Spring Game Recap: Defense and Special Teams

Story posted April 21, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Matt Lawrence

Just five months removed from capping off a memorable 2012 campaign with a 24-21 OT victory over Wisconsin, the Penn State football team returned to Beaver Stadium this afternoon for the annual Blue White spring game. As was the case last year in Bill O’Brien’s inaugural spring game, the game pitted the offense (White) against the defense (Blue) with a revised scoring system. Numerous starters were held out of Saturday's scrimmage with the defense winning 67-47. In the second part of the Blue White recap, we focus on the defense and special teams for the Nittany Lions.

Defensive Line: There will not be a more critical unit for Penn State in 2013 than the defensive line. With limited depth at linebacker, it will be up to the front four to really control the run game. Massive defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, who hopes to fill in for future NFL tackle Jordan Hill, did not play yesterday but Larry Johnson will look to Jones to anchor the line.

Overall, the line forced nine sacks, which equated to 28 points for the Blue team under the new scoring system. The guy who made the biggest impact was senior defensive end Brad Bars. The converted linebacker recorded two sacks and appeared to really be battling for a starting spot. Penn State in the past has had success converting outside linebackers into a pass rushing end role, most notably Tim Shaw nearly 10 years ago.

C.J. Olanyian, Evan Schwan, and Austin Johnson also recorded 2 sacks apiece for the Blue squad.

Linebackers: There was not much to see here as far as linebackers go since projected starters Glen Carson and Mike Hull did not participate or only saw limited snaps. Hull was recognized at halftime for being awarded as a co-recipient of the Frank Patrick Total Commitment Memorial Award.

“Mike is one of the best football players on this team,” head coach Bill O’Brien said after the game. “He’s a tough guy, he’s a smart guy, and we just can’t say enough about Mike Hull.”

Carson and Hull will lead the linebacker corps in 2013.

Secondary: After losing Stephon Morris to graduation, and having Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong held out of action, there were new faces abound across the secondary. The group produced two interceptions equating to 14 points for the Blue team.

Sophomore Jordan Lucas, who saw some time on special teams and at cornerback last year as a true freshman, impressed at his boundary corner position. He had a beautiful pass break up defending Geno Lewis near the end zone in the third corner, and overall was the most impressive performer amongst the members of the secondary. Lucas projects to back-up Adrian Amos, who also saw limited snaps.

Special Teams: This was one of the areas that concerned fans the most heading into 2013 after Sam Ficken’s slow start last year. Despite reports that Ficken had shown vast improvements throughout the spring, Ficken missed on a 37-yard field goal attempt, his only attempt of the game.

Punts and kick-offs were eliminated from the actual game as they were worked on for a ten-minute period before the start of the game. Amos, converted cornerback Trevor Williams, and true freshman Richy Anderson were the three main punt and kick returners during that period. Senior punter Alex Butterworth caught the attention of many after booming numerous punts in the practice session.

“I think the kicking game has really improved,” O’Brien said. “I know that Sam Ficken is an improved kicker since the Wisconsin game, so I have confidence in him.”

“I also think that Alex Butterworth at the beginning, punted the ball really well and he’s improved from last year.”

New Defensive Coordinator John Butler: Ted Roof departed following the 2012 season to become the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, his alma mater, leading to Butler's promotion as defensive coordinator. There was not much to work off of based on the spring game because the defense sat in a base 4-3 for much of the game, and stunts and blitzes were severely limited. However, by all accounts, Butler will not be as aggressive as Roof in terms of multiple blitzes.

Matt Lawrence is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism and economics. To contact him, email mdl5249@psu.edu.