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Five New Faces to Watch During Spring Practice

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions are nearing the mid-way point of spring practice after Monday's seventh session.


Coach O'Brien and the Lions have made strides on both sides of the ball as the Blue-White Game approaches.  With spring practice nearly half over, take a look through five new faces (and one old face in a new place) that have emerged as contributors.

#2 Curtis Drake - Junior, Cornerback
By no means is Curtis Drake a new face for the Nittany Lions, but the junior has a new number and a new position this spring.  The Philadelphia native missed all of 2010 with a broken left leg.  Drake reinjured his lower left leg during spring practice in 2011.  He appeared in eight games at receiver last season, but was limited by the leg injury.  The West Philadelphia Catholic HS product emerged as a playmaker for the Nittany Lions at the end of 2009 and in the Capital One Bowl victory over LSU.  After two injury-plagued seasons, Drake is looking to play a big role for the Nittany Lion secondary in 2012.  The junior has superb athleticism and has adapted well to his new home at cornerback this spring.  With the graduation of four senior starters, the Nittany Lions will be looking to Drake for added depth in the secondary.

#13 Tim Buckley - Freshman, Safety
The departure of four seniors in the Penn State secondary opened the door for new faces to emerge this spring.  Redshirt freshman Tim Buckley is player who has found his way into the secondary rotation for the Nittany Lions in spring practice.  With bumps and bruises at times this spring in the secondary, the Raleigh, N.C., native has worked with the first team from time to time.  Buckley is a physical defender with good size (6-0, 202).  With continued progress, Buckley is one of numerous players who will look to battle for playing time at safety in 2012.

#15 Alex Kenney - Sophomore, Wide Receiver
With the graduation of standout wide receiver Derek Moye, the Nittany Lions moved into the spring looking to bolster their depth at the receiver spot.  State College product Alex Kenney is a name to keep an eye on for the 2012 season.  After moving from the secondary to receiver during the TicketCity Bowl practice season, Kenney appears to have found a home at receiver.  Kenney, who helped lead State College HS to the PIAA AAAA state title game in 2010, is poised to play a significant role on the Penn State offense in the fall.  A crisp route runner with good hands and speed, Kenney has made very good progress so far this spring.

#18 Deion Barnes - Freshman, Defensive End
Despite the graduation of All-American Devon Still, Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore, the defensive line will be a strength for the Nittany Lions in 2012.  The battles for playing time on the D-Line will be very competitive throughout fall camp leading up to the Sept. 1 opener against Ohio.  Redshirt freshman Deion Barnes will be among the contenders for playing time at end, in addition to seniors Pete Massaro, Sean Stanley and a host of others.  Barnes passes the visual test with superb size, a long wingspan and a quick first step to get into the backfield.  The Philadelphia native has made great progress this spring.  Barnes has recently spent time rotating into the first unit on the defensive line.

#58 Adam Gress - Junior, Offensive Tackle
The Nittany Lions return just one starter from the offensive line that took the field at the TicketCity Bowl in January (C Matt Stankiewitch).  However, the graduation of four seniors has opened the door for new contributors in the trenches.   Adam Gress, who saw action on 20 plays in 2011, is among the athletes who have stepped up this spring.  Gress, a West Mifflin, Pa., native has consistently practiced with the first team offensive line this spring.  Coach O'Brien singled out the redshirt junior for his hard work during the winter strength and conditioning program.  With continued hard work, Gress will challenge for a starting spot at tackle during fall camp.

Follow Media Specialist Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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