist injury that forced him to wear a red shirt the first few weeks of the preseason. He does fine after the first few games, but that throws off the offense. The other two backs fare OK but don't break out like some fans hoped.

Top position question: How many carries can Lynch and Belton expect to see? It's the answer everyone wants to know, but there's no easy way to know. Head coach Bill O'Brien could go a lot of different ways, but we can look back to last season and try to project it that way.

In the last seven games, once Zwinak became the clear No. 1, the tailback took about 62 percent of the running backs' carries. If the offense remains balanced and everything remains equal, that means there would be about 13-15 carries a game for those two to split.

There's lot of variables at this point. But, right now, that's our best guess. And if someone's on a roll -- like Zwinak against Wisconsin -- all bets are off.

Spring game: Five lessons learned

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
11:51
AM ET
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
4/20/13
7:19
PM ET
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)

Spring primer: QBs, injuries & more

March, 18, 2013
3/18/13
7:37
PM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- While Bill O'Brien's voice carried over the field Monday afternoon, quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher directed his players in a calmer manner.

[+] EnlargeTyler Ferguson
Tom Hauck for ESPNTyler Ferguson showed off his big arm at practice Monday.
During position drills at Penn State's first spring practice, Fisher stood about five yards in front of his four quarterbacks as they took turns taking three- and five-step drops. The quartet of red jerseys would look at Fisher, quickly scan the field and then throw to a stationary receiver.

"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."

(Read full post)

SPONSORED HEADLINES

College Football Player Rankings: 41-60
Chris Spielman and Brian Griese discuss the players ranked 41-60 in ESPN.com's top 100 college football players.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video