So Officially Begins the New Era in Penn State Football

So Officially Begins the New Era in Penn State Football

By now you have heard about how Penn State is turning the page to a new chapter in their football history this weekend. That could not be farther from the truth. Penn State is starting a brand new book altogether when it hosts Ohio on Saturday (12 p.m. / ESPN).

You do not need me, or anyone else, to remind you just how much has changed at Penn State, but I will do it anyway. Former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien steps in to the middle of one of the biggest reconstruction projects of all-time, following in the footsteps of a fallen icon in Joe Paterno as the program receives a massive punch to the gut in the form of crippling NCAA sanctions – a four year postseason ban, massive reduction in scholarships and a $60 million fine – and the entire university and community continues to search for answers amid a lack of responsible leadership.

The NCAA has granted free transfers to any Penn State player choosing to leave, and some have taken that rare opportunity, including running back Silas Redd (USC), wide receiver Justin Brown (Oklahoma), linebacker Khairi Fortt (Cal) and kicker Anthony Fera (Texas). A few others have left the program, including some recruits, which was to be expected, and O’Brien will have a tough job ahead of him to keep more players from leaving in the off season.

Yes, it is a brand new era for Penn State football. They even have names on the jerseys now. But Saturday afternoon will serve a larger purpose for many. It will be an opportunity for the community and fans to come together and get a release from the real life issues that loom larger than football. While the conduct and statements of some in the Penn State community appear to do more harm than good, everybody at this point deserves a couple hours to have nothing more to worry about than a football game, even if that does play in to the culture argument that has been widely discussed.

So, what can we expect from Penn State as it opens the 2012 season? That’s an excellent question, because it’s nearly impossible to answer at this point.

The defense should be in solid condition, with Marple Newtown’s Pete Massaro back from another ACL injury and looking to see some time on the defensive line. As expected from Penn State, the linebackers will also be in good form, with last year’s three starters back for another fall, including Michael Mauti. Mauti is also coming back from an ACL injury, but he has worked hard to be ready to go this season and his senior leadership will be vital for keeping this team together. Mauti will be joined by Glenn Carson and Gerald Hodges, who turned down a chance to enter the NFL Draft to come back for his senior season.

The name fans around the Big Ten will likely get to know from Penn State’s defense will be defensive tackle Jordan Hill, who looks to follow in the footsteps of Devon Still and Jared Odrick. Hill is a monster in the trenches but will be in for a tough test against Ohio’s offensive line, who does as good a job protecting quarterback Tyler Tettleton as any line in the country (well, except for Alabama, perhaps). The success of the front seven will be key because Penn State must replace all four starters in the secondary. Sophomore Adrian Amos looks to be the young player to watch this season, as he can move from defensive back to safety if needed. 

The concerns are clearly on the offense. Matt McGloin is far from Tom Brady, although he has joked otherwise, and with a new crop of wideouts looking to replace the three leading receivers from last season (Derek Moye graduated, Brown transferred and Devon Smith was cut and transferred to Marshal), who knows what to expect from the passing game. Further complicating things could be the fact that McGloin and everyone on the offense will be looking to pick up a new style. Of course, with new players stepping in to the receiving game perhaps the offensive philosophy change may not be as much a detriment as it could for most teams. Allen Robinson, Shawney Kersey and Alex Kenney will be some of the names to watch step in to the receiver spots.

With Silas Redd moving to the west coast, O’Brien is not being shy about hyping up sophomore Bill Belton, who was used as a wildcat option late last season under interim head coach Tom Bradley. O’Brien quickly made sure he was moved to running back and was prepping him to back-up Redd. Now O’Brien says Belton is a guy he can count on for a good number of carries each week.

O’Brien is breathing new life into the Penn State football program in more ways than one, but now he needs to find a way to win some football games. Or at the very least, prove he knows how to be a head coach. Success for Penn State now will not be measured in wins and losses on the field, but how the team sticks together on and off the field.

Whatever lies ahead for O’Brien and Penn State, it begins Saturday afternoon at noon, against the Ohio Bobcats.

Follow Kevin’s college football coverage on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

The Phillies made a couple quiet additions as the winter meetings ended, signing veteran outfielder Daniel Nava and lefty reliever Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts.

Nava, 34 in February, is a left-handed hitter who can play the outfield corners and first base. He came up with the Red Sox and became a fan favorite in Boston in 2010 as a 27-year-old rookie. Some Phillies fans will remember him for hitting a grand slam off Joe Blanton in his first major-league plate appearance.

Nava had a few decent years in Boston, the best of which was 2013, when he had 536 plate appearances and hit .303/.385/.445 with 29 doubles, 12 homers and 66 RBIs. 

Nava's numbers and opportunities have dropped every year since. He was designated for assignment by Boston in 2015, latched on with the Rays, signed the next year with the Angels and was traded late in the season to the Royals.

Over the last two seasons, Nava has hit just .208, albeit with an on-base percentage 99 points higher because of his 30 walks and 10 hit by pitches.

Burnett, 34, has spent five of the last seven seasons in the Nationals' bullpen. He had a 2.85 ERA in 283 appearances from 2009-12 and parlayed that success into a two-year, $7.25 million contract with the Angels. However, he barely pitched in 2013 and 2014 for the Halos because of an elbow tear. He returned to the Nats last season and allowed two runs in 5⅔ innings.

Burnett, perhaps more so than Nava, has a chance to fill a role with the Phillies if he can stay healthy. He's shown he can get outs at the highest level, posting a 2.38 ERA in 2012 with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.14 ERA with 8.9 K/9 in 2010. That was a long time ago now, and Burnett's fastball has dipped from averaging 90-91 mph to 88.

According to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith, Burnett will receive a $1.25 million salary if he makes the team and can earn another $1.75 million in incentives based on his number of appearances.

Burnett has an opt-out date of March 26, meaning he can become a free agent a week before the regular season begins if it looks to him like he isn't in the Phils' plans.

Nava's chances at cracking the opening-day roster seem longer because the Phillies are expected to make more depth signings between now and the start of camp. They've prioritized finding some offense in the corner outfield and that could come in the form of more minor-league deals, a guaranteed contract or trade. One potential fit I examined last week was Mariners outfielder Seth Smith, a hitter more proven than Nava (see story).

These minor-league deals were commonplace for Phillies general manager Matt Klentak last offseason, when the only free agent he signed to a major-league deal was reliever David Hernandez. 

Last season, three players who were signed to minor-league deals with invites to spring training made the team on opening day: outfielder Cedric Hunter, utilityman Emmanuel Burriss and reliever James Russell.

Others, such as former closers Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri and Andrew Bailey, failed to make the team out of camp. Bailey eventually earned a call-up; the other two didn't.

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixers point guard and Meek Mill collaborator Lou Williams is enjoying quite the run off the bench for the Lakers recently.

Over Los Angeles' last four games, Williams has posted totals of 40, 38, 24, and 35 points. 

The six-man is averaging 34.5 points per game over the stretch, and his 137 points are the most off the bench in a four-game span by any player since 1970-71, when stats were first recorded, per Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN. Williams is now averaging 19.3 points this season, which is 4.4 more than his highest average with the Sixers.

Williams isn’t the only player who used to play for the Sixers that is playing well for the Lakers this year. Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who also comes off the bench, is averaging 13.3 points per game. Just a few weeks ago, Swaggy P stole a pass intended for Lou Williams, and then proceeded to hit a game winner against the Thunder. Swaggy P, however, is currently sidelined with a right calf strain, but is getting closer to a return.

"Lou Will" was also talked about last April during Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game, when he was beefing on Twitter with another former Philadelphia athlete, LeSean McCoy.