Last updated: February 19. 2013 8:01PM - 444 Views

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In the coming weeks, the temporary 2012 placed up on Beaver Stadium last weekend will be replaced with permanent 3-D numbers. The 2012 team will remain up next to the years of Penn State's most revered squads.


And it will be time to move on.


Two days after the season ended, Bill O'Brien gathered his players and told them just that.


It's not gonna be easy, O'Brien said after the season was over. Every year is different. The 2013 team has to create its own identity. And that has to start right now.


While O'Brien and his coaching staff have spent this week on the road recruiting high school players, they will also have to pitch players on the current roster. Though the Nittany Lions are not expecting major defections this offseason, the fact remains that players remain free to transfer without penalty until preseason camp opens in August.


So with that important caveat in mind, here is a breakdown of what the Lions have in store for 2013.


QUARTERBACK

At this very moment, there's exactly one quarterback who will be on the roster for spring practice. That would be Steven Bench, one of the first recruits for O'Brien's staff, added shortly before signing day last winter.


The Georgia native beat out Paul Jones for the backup job as a true freshman, but appeared in just two games and only one full drive of any consequence – just before halftime against Virginia. At the very least, the extra time learning O'Brien's offense will give him a leg up to win the job.


As for who he will battle it out with, the Lions are still in great shape with prep star Christian Hackenberg, who has remained firmly committed to playing for O'Brien. But Hackenberg would have a very tough path to winning the job immediately, as he wouldn't arrive on campus until the summer after signing a letter of intent in February.


Ideally, Penn State would be able to redshirt him and give him a full chance to absorb the Lions' thick playbook. For a redshirt to be a possibility, however, Penn State needs more bodies at the position. Given the lack of depth, the route that makes the most sense is to bring in a junior college quarterback.


Penn State is on the trail of Jake Waters, who has led the offense of the top-ranked JUCO team in the country, Iowa Western. Waters visited Penn State for the Indiana game and has the Lions on his shortlist along with Kansas State. He'll have to make up his mind shortly in time to enroll at his new school in January and compete immediately for the starting job.


Waters would be able to come in and play spring ball – a big plus for Penn State's situation – with two years of eligibility.


RUNNING BACK

After two months of a committee approach, Zach Zwinak proved simply too productive to keep off the field, topping 130 yards in all four games in November. He capped off the year with a very impressive 179-yard effort against a strong Wisconsin defense in the finale.


Zwinak remains firmly committed to Penn State and enters his junior season as the entrenched starter. What had been a crowded backfield could open up a great deal. Bill Belton, tabbed the original starter to replace Silas Redd, got exactly one carry in November.


Given the lack of transfer restrictions, Belton and Curtis Dukes would be two players to keep an eye on because of their decreased roles at the end of the year. But Belton has indicated that he will stick at Penn State.


The Lions were able to retain a talented freshman in Akeel Lynch after the sanctions hit, and after a redshirt season, he should have a good chance to contribute in 2013 regardless of what happens with Belton and Dukes.


WIDE RECEIVER

Allen Robinson gave Penn State a combination of height and athleticism that the program has so rarely had in recent years. He broke the school's single-season receptions record and became just the second player in team history in hit 1,000 receiving yards in a season, joining Bobby Engram.


The other starting wideout has said he will return for his fifth and final season. Brandon Moseby-Felder developed into an effective complement to Robinson after Shawney Kersey left the team.


And, of course, Penn State will be able to deploy the Valley's own Eugene Lewis in 2013. You couldn't find a coach or player on the team who didn't rave about his work in practice both as a wideout and on the scout team.


Receivers coach Stan Hixon, who has coached several years in the NFL and won a national title with LSU, called his athletic ability off the chart earlier this month. Lewis will join Trevor Williams, who played a decent amount as a rookie, to give some nice depth to the unit.


TIGHT END

One year after the Lions did essentially nothing with the position but block, they actually led the nation in receptions by tight ends. The turnaround was stunning.


