Best of the best for PSU: Giger rates the top 5
Cory Giger’s look at the top five players on offense and defense, plus the unsung heroes and newcomers.
1. Allen Robinson
Height/Weight: 6-3, 210
2012 recap: He had only three catches in 2011, so no one could have predicted his enormous 2012 season. He caught a school-record 77 passes for 1,013 yards and 11 TDs and was named Big Ten Receiver of the Year
2013 preview: A terrific route runner who understands how to work in space, Robinson could see his overall stats drop this season for two reasons. He will be a primary focus of every defense, plus he doesn’t have an experienced quarterback like Matt McGloin to get him the ball. Still, Robinson will find a way to get open and continue to be the top wide receiver target.
2. Zach Zwinak
Position: Running back
Height/Weight: 6-1, 240
2012 recap: Had Silas Redd not transferred to USC, Zwinak would have been the fourth-string tailback last year. He wound up bypassing Bill Belton and Derek Day and had a huge year with 1,000 yards (4.9 average) and six TDs, plus 20 catches for 177 yards and a score.
2013 preview: He suffered a left wrist injury in the Blue-White Game but has recovered fully. He’s a bruising back who’s always pushing forward. In 203 carries last year, he lost a total of only 7 yards. His only weakness last year was fumble-itis. With an inexperienced new quarterback, Zwinak could be counted on to carry a major load for the offense.
3. John Urschel
Position: Right guard
Height/Weight: 6-3, 301
2012 recap: He was named first-team all-Big Ten last year and anchored PSU’s O-line. He also was named a first-team Academic All-American.
2013 preview: Urschel gets more notoriety for his brilliance in math than for football, but make no mistake about it, he is an outstanding lineman. He’s a 4.0 student who already has a accomplished so much academically – including a master’s degree – and his math prowess has garnered him tremendous exposure. But he has a mean streak to him that helps him excel on the football field, and he is a terrific leader. He represents everything that college athletics should be about.
4. Donovan Smith
Position: Left tackle
Height/Weight: 6-5, 322
2012 recap: He suffered a sprained ankle in week two at Virginia that caused him to miss two games, but he returned for Big Ten play. He was a solid performer who was able to protect the quarterback’s weak side, and he only got better as the season went along.
2013 preview: His role will be one of the more important on the offensive side. He’s in charge of protecting the quarterback’s weak side, and young signal callers often struggle feeling that pressure. Smith is a huge player who could turn into a superstar offensive line prospect if he masters the techniques to go along with his great size.
5. Kyle Carter
Position: Tight end
Height/Weight: 6-3, 243
2012 recap: He had one of the best seasons ever by a Penn State tight end with 36 catches for 453 yards and two TDs. He accomplished that despite playing in only nine games because of an ankle injury then a season-ending wrist injury.
2013 preview: He’s a terrific receiving target with outstanding hands and athleticism, and he’s perfectly suited for coach Bill O’Brien’s tight end-heavy offense. There’s a lot of talent on the team at tight end, and Carter will have to share catches with the rest of them. Collectively they will provide excellent short-yardage options for the young quarterback.
1. Adrian Amos
Height/Weight: 6-0, 215
2012 recap: He was honorable mention all-Big Ten after finishing eighth on the Lions with 44 tackles. He played cornerback last year and tied for second on the team with two interceptions to go along with 2 tackles for loss.
2013 preview: Arguably the team’s best all-around player, Amos is moving to safety but also is expected to see time at cornerback and even linebacker. He should have an opportunity to make more plays as a safety, where he can freelance, as opposed to being locked up on a receiver. He will be counted on to lead a defense that has several question marks.
2. Deion Barnes
Position: Defensive end
Height/Weight: 6-4, 245
2012 recap: He was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year after a banner season that saw him record six sacks, 14 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. He finished with 26 tackles (14 solo) and showed great explosiveness off the ball on his pass rush.
2013 preview: Barnes has said during the offseason that he should have had more sacks last year but noted he let some slip away after pressuring the quarterback in the backfield. He also has some work to do on his run defense. Those are nitpicking things, though, as he’s a superb talent who has a chance to be a special player by the time he leaves Penn State.
3. Mike Hull
Position: Outside linebacker
Height/Weight: 6-0, 227
2012 recap: He briefly considered transferring to Pitt when the sanctions were announced, but he’s glad he didn’t as he emerged as a big-play linebacker. He finished with four sacks, five tackles for loss and 58 tackles (34 solo). He also returned a fumble 74 yards for a TD at Virginia.
2013 preview: Hull has a chance to carry on the great Linebacker U tradition of the past decade as he’s a skilled, versatile player who finds a way to make a big impact. If he stays healthy, he should be on the field for just about every play, giving him a chance to pile up big statistics. The defense will need big plays, and Hull has as good of a chance as anyone to make them.
4. Glenn Carson
Position: Middle linebacker
Height/Weight: 6-3, 235
2012 recap: He finished third on the team with 85 tackles (40 solo), and he had one sack, three tackles for loss and three pass breakups. He started all 12 games and, while not a star, proved to be a steady, efficient middle linebacker.
2013 preview: Once again he will be counted on as the steadying force in the middle of the defense, but Carson needs to be more aggressive and force more big plays this season. He does a lot of good things but nothing really great, and for him to become a more productive linebacker he needs to force turnovers, get into the backfield or make other big plays.
5. DaQuan Jones
Position: Defensive tackle
Height/Weight: 6-3, 318
2012 recap: He started the first 11 games and finished with 22 tackles (eight solo), two tackles for loss and half a sack. He also recovered one fumble and broke up one pass.
