Coaching Points: Penn State 2015 Spring Game

Abby Drey / McClatchy-Tribune
Base O: Mostly 11 and 12 personnel; Zone Run Schemes
Base D: A lot of 4-3 Under with a Loose alignment from the SAM; some Apex; some Over on passing downs

I think we know what we're getting from Hackenberg, which to me, quite honestly, is a bit disappointing. Hackenberg still displays all the arm talent that scouts rave about, but he still makes the same issues that have haunted him the last two years, particularly last year.

 Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
There was a time when he scanned right, saw nothing open, came back across to the right, got some pressure in his face, shuffled back under control, found the TE on the curl on the hash, and threw the ball into a very tight window while throwing off his back foot to relieve pressure. It was a display of good patience, a nice job going through the underneath progressions, and an excellent throw with what was pure arm strength.

But then there are multiple issues reading secondary movement keys, particularly safeties post-snap. He had a very bad INT where he saw the squatting CB but never held the safety playing his Cover 2 half. He had another similar throw earlier in the game. He at times forces the issue underneath, particularly on 3rd and short situations, where he trusts his arm to find a throwing window more than his eyes. Get through the progression and find the easy throw. Too often he finds a throw he think he can make so he takes it; he needs to understand how/when to get through the progession, particularly on some of these underneath  concepts (drag and follow, for instance).

I liked what I saw from Stevens as a prospect. He still has a ways to go, particularly on his deep ball accuracy. But his timing on the underneath was very good for a FR. He has solid mechanics in a clean pocket and is most of the way there with his roll out mechanics. He still needs to do better with his eyes, he stares down targets and goes immediately to his pre-snap side without holding the safety at all, there are parts of his game where he needs improvement, but for a FR, I think he has bright upside.

Lynch was one of the better up and coming RBs in a loaded group in last year's B1G. He still looks the part here. I really like Lynch's feel for blocking and his vision. He is patient without being late to the hole. He presses the hole without wasted movement. Those are things that often times take time for backs to understand, but Lynch does that well. And when it's time to put a foot in the ground and get vertical he does. Likewise, he can pack a punch when he needs to.

Scott looked solid as well, but it's clear Lynch is the guy. Scott had a little more wasted movement at times, and I don't quite think he ran with the same power and comfort that Lynch did. His TD was a nice display of awareness and balance, and he should provide a backup that can get a handful of carries a game to keep Lynch from tiring out.

PSU did everything they could do pick on Davis (walk-on), so it's a bit difficult to judge some of what PSU did. Still, Penn State had one of the best young groups of WRs in the B1G, and that doesn't look to change.

Lewis will be one of my favorite WRs this upcoming year. He runs great routes, setting up the vertical route well and sinking his hips well in and out of cuts. He plucks the ball with his hands, rarely letting the ball into his body. Likewise, he's a big body that can be a tough cover underneath and when crossing the field.

Hamilton is another young guy that is set to impress. He has speed that can win over the top, but is also a good underneath threat. He needs to improve his route running a bit more, but as a pure athlete is good.

Blacknall is the third option here. More of a possession type, he made some nice plays as well.

Hamilton is probably the best screen option, though Lewis can bully smaller DBs a bit. PSU throws a lot of smoke screens and extended handoffs off of their run plays. It'll be interesting to see how that works out when they face a little more experienced CBs.

The TE position should be solid with the return of Breneman. I didn't see a lot of him in the spring game, but he's been solid in the past. Likewise, Carter has been a solid player for PSU the past few years.

I'd like to see Carter do a little better in-line though. He's note great at getting out of the blocks and rounds some of his routes at the top. Gesicki looks to have the size to block and some good athleticism. He made a really nice play in the flat, catching the ball cleanly and getting up field quickly. Pancoast, despite his size, made an excellent block on the split zone. He needs a bit more size yet, but can contribute at the H-back position, where he looked most comfortable. Salomone is essentially a glorified H-back, but he gets out of the blocks quickly on passing routes; needs to improve his blocking. Idemudia struggled a bit; he's basically a FB and struggled a bit when asked to play closer to the LOS.

The interior run blocking has improved. I really liked some of what I saw from the OGs and C (Gaia, Mangino, etc) had some really nice combo blocks, and did really well getting to the playside of the LBs in the 2nd level and sealing them. This was a vast improvement from times at last year.

