Penn State Nittany Lions: Von Walker


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – James Franklin kept many of his skill players off the field for most of Penn State's annual scrimmage, but there were certainly still other aspects to glean from the game.

Christian Hackenberg played in just three series, and Michael O’Connor took over for the rest of the game for the Blue team. Blue, which consisted mostly of starters, ended up with the 37-0 victory -- some players even tugged the victory bell -- as we learned a few more things about the Nittany Lions:

[+] EnlargeDe'Andre Thompkins
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicPenn State freshman De'Andre Thompkins caught one pass and had a 22-yard rush in the spring game.
1. This is an offense that’s willing to do different things. Bill O’Brien hated the Wildcat. Absolutely loathed it. But fans were treated to quite a bit of it Saturday afternoon. The direct snaps to the tailback actually seemed the most effective, as the longest run in the first quarter -- a 19-yard run by Cole Chiappialle -- came from that formation. Franklin was asked whether he had a new, catchy name for the formation. “Yeah, I think we’re going to go with,” he said, pausing slightly for dramatic effect, “Wildcat.”

In the game’s longest play, wideout Geno Lewis took a reverse and threw a ball to a wide-open Matt Zanellato, who sprinted in untouched for a 56-yard touchdown. Lewis said they didn’t run the play once in practice. But Franklin didn’t mind calling Lewis’ name out of the blue -- and Lewis didn’t mind much, either.

2. The offensive line could really be in trouble. Penn State implemented a running clock from the second quarter on, but the gray-jerseyed offensive line gave up nine sacks. The running game also had trouble taking off in the beginning, as both the Blue and White teams combined for 21 yards on their first 16 carries. At one point, Penn State had 12 completions to 10 punts. And it was 0-for-12 on the first dozen third-down attempts. They fared better in the second half, but there was obviously still cause for concern.

Center Wendy Laurent went down with an injury in the second quarter and did not re-enter the game. The severity of Laurent’s injury is unknown and, with Franklin’s policy to not discuss injuries, clarity probably won’t be lended to the situation anytime soon. Offensive guard Anthony Alosi, who is facing criminal charges, is also "suspended indefinitely," according to Franklin.

3. Penn State could utilize more nickel this season. Minutes after the game, Franklin said the Nittany Lions could often operate under a “star” defense, which is similar to the nickel. Basically, he wants to use two true linebackers and a “big safety.” It’s something Franklin said he and the staff are going to evaluate over the offseason -- and that might be a reason why Von Walker moved to linebacker this spring. Walker could earn a role there, possibly as a backup, and he made a nice play in the third quarter by tipping a pass and then making a critical block once it was intercepted.

Defensive line coach Sean Spencer previously said the defense could use some four-DE looks this season, so fans could see some unique things on this unit. Overall, the defense appears to be in good shape. Franklin praised the defensive line several times this spring, and he said Saturday that it’s certainly a little ahead of the offense right now.

4. Kicking game still needs some work. Sam Ficken missed an extra point and Chris Gulla averaged just 39.2 yards a punt on a dozen punts. Assistant Charles Huff said the return game has shown a lot of improvement since the spring, but that was one area that wasn’t showcased Saturday. During punts, for example, the entire return team consisted of just one player making a fair catch. Penn State’s special teams should still be improved from last season, as there’s nowhere to really go but up. Huff wasn’t sure what happened on the missed extra point. Regardless, the kicking game obviously needs to show consistency.

What we learned: Week 3

September, 15, 2013
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Every Sunday around this time, we’ll recap five lessons from the week that was Penn State football.

And away we go:

[+] EnlargeJordan Lucas
Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/Getty ImagesJordan Lucas and the Penn State secondary had a difficult night against UCF.
1. The first-year starting cornerbacks still have a lot of learning to do. Trevor Williams and Jordan Lucas did not have good games. That much is obvious. Defensive coordinator John Butler was forced to bench Williams and slide Adrian Amos over to cornerback at one point. And Lucas committed a huge pass-interference penalty on a third-and-9 play that prevented a PSU comeback. UCF's Blake Bortles completed nearly 75 percent of his passes, and PSU's corners led the team in tackles. Those aren't numbers you want to see. Those two will see other tough passing attacks, and there's no telling if Amos will be able to stay at safety as a result. This now seems to be the biggest issue on the team.