2013 preview: Jones will be counted on to take a major step forward in helping solidify the defensive line. The Lions have had quite a run of outstanding defensive tackles in recent years with Jared Odrick, Devon Still and Jordan Hill, and Jones could be the next in line. He has a ways to go to get there, though, but if he lives up to his potential he could become a big force on the line and one of the better tackles in the Big Ten.
1. Jesse James
Position: Tight end
Height/Weight: 6-7, 257
2012 recap: He wasn’t much of a factor early last season, but he came on late and finished with 15 catches for 276 yards and, most importantly, five TDs. He caught a 41-yard score against Wisconsin that gave PSU a late lead.
2013 preview: He has as much potential as just about any player on the team, and in this offense, he could develop into a star. He’s a huge target, has great hands and has a knack for getting into the end zone. He very easily could have been ranked in my top five overall on offense, and by the end of the year he could be the team’s best tight end.
2. Brandon Felder
Height/Weight: 6-2, 200
2012 recap: He finished third on the team with 31 catches, which in any other year might have been close to the team lead, although Robinson had the huge year with 77 catches. Felder proved to be a reliable second receiver target with good hands.
2013 preview: His name is no longer Moseby-Felder, and he should be a big factor in the passing game. He gets overlooked because Robinson is so good and the younger receivers have a lot of potential, but Felder is a good possession receiver who works the middle of the field and makes the catches he’s supposed to make.
3. Sam Ficken
Height/Weight: 6-2, 184
2012 recap: It started out disastrously for Ficken, who missed four field goals and an extra point in a week two loss at Virginia. But he turned things around after that and finished up at 14-of-21 on field goals and 39-41 on PATs.
2013 recap: Ficken might seem like an odd addition to this list, but if he can keep kicking the way he did at the end of last season he could be a big factor. He will need to prove he can make field goals beyond 38 yards his long last season and if he does, it would give Bill O’Brien more scoring options on the fringe of the red zone.
4. Matt Lehman
Position: Tight end
Height/Weight: 6-6, 262
2012 recap: He finished fourth on the team with 24 catches last year for 296 yards and three TDs, although it should have been four as replays showed he did get into the end zone at Nebraska on a play that was ruled a fumble.
2013 preview: Lehman is yet another big tight end target, meaning he will be yet another safety valve on short routes for the young quarterback. He’s the epitome of an unsung hero as he began his career at Shippensburg before transferring to PSU and earning a spot on the team through a tryout. Now he’s a major contributor on offense.
5. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong
Height/Weight: 5-10, 205
2012 recap: He started all 12 games and finished with 41 tackles (12 solo), four pass breakups and 2 tackles for loss.
2013 preview: Obeng-Agyapong could turn out to be one of the more versatile players on the team if indeed he is used at linebacker, as Bill O’Brien has mentioned several times. He’s a big hitter who is good against the run, so he could handle time at linebacker if he’s needed. O’Brien also has said Adrian Amos could play some linebacker, but that would be primarily in nickel packages. If a starting linebacker goes down, Obeng-Agyapong could fill in there, and he’s also a solid defensive back.
1. Christian Hackenberg
Height/Weight: 6-4, 220
2012 recap: He was one of the top quarterback recruits in the country out of Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. He completed 53.6 percent of his passes for 2,144 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
2013 preview: He may or may not start the opener, but if Hackenberg is as good as everyone says he is, he should win the starting job at some point and have a chance to develop his skills as a true freshman. Learning how to read defenses is key for all young quarterbacks, and one knock on Hackenberg was that he struggled with that at times in high school. Still, he has great physical skills, and if he can live up to the hype, he should turn out to be a very good quarterback for PSU.
2. Tyler Ferguson
Height/Weight: 6-3, 213
2012 recap: He started for College of the Sequoias, a junior college in California, and put up impressive numbers. He threw for a school-record 2,614 yards and also for 22 touchdowns in 10 games. He averaged 261 yards per game and had one game with 481 yards and six TDs.
2013 preview: While everyone has been talking about Hackenberg being Penn State’s quarterback of the future, Ferguson has battled neck and neck in training camp and very well could start the opener against Syracuse. If he does, he should have a good grasp of the overall offense since he went through spring drills.
3. Nyeem Wartman
Position: Outside linebacker
Class: Redshirt freshman
Height/Weight: 6-1, 241
2012 recap: He played in the first two games last year, but a knee injury suffered on the opening kickoff at Virginia ended his season. He was able to get a redshirt, so he still has four years of eligibility.
2013 preview: It’s cheating a bit including Wartman in the newcomers category, but he is still a freshman since he got such limited playing time last year. Wartman is a starting linebacker and has drawn good reviews from Bill O’Brien, but he is still inexperienced and has a lot to learn. Much is expected from him, and he will have to produce since there’s little depth behind him.
4. Akeel Lynch
Position: Running back
Height/Weight: 6-0, 211
2012 recap: Lynch redshirted and wasn’t needed with Zach Zwinak coming on strong and having such a big year.
2013 preview: He’s not a bruising back like Zwinak or a small, shifty back like Bill Belton, but Lynch is sort of in between. Having all three different types of backs gives Penn State a lot of options. Lynch is a good runner with good feet and vision and can catch the ball out of the backfield.
5. Adam Breneman
Position: Tight end
Height/Weight: 6-4, 235
2012 recap: Breneman missed his senior season of high school after suffering a knee injury. He enrolled early at PSU but was held out of contact drills during the spring.
2013 preview: The Lions are loaded at tight end, and they’ll be even better with Breneman, the No. 1 recruit in the country at the position. He might have to wait his turn to make a big impact with three good players in front of him, but he’s already good friends with Christian Hackenberg, so that should help their rapport on the field.