Pass pro was an issue, both interior, and more so, at the OT position. There were some clear communication breakdowns on stunts. Worst, Brosen had some issues, and Palmer had lots of issues. You can see some potential in Palmer, but he is so far away right now. Both OTs got beat cleanly, barely able to lay a hand on inside rush moves a few times. One step out and then go inside completely untouched.Most of the issues are with the feet at this point. There is a lot of leaning, and once you lean, it's difficult for someone that size to change directions. But they are struggling getting set deep enough and opening up against speed rushes, and they are struggling just as often, if not more, with inside rushes (I won't even call them moves, it's just inside rushes). Unfortunately, most of the run game break downs came from these same positions.

I'm concerned about the depth here and the outside players. The skill position guys are there in this offense, Hack can make all the throws, but they need to protect and they need to be consistent blocking.

Nassib looked solid at DE, but I had a tough time judging a lot of it with the OT play. I'll have to come back to the performance of the DE after a few games.

DT has a solid top 2, but there is a little drop off after Zettel and Johnson. Johnson has issues when asked to move off his NT position. He's better as a gap plugger at the Nose, but when he slants or angles, he struggles to anchor as his weight takes his momentum in whatever direction he's going. Cothren was a little more inconsistent. He showed some ability to use his hands and have good awareness, but other times he got moved too easily on double teams. He needs to be stronger at the point of attack and do better to get skinny between blockers and use his hands to prevent them from getting to the LBs.

Barney had a nice pass rush move, and looks like a guy that could play some NT to give Johnson a breather, but I don't think he's an every down player yet. Holmes actually flashed a little bit with some speed, but is just hilariously undersized right now when getting double teamed.

One of my favorite up and coming LBs didn't play (Wartman), so we got to look at some of the other options at MIKE. It was... not as good as it needed to be. The LBs look decent once they diagnose the play, but they are taking too long to diagnose and get to the LOS. Too often the OL is getting out to them and they are catching them at the 2nd level 4 yards deep. Cabinda flashed both ways, making some nice plays and some not so nice plays when not blocked, really struggling getting off blocks. He's probably the next one up at this point.

Steinfeld is a long ways away. He struggled with reading the play in front of him, sometimes taking himself completely out of the play, and doesn't hold up well to blocks. Smith struggled with his keys. No one else really stood out.

I think Wartman will start at the MIKE. Someone (likely Cabinda) needs to step up at WILL and be more consistent. Bell can play some SAM and they will be solid at that position. But depth is still an issue for PSU.

There are depth issues at CB. Davis struggled a lot, I wouldn't expect him to play this year (he's young and a walk-on). They didn't throw a lot to many of the other guys, so some of it is difficult to tell.

At safety, the combination of Lucas and Allen makes for one of the better groups in the B1G at safety. Lucas can play CB or Safety on defense, can cover the slot in Cover 1, and is a great all around athlete. He looks like he's still getting comfortable at the safety position a bit, his versatility will be a huge asset back there. Allen has every thing you're looking for in a safety. He hits well when asked to come into the box, he has the size to cover some TEs, he moves well on the back end. This is a very good starting unit. Apke gives good depth at the position.

Raw Notes
PSU D in a 4-3 Under Loose against the Dot set. Ball gets batted down as PSU goes all hitch, but Carter (TE) needs to get into this route quicker, a little too rounded at the top. Cleaner move to get off the LOS and a little cleaner at the top of the route. This the decision of where to pass by Hack was the correct one. Nice play by Cothren (DT) to get both hands in the air, but OL (Mangiro) needs to do better to occupy the DT in that case, especially knowing this is a 3-step drop.

One of the major things that concerns me about Hack is his presence throwing underneath. His feet get sloppy a lot of the time and he doesn't throw with good touch/accuracy underneath. Here is a drag and follow concept from the Z (Hamilton) and RB (Lynch) (from a bunch set). Hack doesn't really get a good read on the underneath coverage, which is sitting across the field, instead he tries to fire it in there to get the ball on the receiver before he gets lead into a big hit. But if he moves off that movement key, he'll notice the RB wide open for an easy first down, sitting in the vacated area.

Lots of Under shades with Loose of Apex Sam from PSU. Nice inside zone run, RG (Gaia) and C (Mangiro) do a great combo on the NOSe to the 2nd level. Cothren (DT) needs to hold up better to that double team, he got driven 5 yards back. WILL gets sucked inside way too far and is way too late scraping over the top, that allows the RG to seal him backside. He tries to step up and through to make up for it but it's too late; have to get down hill and fill fast so the combo can't come off, too delayed with reaction. Lynch does a really nice job of vision in the second level, enoguh patience and then puts a foot in the ground and gets vertical and then split defenders to get the TD.

