Smith’s Slant: Watch Them Unravel You

Story posted September 1, 2012 in Sports, CommRadio by Dan Smith

There will be football in State College this fall.

It will be different, vastly different. But it will at least allow for a new beginning. The players, coaches and staff of Penn State's football team have had to watch as so much around them has been torn down. They did nothing wrong and could do nothing to stop it.

It was a passive role. If they could have made pleas to the NCAA, there is no doubt that they would have. If they could have done something, anything, to control their fate, they would have. But since losing the Ticket City Bowl on January 1, the Nittany Lions have found themselves in a situation that left them with almost no options.

Some can only take losing control for so long, and nine players took one of the few opportunities they were given, electing to transfer without penalty. Some transferred home, like kicker/punter Anthony Fera. Some transferred to opportunities to compete for a national championship, like running back Silas Redd and wide receiver Justin Brown. They were unable to handle the passive role anymore, and it is hard to find any fault with the young men who took this option.

But those who remained will be rewarded for their first true opportunity to take control tomorrow as Penn State plays its first game of the 2012 season.

It is a new beginning in almost every sense of the word. It is the start of the Bill O'Brien era. It is the first game in which Penn State can earn an NCAA-recognized win since 1997. It is the next chapter after a media circus of a 2011 season and a nightmarish offseason.

And it is finally a time for temporary relief from discussion morals, sanctions, trials and legacies. We can now actually talk about the football for a little while.

With a new coaching staff comes a new offensive scheme, and for most Penn State fans, even the most fervent Joe Paterno fans, that is a relief. While the personnel in place may not be ideal for the system O'Brien brings with him from New England, it is hard to argue that it will not be better than the antiquated system Paterno and his staff had continued to run in recent years.

Paterno's indecision over the quarterback position is also a thing of the past; O'Brien named redshirt senior Matt McGloin the starting quarterback months ago, allowing the first team the opportunity to practice with one signal caller and for McGloin to establish a rhythm he has never been offered before. While sophomore Paul Jones is considered more athletically gifted, it seems that an inability to learn the offense quickly enough made McGloin the obvious choice. While most observers will note that McGloin's skill set is somewhat limited, he has certainly seemed thrilled by the opportunities O'Brien is giving him in the new offense, and a marginal improvement in this system from McGloin will go a long way towards smoothing the transition from one system to the next.

With Redd moving on, Bill Belton steps in as the number one back. Belton played wide receiver under Paterno, which puzzled O'Brien, who moved Belton to running back almost as soon as the team begin conducting workouts. The team is hoping that Belton's skills are as similar to Redd's on gameday as they have been in practice.

The biggest question marks on offense will be at the wide receiver and tight end positions. In a passing offense like O'Brien's, having good route runners is critical, and the players on the roster at these positions are largely inexperienced. Still, there is hope that Garry Gilliam can step up at tight end and stay healthy, and wide out Allen Robinson has impressed the coaching staff as he moves to the top position on the depth chart.

The offensive line, while lacking experience, is the beneficiary of a new strength and conditioning program that replaces the frankly weak program Paterno had employed. There is a lot of potential in this group, and left tackle Donovan Smith looks poised to live up to the hype.

Defensively, the front seven looks great. Jordan Hill and Gerald Hodges seem prepared to have monster senior seasons, and despite losing Khairi Fortt to transfer, both units still maintain solid depth.

The questions on defense will be in the secondary. Cornerback Adrian Amos has remained at his position despite some attempts to transition him to safety, and he and Stephon Morris should hold their own. But Malcolm Willis was torched by Houston's wideouts in January, and the battle between Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Jacob Fagnano has not resulted in either player stepping up and making a clear case.

There are lots of questions, and some will be answered this Saturday. Some will be answered in the coming weeks, and some may take years to answer.

But at least we get to talk about football again.

 

Dan Smith is a senior majoring in Broadcast Journalism and is the Executive Editor of ComRadio. To contact him, email des5249@psu.edu.