QB one of few battles at Penn State this fall

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The incessant rain this week has turned June into a sopping wet, cloudy mess.

It doesn't feel entirely unlike the late fall, and Penn State seemed to pick up on this as coach Bill O'Brien released a depth chart Thursday for his football team.

Penn State did this a year ago, too. By the time the season began in August, eight players who were designated as a starter or second-stringer were no longer with the team.

Similar roster turnover is unlikely this year, but players can transfer without penalty until the beginning of practice in late July.

When practice begins, Penn State predominantly will feature experienced players, particularly at the skill positions.

For the most part, this depth chart reflects that characteristic, containing few mysteries and few apparent position battles.

Some observations:

1. There will be competition for quarterback and little else. Every football coach will say players compete for starting jobs at all positions each week, but that's not the case. There are penned-in starters, and Penn State has designated them for all but two positions. The first position is, not surprisingly, quarterback. Freshman Christian Hackenberg and sophomore Tyler Ferguson are slated to battle for that job come August. Ferguson, O'Brien has said, has a slight edge because he went through spring drills and is more familiar with the team and offense. Hackenberg is scheduled to enroll in Penn State's summer academic program this month.

2. What's going on at safety? A former walk-on might take a starting spot from two key contributors in 2012. O'Brien has indicated that junior Ryan Keiser is tied with senior Malcolm Willis for one of the starting safety roles. Keiser will be on scholarship for the first time this season. Willis was the second-leading tackler among defensive backs last season with 45. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, backing up Adrian Amos as the other safety, was not far behind (41). Part of the reason Obeng-Agyapong could be a reserve rather than Keiser is because he missed the contact drills of spring practice.

3. The offensive line will be a lot like the 2012 unit. That line jelled after a rough start against Ohio and Virginia. Its defining characteristic was the way everything molded together. Players such as Mike Farrell could play different positions, and the backups filled in without bringing the level of play down much. Look for the same this coming season. The depth chart displays five definitive starters (center Ty Howle, guards John Urschel and Miles Dieffenbach, and tackles Adam Gress and Donovan Smith) who are backed up by players who aren't considered too far behind them, such as Eric Shrive. Additionally, reserve Angelo Mangiro is listed as a center, left guard and right guard. Versatility will be back.

4. Akeel Lynch is the third-string running back. Here's an example of why results/statistics from the Blue-White game are essentially irrelevant. Lynch rushed for 83 yards and touchdown in the spring game. Zach Zwinak left the contest early with a wrist injury (he's supposed to be ready to play by fall practice). Bill Belton didn't play because of a toe issue. Yet the pecking order for running back on this depth chart goes Zwinak, Belton, Lynch. While the choice of Zwinak as starter seems obvious, the possible competition between Belton and Lynch for the No. 2 spot when fall practice begins will be worth watching.

5. No position has been heralded as much as tight end since O'Brien arrived at Penn State, and last year was definitely a good season for them. Kyle Carter, Jesse James and Matt Lehman each had success. Carter was Penn State's second-leading receiver with 453 yards. Lehman had 296 yards, and James caught five touchdown passes. Five players are listed on this summer's depth chart at two tight-end positions: James is backed up by Lehman at one spot; Carter is backed up at the other by Brent Wilkerson and incoming freshman Adam Breneman.

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Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.


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