Penn State Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
Penn State Nittany Lions
Posted Aug 5, 2006

Penn State Nittany Lions Preview 2006 - Further Analysis

1st and Ten – The Deuce – The PSU faithful have seen some offensive talent in Happy Valley, but maybe not anyone like Derrick Williams.  This young man has the potential to be the most dynamic game-breaker the Nittany Lions have ever seen.  Sure, Ki-Jana Carter was the number one pick in the 1995 draft and others like Bobby Engram, OJ McDuffie and Curt Warner were offensive threats who defenses had trouble stopping.  But, the deuce is a weapon who is completely and radically different from any of those players.  Part receiver, part running back, full-time game breaker - the immediate comparison is to last year’s Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, in large part due to the offensive versatility and inability to fully ‘define’ either one.  Receiver?  Running back?  Both?  Now, Bush was more running back last season than he’d been in his previous two seasons, and that might end up being the minute difference between the two.  But, Williams is more than just a ‘wide receiver’.  Offensive coordinator Galen Hall used Williams in a multitude of ways last season and it wouldn’t even be surprising to see him line up in the gun at QB alongside Tony Hunt and/or Austin Scott and run some gun option or zone read action as a change up, considering that Williams did play some QB in high school (and, of course, how successful the QB run game was last year with Michael Robinson).  Regardless, the comparison to Bush isn’t meant to put undue pressure on Williams but rarely has there been a player, like Bush, that when he has the ball in his hands, the whole stadium holds its collective breath.  Williams has that same effect.  He will need his touches, though, approximately 13 to 15 in a game, but that’s 4 to 5 receptions, and 9 to 10 carries in a game in some capacity – completely attainable.  The question of how well Anthony Morelli will perform at QB is prevalent and will follow this team all year long, but the Nittany Lions also have a healthy Williams who can take the spotlight off the strong armed junior.

2nd and Seven – Open season – The biggest strength becomes the biggest question mark.  That is the story of the secondary in 2006 for the Nittany Lions.  The back four that roamed the nether regions of the defense last season was as good as any secondary, if not the best secondary in the nation last season.  That foursome, Alan Zemaitis, Calvin Lowry, Anwar Phillips and Chris Harrell, really could do it all and rarely were beaten in any respect.  But, with success comes eventual graduation, you just hope that graduation doesn’t occur all at the same time.  Drats.  With all four of them off to collect a paycheck next season, the defensive backs have more inexperience than any other unit in the Big Ten and a massive bullseye on their back.  However, Justin King will play corner this year and he got experience actually playing both sides of the ball last season.  The other spots will take some time to grow into their roles.  Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley may need to coddle them by playing more zone, allowing them to be aggressive, without being on an island too much.  He just doesn’t want, or need, it to be open season on his Lion cubs in the secondary.

3rd and Three – What can Brown do for you? – It could be worse.  The offensive line loses four starters from a line that improved each and every week.  That unit adjusted well to the changes that Galen Hall had installed in the Nittany Lions offense in 2005.  Do all that work and they all leave?  Well, all but one, and a great one at that.  Levi Brown returns to the left tackle spot after a season in which he was voted first team All-Big Ten.  All he and his line did last year was open holes for his backs to average 5.1 yards per carry and yield only 14 sacks.  Brown was the best lineman in that unit but will be that much more important in 2006.  The Nittany Lion backs are tough enough to run between the tackles, but given the speed they possess, include Williams in that assessment as well, it’s that much more important for Brown to dominate the edge, giving them downhill running lanes.  For as good as the backs are, Brown will make them look that much better.  See, Brown doing for you, just like the commercial says.

4th and One – Similar differences – In 2005, the Ohio State Buckeyes’ defense was led by a trio of linebackers who were without peer as a group.  In 2006, the Penn State Nittany Lions’ defense will be led by a trio of linebackers who are without peer as a group (although the sirens are going off in Blacksburg and LA after that comment).  It’s hard to dispute the similarities in these two units, though.  Paul Posluszny is the most notable and recognizable of the Nittany Lion trio, as AJ Hawk was last season.  Dan Connor is a burly, hard nosed and aggressive stud who might actually be a better NFL prospect, similar to how Bobby Carpenter was perceived last year.  Tim Shaw is the overshadowed one of the bunch, but when it comes to making plays, Shaw can and does, just like Anthony Schlegel.  Whereas the Buckeye trio’s myriad of physical skills allowed the Buckeye defensive coaching staff to take some chances, blitz more and be a bit more aggressive, Bradley may have to hold back a bit with the ‘youthful’ secondary behind the Nittany Lion linebackers.  If the Pos, Connor and Shaw have to sit in the box and play smashmouth for a full 60 minutes, instead of blitzing every other down, they’re not ‘skeered’ – they’ll swap paint with the best in the Big Ten willingly.  Consequently, the success of this defense last year was the defensive line keeping all three of these guys free to roam to the ball and make tackles, especially Posluszny.

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