Penn State’s offense isn’t the only unit embracing change.
The defense has experienced tweaks this preseason, ranging from new vernacular to different secondary philosophies.
And one of the Nittany Lions’ most candid players said defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s aggressive schemes fit his talents.
The first 19 days of the preseason are bringing cornerback Stephon Morris back to his career at Eleanor Roosevelt (Md.) High School.
Morris said the defense provides cornerbacks with numerous options, including the opportunity to squeeze wide receivers. He spent the past three seasons trying to fit into former defensive coordinator Tom Bradley’s zone coverages.
“I came here as a man-to-man corner,” Morris said. “I didn’t know it was going to be a zone-base concept. Just for it to be my senior year and get a chance to play the style of play that I can play, it’s definitely a blessing. I just have to go out there and do everything to help our team and back up my words as well.”
Morris’ words are always entertaining — and honest. With last year’s starting secondary, which included D’Anton Lynn, Chaz Powell, Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino gone, he has become the unit’s vocal leader.
The 5-foot-8 Morris has 13 career starts. No. 14 will come next Saturday against Ohio University at Beaver Stadium.
The game, which begins at noon, is on ESPN. Penn State’s tumultuous offseason should increase the size of the national television audience.
Morris relishes the attention. “We like that everybody in the world will be watching,” Morris said. “You are going to have people that want to see us fail. We know that, but we have the whole community around us, we have each other, we have the Penn State support. That’s all we need. That’s going to drive us.”
Lining up everywhere
Senior Michael Zordich’s off-field role is defined.
He’s one of the program’s ardent defenders and his words spark strong emotions. But where will Zordich line up this fall?
If coach Bill O’Brien’s offense resembles the New England Patriots’ system — indications are that it’s the college version of the unit — then the traditional fullback will be bypassed for additional receiving threats.
In the open portions of preseason practices, Zordich often lines up outside the tackles. Zordich said this week that he’s a hybrid player, meaning he might work as a fullback, ‘F’ tight end and H-back. The ‘F’ tight end is the smaller of Penn State’s two tight ends and offers another receiving threat.
“I do a little bit of everything,” Zordich said. “I have no problem with it.”
Tackle battle continues
Senior Matt Stankiewitch is the starting center. Junior John Urschel and Miles Dieffenbach are the guards. Donovan Smith will likely play left tackle, leaving right tackle as the only unsettled position on the offensive line entering this weekend.
Junior Adam Gress, who entered the summer atop the depth chart, and senior Mike Farrell are splitting first-team repetitions.
“We have a lot of competition on our team,” Urschel said. “It’s making those guys better. They are pushing each other and both of them have been playing well.”
One big list
Even all-star games are releasing watch lists.
Defensive linemen Jordan Hill and Pete Massaro, linebacker Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, Stankiewitch and Zordich give Penn State six players on the Senior Bowl’s first watch list.
The list includes 309 players and will be trimmed to 100 participants. Invitations will begin being extended in the next few weeks and players not on the watch list are eligible for the showcase.
The SEC leads the nation with 71 players on the watch list. The Big Ten is second with 46 players.
TV time for Hackenberg
Penn State quarterback recruit Christian Hackenberg begins his senior season today when he leads Fork Union Military Academy (Va.) against Hermitage (Va.) at 3 p.m. today on ESPNU.
The game marks Hackenberg’s third national television appearance this summer. ESPNU also televised The Opening and Elite 11, two national showcases where Hackenberg had strong performances.
Hackenberg, ranked the nation’s No. 42 prospect by Rivals.com, is one of two mega-recruits in Saturday’s game. Hermitage running back Derrick Green is the nation’s No. 13 recruit. Penn State offered Green a scholarship, but he lists Auburn, Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon, Tennessee and Virginia Tech in his top six.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy