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Penn St. uses versatility to alleviate depth woes

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Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop makes a point during the opening day of spring practice Monday, March 17, 2014, in University Park.

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Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, 9:15 p.m.

Some might suggest the depth issues Penn State faces are so daunting the only remedy is magic.

Nittany Lions coaches have their own way of creating an illusion — of extra players on the roster.

“Sometimes,” defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said, “when the perception is you might lack some depth, you've got to spread it out and make 14 guys appear like they're 22 guys.”

Your game-ready offensive linemen number just seven or eight? Lacking enough linebackers to create a two-deep at each spot?

Having several players capable at different positions alleviates the issue.

“Versatility and flexibility,” Shoop said, “show up in a lot of different ways.”

Shoop joined John Donovan (offensive) and Charles Huff (special teams) as coordinators Monday who expressed the importance of having players with a high degree of adaptability.

Shoop discussed how his ends and safeties can play outside linebacker, his cornerbacks are able to play nickel and dime and his safeties can play corner.

“Interchangeable parts,” Shoop said.

Donovan said the offensive staff takes pride in preparing tight ends to play both the “Y” (more traditional, short-route-running and blocking tight end) and the “F” (the increasingly-popular hybrid receiver).

Donovan also provided insight on how the Lions will deal with a thin and inexperienced line that coach James Franklin alluded to last week: Among the “starting five” (and top six, seven, etc.), many will be adept at playing multiple positions along the line.

“We've been cross-training guys,” Donovan said. “So if you have your five starting offensive linemen, and your sixth-best lineman is one of your backup tackles, but one of your guards gets a little nicked up or dinged up, then who you'll be able to put in that spot is the next-best guy. That's preferred to do than to have the next guard.”

Huff's versatility is one of sheer numbers. He said PSU has prepared more than the minimum number of players (or even double as many) to handle duties such as kick or punt coverage, or kick or punt return.

“We'd love to have as many guys as we can,” said Huff, who also is the Lions' running backs coach. “During the season, injuries and bumps and bruises occur, and guys get tired. We have enough guys so that way if something does happen, we're not locked in with, ‘These 11 guys play punt, these 11 guys are on kickoff, (and) these 11 guys are on kickoff return.'

“We did a very good job this summer and this camp at repping multiple guys on multiple positions.”

Notes: During his weekly radio show, Franklin named safety Marcus Allen, receivers Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin, linebackers Jason Cabinda and Troy Reeder, tight end Mike Gesicki and cornerback Grant Haley as true freshmen whom the Lions plan on playing against Central Florida in the opener Saturday. “That's pretty much it (barring injury),” Franklin said on his show. ... Huff said a starting punter has not been chosen from among freshman walk-ons Chris Gulla, Robby Liebel and Australian Daniel Pasquariello. “Right now, it's a dead heat,” Huff said. ... Donovan referred to running backs Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak as “1 and 1a,” said sophomore Akeel Lynch “prepared as if he was the starter” and also mentioned Blackhawk alum Cole Chiappialle at the position's depth chart. That would indicate freshmen Johnathan Thomas, Nick Scott and Mark Allen likely will redshirt.

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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