Donovan Smith is back in action after dealing with hamstring problems early in camp.
Today we continue our 12 for 2012 series. The list won't necessarily cover the 12 best players on the squad, but those whose production and presence on and off the field will be needed the most if the Nittany Lions are to have the kind of success they're looking for this season.
No. 8 -- Donovan Smith
Rewind: The four-star recruit and Army All-American from Owings Mills, Md., adjusted quickly to the college game as a true freshman in 2011, working his way past several veterans up to second-team tackle at one point, but the Penn State coaches (wisely) decided not to burn Smith's redshirt. He added even more size to his already hulking 6-foot-5 frame over the spring and summer and checked in to preseason camp at 316 pounds. He battled veterans Adam Gress and Mike Farrell throughout the spring and by the end of spring ball was the starting left tackle, though he's seen reps on both sides of the line.
The Take: Big, strong and agile, Smith is arguably the Nittany Lions' most promising prospect at the offensive tackle position since Levi Brown. The key word there, however, is "prospect" -- he has yet to play a snap in a collegiate game. Smith had a little trouble with speed rushers like Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan in the Blue-White Game and will need to show that he can consistently stymie pass-rushers of all kinds to hold onto the job of protecting his quarterback's blind side. But he has good hands and feet and, with the help of offensive line coach Mac McWhorter, has refined his technique. The Nittany Lions are hoping Smith, one of four new starters on the offensive line, will be the kind of player they can build a line and an offense around.
The Forecast: The Nittany Lions have three players -- Smith, Gress and Farrell -- who have taken the vast majority of the first-team reps at the two tackle spots since the start of the spring. Smith is easily the most talented of the three. He missed some important practice repetitions during the preseason with a nagging hamstring injury but is back in the lineup and, according to Coach Bill O'Brien, looking solid. If Smith plays to potential, the line could be very solid in both the run and the pass game. But remember, Smith is only a redshirt freshman. Few young players at any position, especially as important as left tackle, make it through an entire season without some significant growing pains. More important than the height of Smith's peaks for the 2012 Nittany Lions will be the depth of his valleys.