Things can change when the players actually get back on the field in August. They always do.
For now, though, Penn State has its depth chart pretty much set.
With less than two months to go before the start of preseason camp, the Nittany Lions released their summer depth chart on Thursday. Though most every starting job will ultimately be up for grabs with a strong showing in camp, only two are listed by the team as too close to call right now.
The first one — quarterback — is obvious.
The other — safety — is less so.
Penn State listed both Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg as possible starters under center. At free safety, it’s a battle between returning starter Malcolm Willis and athletic former walk-on Ryan Keiser, who earned a scholarship last winter.
As always, much of the attention will be on the camp battle between Ferguson and Hackenberg, the heralded freshman who will arrive on campus next weekend. Ferguson, who transferred in from junior college in January, edged Steven Bench during the spring, and his six-month head-start will give him an advantage.
Both will spend July trying to organize informal sessions with receivers and develop some chemistry.
“Everything the quarterbacks do is on their own this summer,” Lions coach Bill O’Brien said on the team’s website. “So hopefully you’ve taught them enough during the spring that they know what they can do on their own to improve, whether it’s watching film, studying the playbook, 7-on-7, 1-on-1 drills, running routes with the receivers, and things like that.
“And these guys are the type of guys who will work at it. Matt McGloin made great strides last summer. Now, he was an older guy and these guys are younger. So we’ll see how they do with that. I think they will work hard, and we’ll see how it goes when we start training camp.”
The secondary will be the other main area to watch this summer. Though the Lions lose just one starter from last year’s unit in cornerback Stephon Morris, the group could look much different in 2013.
Adrian Amos, the team’s top defensive back from a year ago, played corner in 2011 and 2012. This spring, he worked primarily at safety, and that’s where the Lions listed him on Thursday. Amos’ name appears ahead of last year’s starter Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who sat out of contact drills in the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery.
If Amos remains at safety, that leaves both corner spots open. Sophomores Trevor Williams and Jordan Lucas will enter camp as the favorites there. Both played last season as true freshman, though Williams was at wide receiver and Lucas played almost exclusively on special teams.
That leaves the other safety spot, where Willis has plenty of experience, dating back to his redshirt freshman season in 2010. He will be pushed by Keiser, who was slowed by injury last summer but saw the field in every game during the season.
There weren’t many surprises on the rest of the depth chart. Returning starters Zach Zwinak, Allen Robinson, Brandon Moseby-Felder, Kyle Carter, John Urschel, Donovan Smith and Miles Dieffenbach were joined on offense by Jesse James at Y-tight end, Ty Howle at center and Adam Gress at right tackle.
On defense, prospective new starters would be C.J. Olaniyan and Kyle Baublitz on the line, Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman at linebacker and Williams and Lucas in the secondary. DE Deion Barnes, DT DaQuan Jones, LB Glenn Carson, Amos and Willis are the incumbents.
On special teams, Bill Belton and Alex Kenney top the kick return list while Jesse Della Valle is listed first on punt returns. Carson is listed as the punt snapper while Howle handles duties on field goals and extra points.
Former Wyoming Valley Conference star Eugene Lewis is listed as a second-teamer at wide receiver behind Robinson and also appears on a lengthy list of kick returners.
“We felt like it was a productive spring,” O’Brien said. “We felt like we were able to accomplish a lot at all three areas. And that was good. A lot of that had to do with the fact that our players have been in the program for a year. And then the newer players could watch the older players and follow their lead. We felt like some of the younger players on our team were really improved.
“When we met with the players, I think they appreciate us sitting down with them and tell them one-on-one what their role is on the team and how they can change that role. We have a very good feeling about our team this summer.”