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 Prospect Notebook: Franklyn Kilome, Jose Taveras anchoring Clearwater's strong rotation

Phillies Prospect Notebook: Franklyn Kilome, Jose Taveras anchoring Clearwater's strong rotation

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Prospect Franklyn Kilome is the second-highest rated pitcher in the Phillies' organization, and the right-hander lived up to the billing Sunday, as the Clearwater Threshers, the Phillies' Class A Advanced affiliate, closed a three-game series at St. Lucie.

The right-hander twirled seven sparkling innings, shutting down the Mets’ hot bats, as the Threshers blanked St. Lucie 1-0 behind an unearned run at First Data Field to salvage the final game of the series.

Kilome, 21, allowed five hits, struck out six and didn’t issue a walk in winning for the first time since April 27. Only one St. Lucie player managed to reach second base against the 6-foot-6, 175-pound pitcher.

The Dominican pitcher is ranked No. 7 overall by Baseball America among Phillies' prospects. Only 18-year-old Lakewood hurler Sixto Sanchez (fifth overall) is rated above him in the organization.

“He’s got a chance to be a workhorse. Good body, very good arm, but still learning how to pitch a little bit,” pitching coach Aaron Fultz said of Kilome, who improved to 3-2 with a 3.02 ERA.

“He’s up to 97 (mph) with a good curveball and slider. He’s learning a changeup. He’s learning the game, but he’s got a huge upside.”

Jose Taveras (4-2, 2.26) has been another reliable arm on Clearwater’s staff. He led the South Atlantic League in strikeouts last season and has 54 in 55 2/3 innings this year.

Taveras also handled St. Lucie on Saturday, but he was left with a no-decision after the bullpen gave up three runs in a 4-3 loss in 10 innings. The 23-year-old worked six strong innings and yielded just a run on four hits.  

“Taveras is just a very good competitor," Fultz said. "His fastball is average, pretty decent breaking ball and his changeup is good, but the thing that makes him good is he’s just a competitor. He studies the game and the hitters and is very advanced with that.”

Added Threshers manager Shawn Williams: “There are times when he may not have his usual command, and he’ll change an arm angle, which shows he’s got a good feel for what he’s doing. He’ll crossfire, has deception … he’s got something where they don’t pick up his fastball and are always late.”

A third Dominican right-hander, Seranthony Dominguez (3-0, 2.02), has been a big part of the rotation as well and has won three times in six starts but is currently sidelined with shoulder soreness. An MRI returned a clean report.

“The first three or four weeks we were ridiculously good," Fultz said. "We’ve had a few bumps in the road since then, but we’re getting the job done.”

Zach, not Francis Ford
Zach Coppola has a famous Hollywood last name, but the Clearwater corner outfielder has spent 2017 making a name for himself with his defense, at the plate and on the bases.

Coppola, 23, was 5 for 12 with two runs scored in the St. Lucie series, including Sunday’s lone run. He made a pair of outstanding run-saving catches in the outfield over the weekend and raised his average to .346, second to Chris Paul (.351) of Fort Myers.

“Zach has been doing a great job as a leadoff hitter,” Williams said of the Iowa native. “He gets big hits, bunts, but the thing for me is he does something every night to help you win, whether it’s a bunt hit or a great diving play in left-center. He’ll throw a guy out or get a great dirtball read and score the winning run.

“He’s a very good baseball player who does all the little things.”

Good contributors
The Threshers (28-23) have sat atop the FSL’s North Division for most of the first half, but a series loss at St. Lucie over the weekend left them trailing Dunedin by one game after both clubs won Sunday.

Williams said his first season skippering the club has been highlighted by a full-team effort.

“It’s been a little bit of everything,” Williams said. “Early on our pitching was very, very good. Cole (Irvin) was really dealing (see more on Irvin). Dominguez, everybody was. We were getting the big hits, and our defense has been very consistent. Overall, we’ve just played good baseball.”

One standout playing good ball has been 5-foot-5 middle infielder Grenny Cumana, who went 7 for 10 in the series and made a spectacular catch-and-throw on the grass behind the bag while playing second base to rob St. Lucie’s Vinny Siena of an infield hit Sunday.

Tenacious P
Fultz said one immeasurable he likes in his pitchers is a bulldog-like tenacity that has them wanting the ball in key moments, regardless of previous outcomes.

“I don’t have to have the guy who’s always going to succeed in the big situation, but I always want the guy that wants to be out there in that situation. To me, that’s the selling point,” he said. “It’s not always being successful; it’s always wanting to be in that situation, which is a big plus.”

Fultz said his favorite battler was Jamie Brewington, a teammate of his in the San Francisco farm system, who appeared in 40 games over two MLB seasons.

“He went right after hitters, and it was fun to watch,” Fultz said.

Andrew Knapp's long homer a bright spot for skidding Phillies as rookie pushes Cameron Rupp

Andrew Knapp's long homer a bright spot for skidding Phillies as rookie pushes Cameron Rupp

Hidden in the Phillies' sub-par Sunday was one bright spot: Andrew Knapp.

The young backup catcher blasted a long home run into the Phillies' bullpen that gave them an early lead they would soon relinquish in an 8-4 loss to the Reds. The long ball comes on the heels of Knapp's first back-to-back starts earlier in the week.

"The more playing time you get, the better you feel," he said. "That's just the way it goes. I'm just trying to take my opportunities and take advantage of them. Unfortunately, we didn't win today, but the more at-bats I get, the better I feel."

The 25-year-old rookie was handed a prime opportunity in the second inning with two men on and one out. Starter Scott Feldman put him behind 0-2 with consecutive fastballs and tried to put him away upstairs. Knapp stayed poised and laid off both pitches, waiting for a mistake.

And the mistake came with a belt-high curveball that Knapp barreled 434 feet for a three-run homer.

"I wasn't really looking for it," he said. "I knew he liked to throw it with two strikes. It was kind of in the back of my head. But I was just looking for something out over the dish. He was pounding me in, but I was going to make him beat me away. I thankfully got that one out in front a bit."

Knapp is now 53 at-bats into his MLB career and has an impressive .264/.371/.509 batting line with three home runs and seven RBIs. He's played well enough to push starting catcher Cameron Rupp for more playing time and earn himself some extra starts beyond day games after night games.

"I feel good," Knapp said. "I'm learning a lot. Each at-bat in itself is its own thing and you can't really have much rollover. At the same time, the more I get in there, the better I feel and the more experience I get. So I feel good so far."

Rupp has been solid at the plate, although he dealt with some issues defensively last week. As Knapp got consecutive starts, Rupp sat out both Tuesday and Wednesday against the Rockies. He rebounded with a three-walk game Thursday afternoon.

With Knapp swinging the bat well, manager Pete Mackanin hopes it will only push Rupp to level his game up.

"Competition is great for pitchers and for position players and I think it's good," Mackanin said. "Knapp hit that home run today. He's been swinging the bat pretty well, catching pretty well and that's only, in my opinion, going to make Rupp better."

On Friday, Mackanin said he would give Knapp more playing time, looking to possibly split starts between Rupp and Knapp at four and three starts, respectively, per week. That's how it worked out during this past homestand.

The manager was unsure what the upward limit on Knapp's starts could be, but he was pleased about his catching situation despite the team's overall issues.

"Cam hasn't been swinging the bat that well lately, but they're both going to get playing time," Mackanin said. "Cam will get the brunt of the playing time. For me, it's a great situation. Now we have two guys that we think a lot of."