DraftBrowns.com Staff Writer: Justin Higdon
Before Bill O’Brien even coached a game at Penn State, the school’s football program was hammered by NCAA sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. In the wake of severe punishment, the Nittany Lions began the season with an embarrassing loss to Ohio University and a one-point defeat at the hands of the Virginia Cavaliers. The Penn State footballers recovered to win five straight contests, and eight of their last ten, to finish a respectable 8-4 on the season. Defensive leaders Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill have graduated, as has quarterback Matt McGloin. Highly touted freshman Christian Hackenberg looks to take over at QB, but O’Brien and company will have a difficult time matching last season’s modest success. And once again, regardless of results, the team will be home for the bowl season. (Asterisk denotes underclassman)
Allen Robinson WR* 6’3” 204 – Still only 19 years old, Robinson is coming off a sophomore season in which he caught 77 passes for 1018 yards and 11 touchdowns. He caught at least five passes in all but two games, and topped 50 yards in all but three. Robinson has a big body, and is effective on slants and crossing routes where he can use his frame to shield defenders from the ball. He is capable of making tough catches in traffic, and does well to adjust to the ball in the air. Robinson had some trouble with concentration last year – having passes slip through his hands or trying to turn upfield before securing the football – but also proved capable of laying out for some difficult receptions. At times the young receiver seemed unsure of himself, whether slowing up on a deep ball or having a pass knocked away at the last second. He needs to do a better job attacking the ball in the air instead of waiting for it to get to him. If he can improve this part of his game Robinson will become a more reliable target. He appears to have a bright future, but he’ll need to take significant strides if he is going to consider leaving for the NFL after his junior season.
Deion Barnes DE* 6’4” 249 – Barnes elected to attend Penn State over Georgia, South Carolina and Michigan among others. He was held out of action his first year on campus, but emerged as a key player during his redshirt freshman season in 2012. Barnes finished with a team-high ten tackles for loss and six sacks, and tied Mauti with three forced fumbles. Barnes notched two sacks and forced a fumble in the loss to Virginia – just the second game of his career. Later in the year against Nebraska, he logged a career best six tackles and three tackles for loss. At season’s end he was given honorable mention for the All Big Ten team. Barnes has a reputation as an unselfish player and a hard worker, but his early success has painted a bulls-eye on his chest. His position coach, Larry Johnson, knows that Barnes will have to adjust to the added attention. “Everybody’s going to turn their protection to him,” Johnson said. “He’s got to stay calm and really just continue to be part of the defense and play fast. His sacks and production will come. If he goes and pushes the panic button, having to get a sack every game, then he could struggle.” Barnes has good height and appears to have long arms to match his frame. He is quick around the edge and does a good job wrapping up ball carriers. Barnes has also shown a knack for chopping at the quarterback’s arm whenever he has the opportunity. It would be a surprise to see Barnes leave after his sophomore season, but if he listens to his coach, he has an excellent chance to be a breakout pass rusher in the Big Ten this season.
DaQuan Jones DT 6’3” 333 – In high school, Jones saw time at guard offense in addition to his play on the defensive line. He was recruited to play at Penn State by the now notorious former assistant coach, Mike McQueary. Jones sat out the first four games of his freshman season, but saw playing time on defense in the final nine. In the bowl game loss to Florida that year, Jones picked up the first sack of his career. Over the past two seasons, he has gone from role player to starter, but he has never been counted on as heavily as he will be this coming season. The Nittany Lions are hoping one of three redshirt freshmen on the roster can replace some of the interior pressure lost when Hill departed, but the massive Jones will be tasked with occupying multiple blockers and opening pass rush lanes for others. This spring, the senior has been slowed by a minor back injury, but has been putting in his time watching film. He seems determined to prove that he can make more impact plays this year. With his combination of size and strength, a dedicated Jones has an excellent chance to move up draft boards.
Glenn Carson ILB 6’2” 235 – A four star recruit out of high school, Carson chose Penn State over a dozen schools including Notre Dame and Stanford. He saw spot duty as a freshman but seized the starting middle linebacker job as a sophomore. Over the past two seasons he has accumulated totals of 159 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Carson’s role on the defense is not expected to change much, but he will be called upon to fill the void in leadership left open by the departures of Mauti and Hodges. So far, the senior linebacker seems up to the task. “I’ve been helping (Linebackers) Coach (Ron) Vanderlinden. He has his hands full because he has a lot of young players who are having a tough time learning the concepts and getting the fundamentals down. So I’m helping the guys,” Carson said recently, adding that younger players tend to struggle with knowing their assignments on defense. He may not produce eye-popping numbers for the Nittany Lions this season, but Carson is a good athlete who plays stout defense against the run, and he certainly has the attitude that NFL types will love. Still, he plays a somewhat devalued position, so he may not hear his name called until the late rounds of the draft.
John Urschel G 6’3” 304 – Urschel has been the epitome of a student athlete during his time at Penn State. He has already earned his Masters degree in math and maintained a 4.0 grade point average in doing so. A three-time member of the All Big Ten Academic team, he finally earned accolades for his play on the field this past season. Urschel was named First Team All Big Ten by the coaches, and Second Team by the media. Despite his academic endeavors, Urschel has demonstrated outstanding time management skills that have allowed him to continue to fulfill his obligations to the football team. O’Brien has gone so far as to call his fifth-year guard the “embodiment of what Penn State’s all about.” There is little doubt that Urschel will dazzle NFL personnel in interviews, and with another strong season on the field, he should get strong consideration in the middle rounds of the draft.
Also keep an eye on: Kyle Carter TE* 6’3” 242, Malcolm Willis S 5’11” 215, Adam Gress OT 6’6” 321, Matt Lehman TE 6’5” 254, Ty Howle C 6’0” 298