2. Zach Zwinak's fumble concerns are still not behind him. He's big, he's strong, and he wears defenses down. But -- and this is a big 'but' -- he still has problems holding onto the pigskin. That was the main knock on the 240-pound back last season, and it would appear he's still not over those issues. Zwinak committed a costly fumble in the fourth quarter that also killed PSU's comeback hopes. He fumbled five times last season and still hasn't lived down that reputation.

3. The sanctions are catching up with Penn State. Butler conceded as much, and he's right. The defensive coordinator explained that PSU has been forced to limit tackling in practice out of the fear of injuries. And, if you limit tackling, missed tackles are going to happen. It's a product of that depth. Fewer scholarships mean fewer options on defense. The bad news for Penn State? Injuries tend to progress along with the season -- so it's only going to get worse.

4. Mike Hull is not at 100 percent. He just didn't seem like the same linebacker against Central Florida, and his participation was limited. Bill O'Brien was asked about where Hull was, injury-wise, after the game and the head coach responded, "He's a tough kid, and I think he is giving us everything he's got." He didn't elaborate but said he'd watch the tape and offer more information Tuesday. Safety-turned-linebacker Stephen Obeng-Agyapong replaced Hull when he couldn't go, and linebacker is obviously a huge concern for PSU moving forward. Hull is important to this defense, and it greatly impacts this defense when he's not 100 percent. And he clearly was not 100 percent.

5. True freshmen are really stepping up. It's not just the obvious here in Christian Hackenberg, who has exceeded very lofty expectations already. It's a lot of other true freshmen. Tight end Adam Breneman finished second in catches Saturday with four (for 22 yards), and Richy Anderson finished third in catches with two (for 21 yards). Anderson seems to have supplanted redshirt junior Alex Kenney as the slot receiver. And run-on Von Walker has also seen a lot of time as a returner and on other special teams. This is a special class and should offer fans hope for the future.

Notes on PSU's newest depth chart

August, 26, 2013
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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.

Meet the run-ons: Slotback Von Walker 

February, 27, 2013
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Every weekday, as part of an ongoing series, NittanyNation will take a closer look at a Penn State walk-on.

Vitals: Slotback Von Walker, Mill Hall (Pa.) Central Mountain, 6-foot, 195 pounds.

Run-ons overview: Offense 

February, 11, 2013
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Here's a list -- complete with film and notes -- on Penn State's offensive run-ons.


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With the Super Bowl just a few hours away, NittanyNation decided to poll some of Penn State's committed run-ons to get their take on the game. We asked for them to give the winner, the score -- and their reasoning.

