2012 OUTLOOK: It's hard to tell what to expect from a Penn State team that won eight of its first nine games then stumbled to three losses in its last four. Most of the key players return, but how they fit into new coach Bill O'Brien's new system remains to be seen. A tough but manageable non-conference slate should prepare Penn State for a Big Ten slate that gives the Nittany Lions home games against division rivals Ohio State and Wisconsin.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE
There is a new coaching staff but the same questions about the offense -- what's going on at quarterback and along the offensive line -- remain. Redshirt sophomore Paul Jones, academically ineligible last season, has joined the race at quarterback, where senior Matt McGloin and junior Rob Bolden have split starting reps both of the last two seasons. How well they adjust to Bill O'Brien's complex offense, which puts a lot of the decision-making on the quarterback, will be just as important as how four new starters on the line come together. O'Brien plans to use his top offensive weapon, junior tailback Silas Redd, as both a runner and a receiver this fall.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE
Linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti and defensive tackle Jordan Hill and defensive end Pete Massaro will lead what is expected to be another strong -- and deep -- Penn State front seven. There is more concern in the secondary, where the Nittany Lions graduated all four starters and saw their returnees suffer a variety of injuries during the spring. Cornerback Stephon Morris and free safety Malcolm Willis will lead a talented but inexperienced group of defensive backs. New coordinator Ted Roof plans to mix schemes and use an aggressive approach.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Penn State returns kicker Anthony Fera, who connected on 14 of 17 field-goal tries last season and doubled as the team's punter, averaging 42.0 yards per kick. The team is looking for another candidate for kickoffs to ease some of Fera's workload and keep him from getting fatigued. Penn State has several dangerous options as return men, including running back Bill Belton, defensive back Adrian Amos and wide receivers Devon Smith and Alex Kenney.
WR Eugene Lewis (Wyoming Valley West, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) -- The four-star wide receiver was one of the few big-name recruits to stay with Penn State through the Jerry Sandusky scandal and coaching transition. New wide receivers coach Stan Hixon said Lewis has the frame and skill set to contribute immediately. He might get the chance with Bill Belton now at running back and Curtis Drake at corner.
RB Akeel Lynch (St. Francis, Attica, N.Y.) -- The sturdy 5-foot-11, 200-pounder joined the Nittany Lions after decommitting from Boston College. He'll have a good chance to see playing time early, a better chance if junior Curtis Dukes can't shake the academic troubles that will keep him out this spring.
DT Jamil Pollard (West Deptford, Westville, N.J.) -- The highest-rated player of five defensive linemen in Penn State's Class of 2012, Pollard has the frame (6-foot-4, 270 pounds) and athleticism that defensive line coach Larry Johnson loves. He could get a chance for early playing time with the departure of All-American DT Devon Still.
--Reserve S Ryan Keiser missed the spring with a knee injury but is expected to be back by early in the season. Reserve LB Jamie Van Fleet is out for his final season with a torn ACL. Reserve LB T.J. Rhattigan suffered a knee injury in the Blue-White Game. LB Michael Mauti, a projected starter, was held out of contact drills as he recovered from a knee injury but is expected to be ready for preseason camp.
--RB Curtis Dukes did not participate in spring practice for academic reasons.
--Penn State moved WR Bill Belton to running back and WR Curtis Drake to cornerback during the spring. LB Dakota Royer is now a tight end.
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