With about three months remaining until the Penn State Nittany Lions open up the 2014 season in Dublin, Ireland, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about and previewing the upcoming season. Phil Steele, who annually puts out one of the best preview magazines around, has released his preseason All-Big Ten teams. Although no Nittany Lions landed on the first team, a total of 10 Penn State players made the second, third and fourth teams.
Linebacker Mike Hull, cornerback Jordan Lucas, safety Adrian Amos and offensive lineman Donovan Smith are all listed on the second team. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg, defensive end C.J. Olaniyan and kicker Sam Ficken were all named to the third team. Defensive end Deion Barnes, tight end Jesse James and running back Zach Zwinak made the fourth team.
Hull will be expected to be the leader of the linebackers this season and will look to improve upon last season. He missed time with an injury and played in only 10 games, but still made 78 tackles. Penn State will lack a ton of experience at the linebacker position, but Hull, with the most starts, will need to take a lead role.
At the beginning of last season, the secondary was a weak spot for the Nittany Lions. This season, it should be the strength of the defense. Lucas and Amos will both play big roles in the success of the defense. Lucas, who really came on at the end of the year, finished with 65 total tackles and led the team with three interceptions. He has the potential to be one of the top cornerbacks in the Big Ten Conference. Amos, who’s proven to be a hard-hitting, versatile player, will provide a solid presence in the backend of the defense.
Hackenberg, though he was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2013, finds himself on the third team. Michigan State’s Connor Cook and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller are both in front of him. After a successful season last year, many are expecting big things from Hackenberg this year. Don’t be surprised to see him rack up a lot of recognition after the season.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 10 Nittany Lions named to the preseason teams is Barnes. He’s just two years removed from be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but had a disappointing season in 2013. He saw a drop in production and wasn’t as effective as he was in his first year. The talent it there, meaning Barnes could be in line for a big season this year.
Joining Barnes on the defensive line will be Olaniyan, who impresses last year with five sacks and three forced fumbles. Look for Olaniyan to take another step forward in 2014.
Rounding out the Nittany Lions on the lists are Zwinak, Smith and Ficken. Smith has been a rock on the offensive line, while Zwinak has proven to be an effective runner with a knack to get the tough yardage, especially around the goal line. Ficken, who’s inconsistency has been well documented, came on strong last year and now, entering his third season as Penn State’s kicker, has a shot to be one of the best in the conference.
With a lot of experience returning this season, the Nittany Lions could be in line for another successful season. Having ten players mentioned on preseason teams is a good start, and one can expect more recognition to come leading up to the season.