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Penn State Football: Five Players Set for Breakout Seasons in 2012

by on April 12, 2012 6:00 AM

As Penn State looks to finish out its final stretch of spring practices, players on both sides of the ball will be asked to step up and fill leadership roles on and off the field.

The graduation of defensive tackle Devon Still and wide receiver Derek Moye has opened up the door for new players to break out and fill those roles.

Here are five players who are looking to make a name for themselves during the 2012-13 season.

No. 15 Alex Kenney - Redshirt Sophomore, Wide Receiver

The talented State College native is best known for his field vision and quickness. While at State College Area High School, Kenney was a threat to score whenever he touched the ball, accumulating 26 touchdowns his senior season and was particularly deadly on special teams.

After seeing limited action last year at Penn State, Kenney is currently filling the first-team offensive role in the slot receiver position. While Justin Brown will be the primary receiver for whoever is under center this fall, Kenney could become a star if a few balls are thrown his way.

No. 58 Adam Gress - Redshirt Junior, Offensive Tackle

The Nittany Lions return just one starter from the offensive line that took the field at the TicketCity Bowl in January and will be looking to find suitable replacements.

Bill O’Brien has noted that Gress has taken advantage of Craig Fitzgerald's strength and conditioning program, and as a result, Gress has seen significant action at the left tackle position in spring drills. While offensive linemen often are the unsung heroes of a football team, come fall, Gress may just be the anchor the team needs in the trenches.

No. 18 Deion Barnes - Redshirt Freshman, Defensive End

With the exit of Jack Crawford, Still and Eric Latimore, the defensive line is open for several players to make an impact early and often. Barnes is an athletic specimen with len

gth and height that defensive line coach Larry Johnson can mold into another superb defensive player.

Graduate student Pete Massaro and senior Sean Stanley also will be competing with Barnes for playing time on the line. That being said, don’t be surprised if this talented freshman gives opposing quarterbacks headaches early and often.

No. 47 Jordan Hill – Senior, Defensive Line

While Hill technically isn’t a new name for Nittany Lion fans, with the departure of Still to the NFL, Hill has the opportunity to elevate his game to the level that Still played at his senior season.  

Hill recorded 36 tackles and two tackles for loss, with four starts last year, and was the recipient of the Jim O'Hora Award, presented by the coaching staff to a defensive player for "exemplary conduct, loyalty, interest, attitude and improvement" during spring practice in 2011.

If Hill is able to replicate and build on his play from 2011, he too could hear his name called at the NFL draft next year.

No. 5 Bill Belton – Sophomore, Running Back

Belton made his first serious appearance on the offensive side of the ball last year during Joe Paterno and Tom Bradley’s experimentation with the wildcat formation, which was most notably used to defeat Ohio State in Columbus, 20-14 last season. Now that Belton has officially moved from wide receiver to running back to help beef up a shallow backfield, he has the chance to continue that success he had running the ball last year.

While there isn’t any indication that Belton will see many traditional running plays like his counterpart Silas Redd, his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield could make him a deadly weapon in Bill O’Brien’s offense.

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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