Morelli OnLion: Raiders take liking to PSU

If you’re a Penn State fan who has no allegiance to an NFL team, you may finally have a team to cheer for.

The Oakland Raiders.

As a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it pains me to write this column. But there are now four former Penn Staters playing for the Raiders. Truth be told, all four are pretty good guys.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the four Nittany Lions now plying their trade in Oakland.

Stefen Wisniewski — The crusty vet of the bunch, Wiz has been a Raider since 2011. Oakland took him in the second round. At 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, he’s even bigger (and better) than he was at Penn State.

Stefen Wisniewski has a season under his belt in the silver and black.

He paid immediate dividends for the Raiders. As a rookie, he started all 16 games as the Raiders went 8-8.

Jack Crawford — During this year’s NFL draft, Crawford was selected in the fifth round by the Raiders. He was the third Nittany Lion taken, going after Devon Still went in the second round to the Cincinnati Bengals and Johnnie Troutman, who was also taken in the fifth round by the San Diego Chargers.

Crawford was the first defensive end taken out of Penn State since Aaron Maybin was taken in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. He was the fifth defensive end selected under the watch of defensive line coach Larry Johnson.

He heads to Oakland at 6-5, 274 pounds. He has a ton of untapped potential. He had some issues at Penn State when drug paraphernalia was found in his apartment. However, a solid combine and pro day made him a mid-round choice.

If Crawford develops like the Raiders hope he can, he could prove to be a mid-round steal.

Nathan Stupar — The State College Area High School product was selected in the seventh round by the Raiders. It was a surprise selection as Stupar had no contact with the Raiders prior to the draft. He was the 230th overall pick in the draft.

Stupar played outside linebacker at Penn State, but the Raiders will probably move him to the middle. He also figures to be a contributor on special teams.

Moving to the middle is challenging at any level. Stupar will have to do it in the pros.

I’ve been playing outside my whole college career. I played some middle in some nickel packages,” Stupar said on a recent conference call. “I’m sure I’ll get used to it really fast. I’m a quick learner, and just being able to use my hands in tight and defeating blocks more easily.”

He will have to get bigger, stronger and faster to earn a spot on the Raiders’ opening day roster.

Chaz Powell — It was a bit of a surprise that Powell was not selected in the draft. The Susquehannock High School product played several positions at Penn State and was an exceptional kick returner.

However, during the three days of the NFL draft, Powell sat patiently and waited. He never heard his name announced on television.

Although there was interest from the Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions, his phone never rang.

But his agent, Deryk Gilmore, told him to be patient.

It didn’t take long to land an offer. Powell signed with the Raiders on April 28 after the draft was complete.

In Oakland, defensive backs coach Clayton Lopez told Powell he will have a chance to compete for a job in the secondary. He will also get a crack at being a kick returner, something the Raiders desperately need.

If you need evidence of how good Powell is at returning kicks, simply watch the Penn State 2010 and 2011 season openers again. In both games, Powell returned kickoffs for touchdowns. He also electrified Beaver Stadiun in 2009, when he hauled in a 79-yard touchdown from Daryll Clark on the first play of the game in a night tilt with Iowa.

It’s those kinds of splash plays that the Raiders are hoping to see from Powell in training camp and the preseason.

If he can pull that off, he may just earn a spot with the silver and black.

In addition to Wisniewski, Crawford, Stupar and Powell, there’s another Centre County connection to the Raiders. Philipsburg-Osceola High School and University of Maryland graduate Jon Condo is the team’s long snapper.

Condo was a standout wrestler and football player for the Mounties before moving on to a successful collegiate career with the Terps.

He’s been with the Raiders for six seasons and made the Pro Bowl in 2011.

Chris Morelli is an award-winning writer/editor who resides in Centre County and covers Penn State athletics for gantdaily.com. He’s also a regular on “Sports Central,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. You can e-mail Chris at morellionlion@gmail.com.

 

 

 

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