Nice quick release off the LOS by Salomone (TE). Rounds a little bit at the top, but not bad. Ball thrown with perfect timing by Stevens here, just as the break is happening. Good velocity on the ball and hits target right in the hands. Allen actually has good coverage here, looking to jam at 7, the break just happens right in front of him and perfect timing. Nice immediate tackle.

Pole concept on 3rd and 9. Nice job reading the Cover 2 corner here as the corner tries to jump the out route which looked to be coming open against the OLB. But this is young QB right here. His eyes are glued to the movement key right at the snap and the safety can work over the top. The ball is thrown with good timing, but it seems to hang a little bit going to the far sideline. Lucas (S) is a little late breaking on it, would like to see him there a bit sooner, but it's overthrown as this would need to be a nearly perfect pass to fit it in there. Stevens can give himself some help by holding the safety a little at the snap. Good arm strength to far sideline though.

PSU brings 6 as it goes to Cover 0. Hack immediately goes to his hot but I think he's choosing the wrong side here. He has hot to the top of the screen, this hot is running a drag (should convert to slant) right into a sitting WILL LB. Blacknall (WR) not even looking for it, hits him right in the body (good accuracy) but he'd get pegged immediately on the catch.

PSU still setting Under to the field. PSU shows Cover 1 pre-snap and has 8 in the box. A weird kind of pin and pull with the backside OT pulling and the Center pulling and the frontside OT. I haven't seen it run like that before. Anyway, Baney (LB) steps up and makes a play on the edge.

Over front on 3rd and long, still 4-3. Palmer gets beat too easily by the speed rush, as he doesn't open up soon enough or get enough depth on his drop (common problem this spring for a lot of teams). On the inside, Barney (DT) spins and the OG gets a little off balance and starts leaning as it looks like Barney will win inside. Nice job by Barney to set up to spin by pulling the LG inside and forcing him that direction, pulled him out of position.

Johnson (DT) takes himself out of this right at the snap. While he's angling, he needs to feel pressure and anchor against it so the hole inside of him can't widen. He doesn't. Pancoast (TE) does a great job here finding his man he's supposed to block. He has the DE, and the DE is looping inside. If Pancoast doesn't identify his target, this play is a 1 yard gain at most. But he does, and he seals him outside. nice run by Scott, but nice blocking up front. Need someone from the LB level to fill hard at some point though. Catching way too many blockers 3-4 yards into the 2nd level (Cabina here).

Slant with a CB blitz from the boundary. CB blitz is delayed and coming from too deep. Needs to time this better. Johnson here uses his hands very well, gets under the OL pads and doesn't allow him to latch. He rips off with to disengage nicely and almost makes a ply in the backfield. This allows LBs to flow. White (DT) makes a nice play chasing straight down the LOS when he sees the blocking scheme. Nice job flowing.

Power O, Idemudia (TE) doesn't identify his block correctly and no one accounts for SAM on the edge.

Stevens feels pressure but actually has a pretty nice pocket. He has room to scramble, but he has receivers in better positions to pick up first downs. But he drops his eyes when he tucks and can't identify them, does pretty well to pick up some yards.

Insize zone with an outside receiver bubble option (on-line slot arcs out to block outside CB). DL just dominates up front. Holmes (DT) gets on the center quick and knocks him back. Palmer (LT) can't win his helmet across and that DT can anchor a bit. Nelson gets no movement on the DE that slants inside on the stunt blitz. Just no movement from the OL.

Nice route by Lewis (WR) on the slant. Sticks a foot in the ground outside and sells the Go to get an inside release. This is to the far side, and Hack is quite high on the throw, not allowing Lewis a run after catch opportunity. Nice job to pull it in despite LBs coming inside-out on the throw.

Power O with a slant option on the backside. 8 in the box and Hack recognizes, aborts Power O, and firest the slant on 3rd and 1. Another nice job by Lewis to make sure he wins inside. I'd like to see Davis (CB) do a little better here, as he doesn't really bring his hands on his jam, but Lewis does bring his hands and battles to get inside. Nice job.

Counter PA sucks the SAM inside and allows Hack to get to the edge. H-back is leaking to the flat and there is one defender to cover both. I'd like to see Hack be a little more patient here and understand what he has. Attack upfield, but keep the option to throw outside until you get past the LOS (or past it) with your shoulders. Defender actually cheats inside, and if Hack throws it outside to flat, it's 10+ yards instead of 2.

Just an extended handoff off an inside zone look. Davis playing about 8 yards off and not crashing at snap. Hack throws it and Lewis catches with 5 yard cushion by time he turns up field. Davis steps up nicely and keeps feet moving to not allow Lewis to juke or get space, but he doesn't bring his arms on the tackle and he tries to tackle chest to chest. This allows Lewis to spin out of the tackle and gain 3-4 more yards.

