2008 Penn State Preview - Offense
Penn State WR Deon Butler
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Penn State Nittany Lion Offense
Preview 2008 - Offense
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What you need to know: Everything is in place to be really,
really good. The line could be the best in a conference full of
terrific front fives, the receiving trio of Derrick Williams,
Jordan Norwood and Deon Butler might not be the be-all-end-all,
but it's among the nation's most experienced corps and will be
solid, and the running back tandem of Evan Royster and
speed-demon Stephfon Green will likely be an upgrade. It all
comes down to the quarterback play. Anthony Morelli tried hard,
but he wasn't efficient and he didn't do enough to make the
offense special, so his loss isn't all that big a deal. Daryll
Clark is a mobile veteran with plenty of upside, while Pat
Devlin is the one-time superstar recruit who's the quarterback
of the future, and possibly the present. The coaching staff will
work a bit more with a spread attack to get the ball in the
hands of the receivers on shorter, quicker patterns, but the
quarterback have the ability to air it out when needed.
Passing: Daryll Clark
6-9, 31 yds
Rushing: Evan Royster
82 carries, 513 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Deon Butler
47 catches, 633 yds, 4 TD
Star of the offense: Senior WR Derrick Williams
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OG Stefen Wisniewski
Best pro prospect: Wisniewski
Top three all-star candidates: 1) C A.Q. Shipley, 2) Wisniewski, 3) OG Rich Ohrnberger
Strength of the offense: Line, wide receivers
Weakness of the offense:
backup receivers and linemen
Projected Starter: It'll be an interesting
quarterback controversy going into the fall, but senior
Daryll Clark appears to have the slight edge with his
combination of size, speed, and experience, limited as it might
be, making him an interesting option. He only completed six of
nine passes for 31 yards, but he took over the Alamo Bowl
against Texas A&M and ran for 50 yards and a touchdown as he
showed off his rushing skills in leading the Nittany Lions to
the win. He's 6-2 and 231 pounds with a live arm, and if he can
show he can be efficient on his short to midrange passes, he'll
be the main man.
Projected Top Reserve: Sophomore Pat Devlin
was a big recruit a few years ago and now is being given every
shot to win the starting job. While he's nowhere near as mobile
as Clark, he has 6-4, 222-pound size and a next-level arm that
can put the ball anywhere on the field. There was a though that
he was going to come in and start right away in 2006, but he has
been groomed over the last few years to be ready for this year.
Very smart and very talented, he'll likely be the star for the
offense next year if he doesn't take over the full-time starting
job this season.
Joe Paterno says senior Paul Cianciolo is still in the
mix for the starting job, but he seems to be the only one who
thinks that way. Cianciolo is a very smart veteran backup who is
in grad school and has been a good pitcher for the baseball
team, but the 6-4, 219-pounder will be strictly an emergency
Watch Out For ... Clark to be another Michael
Robinson. Robinson was a talented runner who put it all together
in a fantastic senior year as he led the Nittany Lions to the
Orange Bowl in 2005. Clark is the same type of big, tough
veteran who can run and appears to be on the verge of becoming a
Strength: Big arms. Clark can throw the ball a
ton, and Devlin has an even better arm. The offense is changing
up a bit and these two aren't going to be airing it out all that
often, but the ability is there to go deep at any time.
Weakness: Speculation. For a team good enough to win the Big Ten
title, not having a clear-cut starting quarterback could be an
issue. It's not like Paterno and Penn State haven't dealt with
this in the past, but it would be nice if there was a definitive
pecking order to work around.
Outlook: Considering there's no real experience
among the starting options, the situation isn't all that bad.
The key will be who can consistently hit the short to midrange
passes and not turn the ball over. Clark will likely end up
being the No. 1 guy, but Devlin won't be far behind and will
almost certainly see meaningful playing time throughout the
Projected Starters: 6-1, 212-pound
sophomore Evan Royster might not be all that flashy and
he isn't going to come up with too many highlights, but he's a
talented, quick back who can run between the tackles just as
easily as he can bounce it outside. He finished second on the
team with 513 yards and five touchdowns, averaging an impressive
6.3 yards per carry, and he caught three passes for 18 yards. He
took over the running game in the middle of the season,
highlighted by a 126-yard, one touchdown day in the win over
Purdue before suffering a banged up ankle, and he came up with
65 yards and a score on just nine carries in the win over Texas
Projected Top Reserves: While Royster is the best
all-around running back on the roster, and the one who'll get
the most meaningful work, Penn State fans will all be on the
edge of their seats every time Stephfon Green is in. A
5-10, 189-pound bolt of lightning, the redshirt freshman has
created a big-time buzz with his big runs in practice, and now
he'll be used as a change of pace to bring more speed to the
Brent Carter started out last year as a safety and saw a
little bit of time, with the one highlight a fumble recovery
against FIU, and then he was moved over to running back halfway
through the season. The 6-2, 211-pound sophomore finished with
43 yards on 11 carries at his more natural position, and he'll
be part of the rotation to keep Royster and Green fresh.
