The annual Blue White football scrimmage is slated for this Saturday and anxious Penn State football fans have been chomping at the bit to get their eyes on this year’s squad. The expectations for the 2011 team are very high as the talent that can be placed on the field this September should resemble that of the 2005 Orange Bowl team.
Here are the top 10 most anticipated elements of the 2011 football team as we head into the BW game this Saturday and the summer practice schedule.
10. Strength and Conditioning -The 2010 Penn State squad was plagued with injuries throughout the season. They also seemed to be worn down by the strength of opponents who barreled through the defense at times. There already have been a series of injuries to the 2011 squad most notably to Curtis Drake and Pete Massaro. Strength training comes with age. A young Penn State squad last season should be able to push their weight around this fall. Oh the difference a year makes. A healthy and strong Penn State squad should be tough to handle in 2011. The question is if they can stay healthy.
9. Schedule -Penn State has arguably one of the toughest schedules in the country this season. The early arrival of what should be a pre-season top 5 Alabama squad as well as road matches against Dan Persa at Northwestern and then back to back trips against Ohio State and Wisconsin should be a great challenge. Not to mention the always trouble some Hawkeyes and the newest conference opponent Nebraska who should fair quite well in the Big Ten in 2011. If Penn State can take down Alabama and build confidence there is no reason to think this team can’t be 8-0 when Nebraska comes to Happy Valley.
8. Red Zone Offense - Penn State lost Mr. Dependable, Colin Wagner, and now is searching for a new kicker to step up to the plate. Penn State has been atrocious in the Red Zone lately and without a dependable kicker things could be interesting if they can’t convert touchdowns.
7. Paterno’s Retirement – As much as we are tired of talking about Joe Pa and his retirement it should be noted that the 2010 post season has seen more action by assistant coaches looking to jump ship than ever before. If the 2011 season produces another 7-6 team you better believe that those same coaches will be looking elsewhere for employment. We will also hear the return of Joe must Go. I guarantee it. Joe has always said that he wants to leave a young good program in the hands of his predecessor. Looking at this year’s team and what’s to come. can you think of a better opportunity?
6. Open up the Ware-House -We have been following Brandon Ware since his recruitment by Larry Johnson and have established him as somewhat of an American Folktale. He is the Paul Bunyan of Penn State football. All we have heard of Brandon is this “mammoth” (his nickname in high school) defensive tackle who could terrorize running backs with his lateral movements and strength. His weight issues became legendary, arriving to Penn State at over 400 lbs and then losing upwards of 80 pounds to get out of Joe Pa’s doghouse. Will we finally close the book on this folktale and prove his existence or will he dodge us like Bigfoot? We expect Ware to explode on the scene this season and become the force we have been waiting for him to become.
5. Skilled Secondary -The secondary reminds me so much of the senior lead secondary from 2005 that it hurts my mind. With Sukay back there is no reason to think that they won’t be the top unit in the Big Ten. We will see more man to man defense and significantly more interceptions. D’Anton Lynn, Stephen Morris, Chaz Powell, Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay should bring back fond memories of Anwar Phillips, Calvin Lowry, Alan Zemaitis, Chris Harrell and Justin King. Expect Lynn to become a shut down Cornerback that scares offensive coordinators and at least 9 interceptions from Nick Sukay.
4. The Return of Linebacker U - The departures of Sean Lee, Josh Hull & Navarro Bowman left quite a void at the Linebacker position last season and the slogan”Linebacker U” was promoted by both Ohio State and Alabama. It is time for Penn State to regain the title and restore the heart and soul of the defense. Michael Mauti showed flashes of whats to come last season, but his injuries really hampered his ability to dominate. Now he returns to the inside linebacker position, his favorite spot. With Mauti inside and a rotation of Gerald Hodges, Mike Hull, Khairi Fortt, Nate Stupar and James Van Fleet and a handful of other talented LBs, they should be a very exciting aspect of the defense to watch.
3. Offensive Line performance -As usual there are questions about the offensive line. What else is new? This year’s line should overall be more experienced than last year’s line with the exception of Wisniewski. It will be interesting to see how the gel as a unit before Big Ten play. We will know a lot after Alabama comes to town as their defensive line should have the ability to wreak havoc on offenses. I think Eric Shrive could become a house hold name after this season, but I expect the offensive line to be one season removed from being dominant. To me 2012 looks like the year that the line will finally reach the caliber that we have expected, that does not mean that they can’t be great this season, but I do expect to see a bit of a roller coaster with them especially late in the season.
2. Is Silas Redd-y? -Silas Redd has brought on serious excitement just like Stephfon Green did in the 2008 BW game. However, Redd has shown his ability to produce already. The jury is still out on Green. Stephfon Green has been a great vocal leader for Penn State, but his inability to become a serious threat running the ball makes it a no-brainer to give Redd his chance at becoming the featured back of this offense. Green has been hit hard by the injury bug and although his speed is exciting, I am more inclined to support Redd’s strength and lateral quickness. Maybe not this year, but in 2012 behind the offensive line that should be at the top of the Big Ten, expect Redd tobe a Heisman candidate. Brandon Beachum will return with Joe Suhey and Michael Mauti at fullback. There may not be a deeper pool of ball carriers in the Big Ten. Hopefully they will have holes to run through.
1. Starting Quarterback -I know I know…All anyone is talking about is the quarterback battle. Unfortunately it is the most important and it tops our list as the position with the highest concern and anticipation. Matt McGloin brings the passion while Rob Bolden brings the tools. If we coudl fuse them together somehow we may have the greatest QB of all time, but unfortunately that seems lightyears away. The reality is that Bolden is a better prospect for Penn State than McGloin. Bolden has 3 more years to Mac’s two and as he continues to grow physically could become a serious dual threat. Bolden’s problem is his feelings. When his feelings get hurt he pouts and runs to his dad. If Bolden grows up and becomes the emotional leader that he should be and he shows that he can operate the offense better than McGloin than I am 100% behind starting him. However, the lack of leadership he showed in the huddle and after the season may not bode well if this team does not rally around them. Bolden has to show that he is committed to Penn State and a lackluster non-coference performance won’t help.
Like during most Blue White games, we won’t really see what this team is made of yet. At BW we always look for those X-Factors that will begin new conversations into the summer months. Look out for the TE position and these two players:
1- Mike Yancich #33
2- Nate Cadogan #92