Published April 3, 2012
1. To me, the biggest story this spring is the overall talent level.
Eric Wolford gutted the program, basically starting over two years ago, and it resulted in a 3-9 record his first year and a 6-5 mark last year. But he vowed to upgrade the talent and he did. There's talent everywhere.
Backup RB Demond Hymes is a future star. Slot WR Andre Stubbs will be a game-changer if he stays healthy. Both those guys are freshmen. Add in senior TE Will Shaw (who was a weapon over the last few games of the season) and sophomore WR Kintrell Disher (who is a matchup nightmare) and I'm not sure how anyone is going to stop this team. And I haven't even mentioned the major returnees from last year.
A lot of the talent is young and undeveloped — particularly on defense — but it's there.
YSU will rival Northern Iowa as the most athletic team in the conference.
2. That said, I don't think YSU can win a national title this year.
The defense is too young and inexperienced. I wrote about this in last Sunday's story, pointing out that the Penguins don't have a single defensive player that's been here more than three years.
(For the record, here are the three Heacock holdovers on defense: DTs D.J. Moss and Kyle Sirl and LB Dom Rich. All are juniors. None were scholarship players coming out of high school. Sirl — then a tight end — and Rich were camp invitees in 2009 and Moss joined the team when school started that fall and wasn't on the roster for the Pitt game.)
There were five new defensive starters at Saturday's scrimmage, including three in the secondary. Add in a new defensive coordinator (Joe Tresey) and a new cornerbacks coach (Glenn Davis) and you're going to have growing pains.
3. It's early, but Tresey's already making an impact.
In addition to his energy — which is 180 degrees different than predecessor Rick Kravitz — Tresey runs a more complicated scheme, particularly in the secondary.
I think Kravitz was hamstrung by poor talent — and he's a great guy — but I almost fainted in the press box on Saturday when I saw YSU run a nickel defense. Tresey is a LOT more hands-on and fiery than Kravitz, which is good.
4. YSU's offense is going to be frightening.
The Penguins averaged 36 points per game last year and that number is no fluke. They averaged 33 points in conference games. UNI was the only conference team to hold YSU under 27 — the Panthers won 20-17 — and I think YSU will be a threat to score 40 in just about every game.
They're a little thin on the offensive line — although Wolford has praised the line this spring, which is something he never did in his first two years — and an injury to Hess would be devastating, but the Penguins have talented backups at running back and receiver.
5. In addition to the overall offensive talent, which is substantial, YSU can run plays from pretty much any formation.
The base offense is the spread but the Penguins can go two tights, three back, I-formation — whatever. That's another reason they'll be so hard to stop.
6. Kurt Hess should be the MVFC's preseason player of the year.
Hess earned first team all-conference honors last season and he's looked tremendous this spring.
Wolford said the offense is running almost the entire playbook at this point and while Hess isn't an amazing athlete, he's terrific at diagnosing defenses pre-snap and putting the ball where it needs to be.
Sometimes I'll watch one of the backups and think, "What the heck is he doing?" I almost never say that with Hess.
7. Patrick Angle will be the backup quarterback.
No surprise here. The sophomore Angle gets the edge over redshirt freshman Dante Nania. With Marc Kanetsky graduated, Angle's superior grasp of the offense and his experience in the program make him the prohibitive favorite to earn the backup job.
The coaches like Nania's potential — he's the best athlete of the three QBs — but he spent last fall running the scout team and has to play catch-up with both the playbook and his defensive reads.
Walsh Jesuit senior Nick Wargo, who signed with the team in February, has been at most of the practices this spring but is headed for a redshirt this fall.
8. Davion Rogers will be missed at Sam linebacker.
One person in the program called Rogers "Jevon Kearse Jr." for his freakish size and athleticism and another person in the program said, if Jon Heacock or Jim Tressel were still coaching here, Rogers would still be on the team.
"Wolf's first instinct is, if the kid is trouble, to get rid of him," that person said.
Rogers was high-maintenance — both on the field and the classroom — but I sometimes found myself watching him cover slot receivers last year with my jaw on the floor. You rarely see athletes that comfortable in space and his ceiling was higher than anyone on the team.
I'm going to miss watching him play.
9. YSU's kicking game is still an issue.
Senior David Brown doesn't have a big leg and I doubt Wolford will be comfortable attempting a field goal past 35 yards. Wolford doesn't like field goals anyway, but Jim Tressel showed just how important a kicker can be in playoff games.
On the plus side, YSU will benefit from the NCAA's decision to move the kickoff up 5 yards. The Penguins' kickoff coverage last year was awful.
10. YSU will be a playoff team this year — and years to come.
This is a talented senior class — particularly on offense — but the team's real strength is in its underclassmen, particularly the sophomore class.
I think Wolford finally has the foundation to be a perennial contender.