Just picking on Davis now. Lewis with another really nice slant route, sells outside and gets Davis to open outside. Wins clean inside. This is slant with a flare from the RB, and Hack has to be patient against Cover 1. LB is working inside-out and has to clear underneath, and once he does, Hack fires a perfect pass to Lewis who has 2 yards on teh CB.

Nice job by Dowry coming off his combo off inside zone. Again, the RG/C can get movement inside and then come off onto the LB. This time Holmes (DT) was bullied back into the 2nd level.

Throw to the flat off the China concept. Gesecki (TE) catches the bench route and turns up field (nice job getting the ball out on time). Davis again being picked on, stops feet on contact trying to tackle the TE, and just gets bulled through. Don't stop feet on contact folks.

Zone read that I think Hack thought he had the backside bubble, but didn't. Decent scramble as DE is OLB is biting hard inside (Cover 0 for PSU) Hack had lots of grass to run.

OG Sweep with teh WR crack. Nice play design, as RB alignment a yard behind QB allows Hack to turn body to sideline to threaten screen. That holds backside defense and LBs. Smith (LB) isn't on his keys on this play. He's biting forward based on pre-snap look, there is not a single key bringing him forward to the LOS. Apke fills the wrong hole, way too far inside, and doesn't keep his outside arm free on what is supposed to be sky support (but is late) off of the crack exchange. Poor recognition and worse angle to the ball.

Miscommunication. DE slants inside and no one takes outside. MIKE for some reason goes inside despite there being no play there and the DL slanting in that way. Steinfeld (MIKE) completely lost here. He actually went forward and then ran further out of the play, despite his gap being outside to the playside.

Hack thinks he has man here, but it's a Cover 2. Really nice job throwing over top of the underneath CB, but this ball needs to be a little closer to the sideline. Golden came out of no where to make a play on this ball, pre-snap middle of the field and came all the way over the top to get the PBU on a pretty well thrown ball. Hack has to identify the coverage over the top before making this throw though. Ball needs to be either more to the sideline or to the back corner as the safety is coming flat over the top.

Walker reads the eyes of Hack on the double slant and works inside-out from his LB spot and almost comes away with an INT.

LT (Palmer) gets beat too easily inside.

Fessler, throws a wobbler. I don't think I'm going to spend much time on this film.

Brosan (RT) just gets his feet all kinds of stuck in mud. Shuffles out and then barely can lay a hand on the inside rush. Not really even a move. Hack no time to throw here. Palmer (LT) whiffed two people and let them both free. Issues at the OT position.

Nice play by Nassib (DE) off the edge to make a play in the backfield on the RB.

Palmer again beat clean on the edge off the counter H PA. hack stumbled out of his drop and came up limping.

Blacknell just gets the extended handoff. Looks smooth in space, but picking on Davis (CB) again, who stops his feet and can't make a play in space.

Ball is late as Hack looks first to the field side. Comes back to the hitch and a small window, but Hack, throwing off his back foot, has the arm strength to fit it in. Alston (CB) actually has decent underneath coverage here.

PA off zone read. Throw to Hamilton on the slant. But Allen does a great job from his safety position to come down and make an immediate tackle. Almost no gain.

Nice job being patient on the snag route, though it looked like Hamilton could have sat on the inside and easily picked up the first down more easily.

Palmer just gets beat cleanly inside again. Not even a hand on the DE who takes one step upfield and then immediately wins inside.'

Palmer again misses on the block. He's not even laying hands on guys. Just not moving his feet well enough. Supposed to blunt block the backside, but just doesn't ever get into his block.

I have no idea what Hack is looking at here. Has the flat route open, has the flare route open. But he's only reading one key, the CB, who is 10 yards off and squatting (not covering either guy really). So he tries to fire the ball into a small window between the sinking CB and the two-high safety. He's picked off pretty easily by Harper (S). Cover 2 shell, yeah, the corner route can be open if you aren't staring that direction the whole way. But you pump the flat route to suck up the CB but just pull the safety over to the corner route. If CB doesn't bite down so that you can't throw to the sideline, ball has to go underneath.

Nice job bhy Stevens getting his shoulders square, but the WR slips on his route coming back and Stevens kind of jump throws instead of getting his legs to allow him to push it down the sideline.

Nice fill by Cabinda (LB) who fills down and then gets across the LOS to make a tackle at the point of attack.

No one blocks Zettel (DT), but he doesn't bring Scott (RB) down when he tries to spin him down. Players give up on play and then Scott (who does a good job getting his hand down to prevent going down) and scores a TD.