When the offense uses a fullback, it'll be up to 6-2, 244-pound
senior Dan Lawlor to step in after he came up with a nice
year filling in for Matt Hahn, who suffered a knee injury midway
through the year. Lawlor only ran for 37 yards with a touchdown
and caught one pass for nine yards, but he's a solid blocker.
The star of the 2008 recruiting class, 6-0, 212-pound Brandon
Beachum, got to school early and could see time right away.
A physical runner with great quickness, he fits the Penn State
mold of running back and will get every shot to win a job in the
rotation this fall. In a perfect world he's able to redshirt,
but he might be too good to keep off the field.
Watch Out For ... Green. It's not like Royster can't
move, he's plenty fast, but Green is the one who'll get the
crowd moving. He's not the disciplined, dependable runner
Royster is, but he'll be the highlight-reel runner.
Strength: Size. Penn State has a type of back that
seems to work well for its style of play. Royster, Carter and
Beachum are all thick, 210ish-pound runners with the quickness
to get through the line and the toughness to pound away for hard
yards. Even Green, for a speed back, has good size.
Weakness: Catching the ball. The backs aren't asked to do too
much in the passing game, even though Rodney Kinlaw made 21
grabs last year. Green needs to create a role for himself as a
possible third down specialist, but none of the backs has done
much for the passing game so far. Then again, Green, Carter and
Beachum are new to the mix.
Outlook: There are plenty of excellent options to
keep things moving. If one goes down, or isn't producing,
there's another good back ready to take over. Throw in WR
Derrick Williams in the mix from time to time, and there's
speed, power, and talent throughout the backfield.
Projected Starters: Fine, so senior
Derrick Williams isn't going to be transcendent superstar
everyone assumed he was going to become when he was the nation's
top recruit a few years ago, but if you don't go by the hype, he
hasn't been all that bad. He led the team with 55 catches for
529 yards and three touchdowns, but for a guy with 4.3 speed and
6-0, 194-pound size, averaging 9.6 yards per catch is a joke.
Also used in the running game, he was fine, but again, he's
supposed to be a home run hitter and averaged just 6.3 yards per
carry on 16 runs. The one thing he's been really good at is
returning punts, averaging 11 yards per try last season. Now the
idea is to stop expecting him to be a deep threat, and to try to
get him the ball on the move where he can do something with it
by putting him in the slot. The hope is that he can be a
Forever known for not being Derrick Williams, but for actually
becoming the better of the two receivers, is former walk-on
defensive back Deon Butler, a 5-10, 168-pound senior who
has made 132 career catches for 1,961 yards and 15 touchdowns
with 47 grabs for 633 yards and four scores last season.
With enough speed to be used as a deep threat, and
reliable hands, he's a true number one, go-to receiver, and now
he has to score more. He only had one touchdown catch over the
first 10 games, and then he caught one in each of the final
Senior Jordan Norwood has spent his career as a strong
third man in the mix seeing plenty of time in three-wide sets
and in a rotation. He has 85 career catches for 956 yards and
seven touchdowns, and is coming off his best season yet with 40
grabs for 484 yards and five scores despite not catching a pass
in the final two games. Extremely quick, he's great at making
things happen on the move, and he should thrive with the change
to the shorter-range passing game.
While Andrew Quarless remains in the doghouse, 6-4, 251-pound
junior Mickey Shuler, son of the former NFL tight end by
the same name, will be the first option. He's not a great
receiver like Quarless, but he's not bad making seven catches
for 91 yards and a touchdown last year. He's a good blocker who,
at the very least, will see plenty of action in two tight end
sets, and is a more than capable starting option.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior tight end Andrew
Quarless has pro potential with good speed, athleticism and
hands in a 6-5, 250-pound frame. He caught 14 passes last season
for 205 yards and two touchdowns and is a proven matchup
nightmare with too much downfield speed for most linebackers,
but now he has to get back in the mix after being suspended from
the team thanks to a DUI charge.
Even when Quarless is back, 6-6, 252-pound redshirt freshman
Andrew Szczerba will play a big role after coming up with
a great off-season. He has fantastic hands and moves like a
wideout, considering his size. The 2006 Delaware Gatorade Player
of the Year was a star high school defensive end as well as a
tight end, and he should soon make a big impact.
Needing to show something positive this year to put him in the
hunt for a starting job next season is James McDonald, a
6-2, 198-pound senior who looks the part with good size and nice
athleticism, but he made just one catch for 10 yards in mop-up
time. He's a hard worker who'll do what he needs to for more
playing time behind Williams.
