MARK HARRINGTON: I am going to start on the offensive side of the ball. With the departure of several seniors, including Michael Robinson and E.Z. Smith, two of the integral parts of 2005's 11-1 season, Anthony Morelli and A.Q. Shipley need to become a dynamic duo to effectively run the offense. Shipley was a solid asset at defensive tackle in 2005 and the coaches love his attitude and nasty streak on the offensive line. Running first-team center this spring, Shipley has been executing his leadership role on the line effectively through the first half of the spring. Communication on the offensive line is one of the most important aspects of an offense, one that is often taken for granted. As one observer shared, “Early on Q has been very effective on his calls — with shifts, pulls, rolls and the like.” On the other side of the handoff, Morelli has stepped up as a leader and is showing more confidence in the huddle. These two are on their way to developing an effective relationship, but they need to keep it up to help pull the offense together.
Over on the defensive side of things all eyes are on the secondary, which must replace four starters with Alan Zemaitis, Chris Harrell, Calvin Lowry and Anwar Phillips off the the NFL. With Justin King, Donnie Johnson and Anthony Scirrotto as the unit's “experienced veterans,” the staff is looking for another corner to step in and make an impact. Tony Davis appears to be that player. Despite a dislocated finger sustained in the first week of drills, Davis has been described as “outstanding” and “the best player nobody knows about."
MARK BRENNAN: My first two go hand in hand: defensive linemen Jimmy Shaw and Ed Johnson. With three starters gone, this appeared to be an area of concern heading into the off-season. But with his tremendous work ethic and solid combination of strength and speed, Shaw, a senior end, has all but hammered down a starting position. As for Johnson, who was a mainstay at tackle in 2004 before missing all of last season due to a disciplinary suspension, he obviously has the size, skill and attitude needed to replace the departed Scott Paxson. The key is staying out of trouble while he slooooowly moves out of the doghouse and up the depth chart.
On offense, I'll go with someone more obscure. Kevin Darling has made a strong push to grab playing time at tight end. Help is on the way at this position from the underclassmen and incoming freshman Andrew Quarless. But right now, no one has been as consistent a receiving threat as Darling, a fifth-year senior walk-on who is running second-team behind blocking specialist Patrick Hall.
NAME ONE UNDERCLASSMAN WHO HAS COME TO THE FRONT THIS SPRING.
MARK BRENNAN: No doubt about this one — Sean Lee. The sophomore outside linebacker is in an ideal situation, one that sees him getting the majority of first-team reps alongside returning starters Dan Connor and Tim Shaw, as well as receiving hands-on coaching from the man he is replacing, Butkus Award winner Paul Posluszny, who is seeing limited action as a precaution to protect the knee he injured in the Orange Bowl. All indications are that Lee is soaking up as much as he can and playing extremely well. He may not get a ton of playing time when Posluszny returns in the fall, but when Lee is pushing for All-America honors a year or two from now, he will surely point back to the spring of 2006 as a launching pad of sorts.
MARK HARRINGTON: For the past two seasons Spencer Ridenhour has been with the linebackers, seemingly lost on the depth chart behind guys like Posluszny, Connor and Shaw, not to mention younger 'backers like Lee, Tyrell Sales and Jerome Hayes. As FOS first reported before the kickoff of spring practice, Ridenhour has shifted to DB, seeing a majority of his reps at the strong safety position. This has been a move he has taken full advantage of, with observers saying it is “his natural position” and indicating he “delivers some brutal hits.” The consensus is that he will add a lot to the secondary in terms of intensity, athleticism and depth.
GIVE US A FEW VETERANS WHO ARE RUNNING OUT OF TIME TO PRODUCE:
MARK HARRINGTON: Two who come to mind are Hall and J.R. Zwierzynski. Zwierzynski came to University Park on a wave of hype. As Illinois' Gatorade Player of the Year, a high school Butkus winner, a Finalist for the High School Heisman, and a first-team USA Today, U.S. Army and PrepStar All-America selection, Zwierzynski was looked upon as a gem in the class of 2002. Yet things never panned out for him at linebacker. Since late 2005 he has seen his time at tight end, but has yet to make a significant impact. Hall turned down offers to Georgia and Florida to go to Penn State, but like Zwierzynski, has never found a consistent position, shifting between defensive end, fullback and tight end. Currently he is seeing first-team reps at tight end, but needs to show versatility catching the ball to break into meaningful playing time.
MARK BRENNAN: Don't look now, but Austin Scott's career is nearly complete, and he has yet to rush for 500 yards in a single season. Barring a redshirt or an injury to starting tailback Tony Hunt, it is difficult to imagine Scott having a breakout season. Another Pennsylvania school boy star, offensive lineman Mark Farris, is entering his fifth season and has yet to start a game. Out of high school, Farris was a top-10 lineman nationally and a U.S. Army All-American who turned down offers from Michigan, Florida and Miami.
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