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March 23, 2008
Perhaps no program welcomes spring practice more than Penn State. The offseason has been marred by the suspension of six players, and coach Joe Paterno's future on the sideline is in doubt. Yet, a slew of starters return. If some questions at quarterback and cornerback are answered, the Nittany Lions could come out of the spring encouraged about the prospects of improving on last season's 9-4 showing.
TEXAS A&M AGGIES
Derrick Williams is one of nine starters returning on offense.
Offense—8: WR Jordan Norwood, WR Deon Butler, T Gerald Cadogan, T Dennis Landolt, G Mike Lucian, G Rich Ohrnberger, C A.Q. Shipley, WR Derrick Williams.
Defense—9: T Chris Baker, FS Tony Davis, E Maurice Evans, E Josh Gaines, LB Sean Lee, T Jared Odrick, LB Tyrell Sales, CB Lydell Sargeant, SS Anthony Scirrotto.
Special teams—2: P Jeremy Boone, K Kevin Kelly.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
The Lions averaged more than 400 yards in total offense and almost 200 rushing yards in 2007, and five starters return on the offensive line, including All-Big Ten selections Shipley and Ohrnberger. There are two returning starters at linebacker in Lee, who posted 138 tackles in '07, and Sales. There is good talent at wide receiver. Butler, Williams and Jordan Norwood had at least 40 catches last season.
HELP IS NEEDED
Quarterback Anthony Morelli was inconsistent, but at least he was experienced. Senior Daryll Clark and sophomore Pat Devlin will vie for the starting job this spring. At cornerback, Justin King left early for the NFL and Sargeant has had off-field issues.
KEEP AN EYE ON
LB Chris Colasanti: Colasanti made only three tackles as a true freshman last season. But this spring, the former four-star prospect will challenge for a starting job.
RB Evan Royster: He showed flashes of brilliance while backing up Rodney Kinlaw, and this spring he can show he's more than a flash in the pan.
CB Lydell Sargeant: Disciplinary action knocked Sargeant out of the starting lineup in '07, but he has redeemed himself. This spring he can secure his place in the secondary.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Sales finally climbed into the starting lineup as a junior last season, but he needs to be more productive. He posted 50 tackles last season and had three sacks. With several highly regarded linebackers on the roster, Sales needs a strong spring to ensure his status as a starter.
The Nittany Lions' roster is teeming with returning starters, but the unsettled quarterback situation causes some uneasiness. The optimism for 2008 would spike if Clark or Devlin can establish himself as a solid starter. Improvement in the special teams wouldn't hurt, either.
Olin Buchanan is the senior national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.