Friday, August 12, 2005

Ready to Send Joe to the Grave? Think Again (Part 2- Defense and Special Teams)

Last year's "team motto" was "One Hungry Pride". Well, to say the least, it was accurate. The Penn State defense was hungry, while the offense starved. The stellar performance of the defense was what kept Penn State in several games last season and gives us all hope for this season. It is simply amazing how good the defense was last season. They spent more time on the field than any of the other top defensive units in the country. Penn State was the only team in the country to give up 21 points or less in every game last season. I would like to meet the man who coined the phrase "Defense wins championships". Apparantly you need some semblance of an offense since a terrific defense couldn't even get Penn State a winning season.

The Lions return just about everyone on defense. The only notable losses are FS Andrew Guman and reserve DT Ed Johnson. However, his replacement, Chris Harrell, may be even more talented after playing regularly 2001-2003 before a neck injury forced him to redshirt last season. Johnson was kicked out of school but there is a possiblity that he may return in 2006, when his presence would really be missed. Penn State rotates three defensive ends into the game- Tamba Hali, Matthew Rice and Lavon Chisley. Jay Alford, who will be the only returning starter on the DL next season, and Scott Paxson will be back as the starters at DT.

Penn State's depth at linebacker is absolutely incredible. Freshman All-American Dan Connor, junior Paul Posluszny will start on the outside and Tim Shaw will be at MLB once again. Connor and Poz are both potential All-American candidates and anchor one of the nation's best, and most underrated, linebacking corps in the nation. Tyrell Sales, Dontey Brown and freshman Jerome Hayes along with a handful of others give Penn State a plethora of options to mix in with the three regulars. Sales, a converted DE, is expected to challenge Tim Shaw for his starting spot. I look for this group to anchor the defense and the resurgence of Penn State as "Linebacker U."

Penn State's defensive secondary is much like the linebackers in that they were a productive and underrated group last season. Penn State was one of the top teams in the country at defending the pass last season. Alan Zemaitis is Penn State's best cornerback in years. Unfortunately he still gets little respect from the media but the way offensive coordinators and quarterbacks avoid throwing his way speak for itself. He is a projected first round pick. Penn State's other starting corner is Anwar Phillips. A lot of PSU fans knocked on him prior to last season but Phillips stepped up and had a terrific junior season, replacing NFL draft pick Rich Gardner. A lot of scouts seem to be high on Phillips, some think he has a better NFL upside than Zemaitis. Calvin Lowery returns at Hero. He's a decent player but is probably the weakest of the starters in the defensive backfield. He gets beaten on a few too many plays and hopefully will not be returning punts with some of the speedy freshmen expected not to redshirt. Chris "Hitman" Harrell hits hard and will force wide receivers and running backs to fear going across the middle. I see him as an improvement over Andrew Guman. Justin King will be the nickelback in addition to seeing time as the slot receiver.

Penn State's special teams should be in for an improvement this season. With all of the speed added with the latest class, expect to hear the names Derrick Williams, Justin King, Knowledge Timmons and Lydell Sargeant on punt and kick returns. Kicker Robbie Gould struggled miserably last season after starting off his career well. His misses cost the Lions several games last season. Gould is being replaced by true freshman Kevin Kelly. Kelly is supposed to have a very good leg and accuracy and earned the rare honor for a kicker at Penn State of coming in on scholarship. He will battle freshman walk-on Matt Walderon and also Patrick Humes. Jeremy Kapinos is one of the country's most underrated punters. He bailed Penn State's anemic offense out of several difficult situations last season.

I expect Penn State to finish either 8-3 or 9-2. The first three against South Florida, Cincinnati and Central Michigan are easy victories. The game at Northwestern and the next week against Minnesota will decide how the season goes. Two wins and Penn State should be a lock for a New Year's Day (January 2nd this year). One loss still leaves the possibility for a "good season" and two losses could make reaching a bowl a difficult task. If the Lions are 5-0 going into the night game, national TV game against Ohio State (I will be in attendance), the team will be absolutely jacked and a victory could do big things for recruiting and the season. Michigan is the only game I feel PSU has little chance of winning. The Ilinois game is an easy victory. Purdue is the last real challenge on the schedule and then the Lions finish with a home game against Wisconsin and then after a week off, they travel to East Lansing to face Michigan State. For now, I'll say losses to Michigan and Purdue and a win against the Buckeyes. And it will feel darn good to see the Lions take the field in Florida again on January 2nd.


Blogger R. D. Baker said...

I'm just reminding everyone on behalf of Brian at MGoBlog that you need to get your Preseason BlogPoll Ballot in soon

If you have not registered your blog with the ballot system, the form is here:
(register under your blog name so Brian can keep track)

The instructions for the ballot are here:

The actual ballot is here:

- R.D (Cheap Seats/Double T Ranch)

Saturday, August 20, 2005  

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