Overwhelmingly, it appears as if Penn State's preferred walk-ons believe the San Francisco 49ers will win the Super Bowl. And the consensus is by a field goal:
  • WR Gregg Garrity Jr., Wexford (Pa.) North Allegheny: 49ers, 27-17. No answer for Kaepernick and not enough weapons for Baltimore. San Fran will shut down Ray Rice, forcing them to pass. Flacco will have a long day.
  • QB Jack Seymour, Indianapolis (Ind.) Park Tudor: Ravens, 31-24. I think Flacco is a much better overall quarterback with a really efficient offense that played really well in the past playoff games. He's really stepped up and shown himself to be an elite quarterback. I also picked them because Ray Lewis will carry their defense and is their source of motivation. And he will stop at nothing to win. Ravens all the way! This will be San Francisco's first-ever loss in a Super Bowl!
  • WR Chris Geiss, Malvern (Pa.) Great Valley: 49ers, 27-24. I don't think the Ravens' D can stop the option.
  • OG Evan Galimberti, State College (Pa.): 49ers, 27-13. I just think the defense of the 'Niners is too good and Kaepernick could outrun the Ravens.
  • LS Sean Corcoran, Kankakee (Ill.) Bishop McNamara: 49ers, 27-24. I think their pistol offense is extremely dangerous, and I think their defense will be able to stop Ray Rice to make the Ravens too reliant on the pass game. But I'm still rooting for Corey Graham and Brendon Ayanbadejo on the Ravens because they're former Bears!
  • LB Kyle Searfoss, Lewisberry (Pa.) Red Land: 49ers, 24-17. Their defense is too good, and Colin Kaepernick is too good.
  • S Tom Pancoast, Kennett Square (Pa.) Unionville: 49ers, 24-21. Colin Kaepernick has a big game and wins Super Bowl MVP.
  • K Chris Gulla, Toms River (N.J.) Toms River North: Ravens, 24-21. I'm thinking a little game-winner from Justin Tucker.
  • RB Brian Tomasetti, Scranton (Pa.) Old Forge: Ravens, 24-20. Their defense is too good. Kaepernick is going to get shut down, and I believe Joe Flacco will have the game of his life. Position-by-position, I feel the Ravens are better -- especially at running back with Ray Rice. Also, Ray Lewis will not lose his last game.
  • RB Cole Chiappialle, Beaver Falls (Pa.) Blackhawk: 49ers, 27-24. As a diehard Steelers fan, I will be rooting for the 49ers. No way I will cheer for the Ravens!
  • SB Von Walker, Mill Hall (Pa.) Central Mountain: 49ers, 24-17. Ravens can't stop Gore running or the Kaepernick passing attack.
  • OT Austin Fiedler, Turbotville (Pa.) Warrior Run: No idea. I think the score for each team will be in the high 20s, and it will be very close -- within six points. OK, I don't really know who will win. Both teams have a lot going for them. The Ravens have the bigger fan base, and that will give somewhat of a homefield advantage. But, on the other hand, I think the 49ers are overall a more solid team. I can't wait to watch the game actually, even though I'm not a big NFL fan.
Christian HackenbergCourtesy of Charles Thomas/Fork UnionWith size and arm ability, Christian Hackenberg will be groomed as Penn State's QB of the future.

Two months ago, Penn State had just one committed quarterback -- and that seemed like a pressing issue that might take a while to resolve. With just one QB officially on the roster in Steven Bench, depth was obviously a concern.

Well, it certainly isn't anymore. Bill O'Brien garnered commitments from five players who'll compete at quarterback. And he also convinced four other players -- who were the starting quarterbacks on their respective teams -- to play at other positions at Penn State.

NittanyNation takes a closer look at all these signal-callers:

QUARTERBACKS WHO WILL STAY QBs

Christian Hackenberg, Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy
Stats: Passing -- 156-of-291; 2,144 yards, 24 TDs, 9 INTs. Rushing -- 89 carries, 436 yards, 3 TDs.
Status: Committed (scholarship)

Synopsis: He's the top-rated high school quarterback in the nation. He can make all the throws, has a great arm, and his potential is endless. He just needs to familiarize himself with the playbook and better learn to read defenses. Opposing coaches said he had difficulty picking up disguised coverages and blitzes. He's obviously Penn State's quarterback of the future.


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Q&A: Preferred walk-on Von Walker 

January, 22, 2013
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Von Walker (Mill Hall, Pa./Central Mountain) accepted a preferred walk-on offer from Penn State about a month ago, and he recently spoke with NittanyNation at length about his future with the Nittany Lions.


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Penn State will have several commits up for weekend visits, but this might be the most important Sunday of the year when it comes to potential preferred walk-ons.

NittanyNation has confirmed that at least eight players who were extended spots on the team as non-scholarship players will be in Happy Valley for "Run-on Day," which will take place from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Potential walk-ons -- or run-ons, as Bill O'Brien calls them -- will be broken into two groups and will take part in several tours or meetings.

According to recruits, they'll meet with the training staff, coaches and hear about academics. They'll also have lunch together but, due to NCAA rules, recruits will have to pay $10. One prospect said 10 or 11 players received an email with Sunday's itinerary.


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Coach talk: Walk-on Von Walker 

January, 15, 2013
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What kind of player is Penn State getting here in preferred walk-on Von Walker? And what can fans expect?

NittanyNation turned to one of the people who knows most what Walker is capable of on the field -- his high school coach at Mill Hall (Pa.) Central Mountain -- and asked what separates him as a player, how he first noticed Walker's ability and when he especially showcased his FBS potential.


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