One of the most interesting targets could soon be 6-6, 235-pound
junior Brett Brackett, a big former quarterback who made
one catch for 16 yards and was a good special teamer. While he's
a limited athlete, he's tough, has great size, and he could be a
matchup problem playing behind Butler.
Watch Out For ... the receivers to be asked to become
bigger playmakers on their own. The coaching staff is tinkering
around with the offense and will try to get the ball to the
veteran receivers on shorter patterns, but on the move. There
might not bee as many field-stretching deep balls, even though
the quarterbacks can air it out.
Strength: Experience and speed. Butler, Williams
and Norwood have been around forever, and they've done a good
job of growing into their roles. However, they didn't make a big
jump up in overall production last year and they didn't make
Anthony Morelli better, and vice versa. Now they'll need to be
Weakness: Backup wide receivers. Terrell Golden was always a
nice fourth option to throw into the mix with the three
established starters. Now there's no one, absolutely no one, the
offense can count on right away outside of the big three.
Developing a few new targets is vital going into next year.
Outlook: By now, everyone knows what Williams,
Butler and Norwood can do. They're all solid, they can all step
up and be the main man when needed, and they'll all produce.
They're not going to blow anyone away, but they're good,
reliable receivers who'll be a major plus for the new starting
quarterback. The tight end situation is excellent with or
without Andrew Quarless.
Projected Starters: All five starters
return to the line with one big twist. The 6-3, 288-pound
sophomore Stefen Wisniewski, the nephew of former Penn State star
and longtime NFL starter, Steve, saw time as a true freshman and was
fantastic when he got the chance, starting the Indiana game and working
as a strong backup the rest of the way. Now he has pushed Mike Lucian
out of the job, and even on a line full of talented, established
veterans, he's considered the best talent of the bunch.
Wisniewski might be the star, but this is A.Q. Shipley's line.
The 6-1, 297-pound senior center was an All-Big Ten performer last year
and has been the rock up front for the last two seasons starting every
game. The former defensive lineman was originally considered a guard,
but he has turned into an anchor at center and the leader of the solid
Back at right tackle after starting every game is 6-4, 309-pound junior
Dennis Landolt, an excellent pass protector has worked his way
into becoming a solid, reliable blocker. Great on the move, he should be
even better if Wisniewski plays as expected at guard. He can play either
tackle spot as needed.
Returning to his spot at left guard is Rich Ohrnberger, who
started 12 games on the left side and one, against Iowa, on the left,
and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. The 6-2, 291-pound senior
wasn't a dominant blocker before last year, and then he became a pounder
for the running game. Experienced, tough, and one of the team's most
popular players, he has become a good one.
Senior Gerald Cadogan took over for Levi Brown and did a great
job at left tackle, starting every game after playing mostly at left
guard the year before. One of the team's best players in the classroom,
he's a smart, talented all-around blocker with 6-5, 314-pound size and
quick feet. He's a great athlete for his size and can be a bruiser when
he has to.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Mike Lucian
was a key starter throughout last year at both guard spots spending most
of his time on the right side. While he was very good, especially for
the running game, he's now Stefen Wisniewski. Lucian, a 6-2,
290-pound former defensive end, can still play guard if needed, but
he'll move over and work mostly behind Shipley at center.
6-5, 309-pound sophomore Lou Eliades was neck-and-neck
with Rich Ohrnberger for a starting guard job last year, but
lost out and ended up getting hurt with a broken foot. Now he'll
work at right tackle behind Landolt, but he could quickly move
inside and play either guard spot.
Watch Out For ... Wisniewski. Shipley and Ornberger
will earn All-Big Ten honors, and Landolt and Cadogan will
get their share of looks for the post-season all-star teams, but
Wisniewski is about to become the main man and one of the Big
Ten's most dominant guards. He's that good.
Strength: Experience among the starters. Five
starters return, not including Wisniewski, from a line that was
a rock in pass protection all season long and consistent for the
running game. If everyone stays healthy, this should be among
the Big Ten's best lines.
Weakness: The backups. Lucian will be a godsend throughout the
year as the coaching staff will put him where needed, but it's
uh-oh time if there are major injury issues, especially at
tackle. There are plenty of good guards who should be able to
fill in without a problem, but there will be some major
reshuffling done if Landolt or Cadogan go down.
Outlook: The line paved the way for 194 rushing
yards per game, and if it's Daryll Clark under center, the
offense will crank out well over 200 yards per outing behind
this group. Pass protection is hardly a problem, even though the
tackles are very good, and not next-level superior. This is a
talented, smart, experienced line that'll be the reason the
Nittany Lions win a few games. Few defensive lines will be able
hold their own for a full 60 minutes against this group. The big
task will be preparing for next year by getting several new
players prepared to take over at key spots.