The big question on all Penn State football fans minds following player transfers this past week in wake of NCAA sanction is simple: what next?
What next in the Nittany Lions’ backfield, where 1,200 yard rusher Silas Redd is gone and off to Southern California. Also on offense, quarterback Rob Bolden left for LSU and tight end Kevin Haplea bolted to Florida State. On defense, Khairi Fortt is off to Cal, defensive lineman freshman Jamil Pollard is going back home to Rutgers. Even the Nittany Lions’ special teams is effected, with kicker/punter Anthony Fera leaving for Texas.
The biggest key for coach Bill O’Brien and his staff going forward is managing depth. With eight transfers from the program already, and more possibly to come, O’Brien must plug holes any way he can. One way, O’Brien has said, is to use junior college (JUCO) transfers to get to the roster limit. While his players are being recruited elsewhere, O’Brien will do some recruiting of his own to fill his roster for the season.
On offense, the Nittany Lions are set at QB with starter Matt McGloin and backup Paul Jones. A meteor-sized hole awaits at running back, where Redd will be sorely missed. Sophomore Bill Belton was used in the wilcat late last year, but his natural running ability and vision have to coaching staff penciling him in as the opening day starter. But depth will be important, as Belton is a smaller back that will need help carrying the load. Behind Belton is the bruising Curtis Dukes, a 6-foot-two, 240 pound senior. Dukes averaged 5.8 yards per carry last season and should expect to see a increase from his 41 carry workload this season.
On defense, the Lions have always had an embarrassment of riches in terms of talent and depth, the 2012 team will be no different. The loss of Jamil Pollard on the defensive line hurts depth, but a unit led by seniors Jordan Hill, Sean Stanley and James Terry should be among the Big Ten’s best. Penn State has always been known as “Linebacker U,” and the 2012 version will feature All-Big Ten selection Gerald Hodges and the return of Michael Mauti in the middle following an ACL injury that robbed him of much of his 2011 season. Fortt, a junior, made six tackles for loss in 2011 while playing all three linebacker spots. The Lions and defensive coordinator Ted Roof should have plenty of bodies and talent to maintain depth.
Perhaps the biggest loss among the transfers other than Silas Redd is kicker/punter Anthony Fera. The All-Big Ten selection took over the kicking duties early on in 2011 and excelled for the Lions. He converted 14 of 17 field goals for a superb 82.4 percent conversion rate. The junior was 11-11 on field goals inside 40 yards while also handling both punting and kickoff duties. He ranked fourth in the Big Ten in punting average. His loss means that sophomore Sam Ficken, who was 1-2 on field goals last season, will be the primary place kicker in 2012. Junior punter Alex Butterworth will take over the punting duties.
While the status of other current players like wide receiver Justin Brown on hold, the Nittany Lions will continue to move forward with what players they do have. Those players were treated to a large crowd greeting them as they headed to practice last week. The event, “Rise and Rally,” was organized by fans and students to show their support for the Penn State players following the NCAA sanctions placed on the program two weeks ago.
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