In 2011, Penn State tight end caught 15 passes for 122 yards and one score. In 2012? Make it 82 catches, 1,090 yards and 10 touchdowns.


And the top two receiving threats, Kyle Carter and Jesse James, finished the season at ages 19 and 18, respectively. Garry Gilliam is a dependable veteran and a solid blocker. Matt Lehman can do a little bit of both. That doesn't even mention Brent Wilkerson, another highly rated recruit who redshirted.


Oh, and Penn State will add the nation's consensus top tight end recruit in January when Adam Breneman enrolls early. With such depth, Breneman could be in line for a redshirt as he continues his rehab from a torn ACL suffered last summer before his senior season at Cedar Cliff High School.


OFFENSIVE LINE

Losing center Matt Stankiewitch will hurt without question. Fellow senior Mike Farrell must also be replaced at right tackle after a solid season. Penn State was able to rotate enough players on the line in 2012 that the team has some options for 2013.


Starting on the outside first, Donovan Smith had a strong debut at left tackle despite being hampered by injuries for the first half of the season. He and Adam Gress are in line to be the bookends next season, though Gress struggled at times in pass protection when he filled in at right tackle.


On the inside, the Lions welcome back right guard John Urschel, an important fifth-year player who could fill a leadership role. His spot is locked down, but the other two are up in the air.


Miles Dieffenbach played most of the year at left guard, but split more and more time with Ty Howle down the stretch. Howle has been a center for most of his career and could also be a candidate to replace Stankiewitch.


Also in the mix for starting spots will be West Scranton's Eric Shrive, Angelo Mangiro and Wendy Laurent.


DEFENSIVE LINE

Losses are far heavier on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the front seven. Position coach Larry Johnson called Jordan Hill one of the best he's ever coached and will be a significant loss.


With Sean Stanley and Pete Massaro also gone, the Lions will look to DaQuan Jones to anchor the unit in between some talented young pass rushers.


Deion Barnes is right at the forefront after being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Anthony Zettel also showed flashes in limited snaps this year and has worked at both tackle and end.


Kyle Baublitz is the only other tackle with much game experience. The Lions will need the redshirted trio of Austin Johnson, Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia to provide depth.


LINEBACKER

There's no replacing Michael Mauti, on or off the field. And Gerald Hodges' production will also be very tough to match.


Headed into 2013, Linebacker U will be put to the test to develop the next wave of talent. Penn State will enter the year with four top candidates to play, but plenty of question marks after that.


Overshadowed a bit in the past, Glenn Carson will get his chance to shine entering his third year as a starter. He will undoubtedly be flanked by emerging standout Mike Hull, with the other spot still up for grabs.


Ben Kline is one candidate, but one imagines that Valley View's Nyeem Wartman will see plenty of snaps after sitting out much of 2012 with a knee injury.


SECONDARY

Despite having very few scholarship players here last year, the Lions held their own. The secondary has been the main focus in recruiting as a result.


For next season, Penn State has three returning starters in Adrian Amos, Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong. Da'Quan Davis will be one of the favorites to replace the dependable Stephon Morris at cornerback.


Jordan Lucas also saw time at corner in the season finale against Wisconsin because of injuries.


Former walk-ons Jesse Della Valle and Ryan Keiser will help provide the depth as the coaches see what they have with a large group of first- and second-year players.


SPECIAL TEAMS

Things didn't improve by a tremendous amount, but Penn State managed to recover a bit from a disastrous start to the season. Both Sam Ficken and Alex Butterworth are in line to return to handle the kicking duties.


Neither is an All-Big Ten candidate, but improved enough to not be liabilities for the team.


As much as anything, the Lions will hope to improve their stagnant return teams. As any Wyoming Valley Conference football fan knows, Eugene Lewis is tough to bring down in the open field, and the rookie spent time with the return units before each game of his redshirt season.


Lewis could be one of several candidates to help the Lions improve there.

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