THE OFFENSE'S GREATEST STRENGTH IS:
Mark Brennan: The receiving corps. I love the combo of Derek Moye and Justin Brown. Apparently the coaching staff does, too, as it bumped Brown to a starting role early last season when it became apparent that senior Graham Zug had gotten himself out of whack for whatever reason. Moye is a proven commodity who will likely finish among the top three in school history in receiving TDs (trailing only Bobby Engram and Kenny Jackson). Brown is big and strong and fast, and will be special if he improves his consistency. Look for Shawney Kersey to emerge as the No. 3 receiver with speedy Devon Smith doing his thing in the slot (though he, too, has to improve from a consistency standpoint). Losing Curtis Drake for another season hurts, as does the lack of any sort of proven pass-catcher at tight end.
Mark Harrington: I like the wideouts, but I have to go with the backfield. Even with an injury-prone veteran like Stephfon Green, the Lions still have a speedy, shifty back in Silas Redd, a power runner in Curtis Dukes and the return of a reinvigorated Brandon Beachum, who has a nice blend of the two approaches. When you toss in fullbacks Joey Suhey and Michael Zordich, the Penn State coaches have a nice stable of backs they can plug and play into various situations. If the offensive line is remotely good, the PSU running game should be a real weapon.
THE OFFENSE'S BIGGEST CONCERN IS:
Mark Harrington: I have to go with quarterback at this point since PSU has no clue who will be on the depth chart come preseason drills. With Rob Bolden, Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome all looking at potential transfers, this situation has even thrown a curveball to the Class of 2012 recruiting efforts, as the staff asked prospects to go into a holding pattern until its determine who will opt to stay in Happy Valley. This not only impacts the long-term prospects for the offense, but also the general schemes the unit will work in the off-season. The staff must get a handle on who is staying and who is going soon so it can actually get on with preparing for the 2011 season.
Mark Brennan: The offensive line. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case more often than not anymore. No matter who starts at quarterback and no matter how good the rest of the skill players may be, it won't make much difference if the front five doesn't come together and come together quickly. Overall, this is a veteran group, so there will be no excuse if it plays as poorly early this season as it did last fall. With Alabama and its powerhouse defense visiting Beaver Stadium in Week No. 2, it is imperative for the offensive line to get its collective act together in the preseason. It will also help to have a tight end who can do a little blocking. Senior Andrew Szczerba could be the man, but only if he is fully healed after missing all of 2010 due to a back injury that required surgery.
THE STARTING QUARTERBACK WILL BE:
Mark Brennan: Rob Bolden. My gut feeling is he'll be back for the second summer semester. (If not -- and with all due respect to Nick Sukay -- some stores in downtown State College will have to have clearance sales on No. 1 jerseys.) If Bolden returns, I just think he has a greater upside than Matt McGloin. When the whole potential transfer drama began to unfold after the Outback Bowl, I wondered if Bolden could ever again be viewed as a leader by his PSU teammates. But during the spring, everyone seemed to treat him like one of the guys.
Mark Harrington: I agree that Bolden is the likely pick. Despite the bowl/off-season drama it seems like some assurances were made to Bolden at least for the early goings of 2011. And let's be honest, a transfer isn't exactly a given stepping stone into a better situation for Bolden, considering he would have to sit out a year and then likely battle his way up the depth chart again. I do think the off-season tension may cost Bolden some leadership points, but if he can step in and make a commitment to his teammates he could diffuse that in short order.
THE OFFENSIVE MVP WILL BE:
Mark Harrington: Derek Moye. The veteran has shown he can make some incredible catches and has the ability to make a major impact on a game. Moye has the skill set and the confidence to go with it to help spark a real air attack. The big question is whether there is a quarterback who can get him the ball consistently. Given that I have a feeling that Justin Brown will have an impressive outing this coming season, I think that helps to open things up a bit for a Moye bien 2011.
Mark Brennan: Silas Redd. I know I'm taking a bit of a gamble here, as Redd was not even the clear first-team tailback coming out of spring ball and - as was noted earlier -- Penn State is loaded at the position. But Redd is the first Penn State tailback since I don't know when to exhibit a wow factor when it comes to speed, moves and toughness. He showed me more on 77 carries last season than Evan Royster or Tony Hunt did in their respective careers. That said, Royster and Hunt -- while lacking explosion -- were extremely durable. And that'll be a key for Redd, too. One need look no further than backfield mate Stephfon Green for evidence that pure athletic ability doesn't mean much for a back who is injury prone.
A BREAKOUT OFFENSIVE PLAYER WILL BE:
Mark Brennan: Shawney Kersey. Since I already projected Redd as my MVP, I won't go with him here. Kersey appeared to be headed for good things in 2010 before he took a brief leave of absence from the program to consider transferring. Though he only missed one game (Temple) before opting to return, the staff obviously felt it could not trust him and significantly reduced his role in the offense (he had one catch in the last nine games). Kersey was said to be unstoppable at times during the spring. He is one of the fastest players on the team. If he can zero in on his fundamentals -- a focal point for summer workouts -- he will emerge as a strong third option in the passing game.
Mark Harrington: I am going to go out on a limb and go with Brandon Beachum. After quite a few detours over his collegiate career, Beachum appears to have turned the corner and he delivered an impressive performance this past spring. With Green sidelined for an extended portion of the spring, Beachum split first-team reps with Redd and had solid spring, turning heads with his size/speed combination. If he can keep on a healthy track I can see him having a breakout year for the offense.
IT IS PUT UP OR SHUT UP TIME FOR:
Mark Harrington: Andrew Szczerba. Granted, the guy has had a career plagued with health issues. Finally he seems to be at least headed in the right direction. However, for a player who was a Scout four-star tight end who was ranked the No. 12 TE nationally out of high school, it's been disappointing that Szczerba has seen action in 23 games over his PSU career but has only caught two passes for 15 total yards. This being his senior season, it is his last shot to make an impact on a position that is in need of some depth and impact players.
Mark Brennan: Stephfon Green. It is difficult to blame a guy for being injury prone -- especially someone like Green, who always seems to be in tremendous shape. But the once-promising tailback is now staring at his final season of eligibility and, after watching his carries, YPC averages and TD counts all decline in each of the past two campaigns, it is officially now or never for Green. I'm pulling for him, because there is so much to like even beyond his game-breaking speed. Green has emerged as a team leader, has always had a great rapport with the media and has been generous with his time when it comes to charitable events. He's due for an injury-free season and I hope he gets it.
A TRUE FRESHMAN TO WATCH IS:
Mark Brennan: Bill Belton. With Curtis Drake likely out for a second straight season due to a broken leg, Belton ought to get a chance to compete for the slot receiver position. Though not quite as fast as Devon Smith (few are), Belton has a much sturdier build, which should allow the coaching staff to use him over the middle. At the very least, expect Belton to me a member of the six-man rotation the Lions use at the receiver positions.
Mark Harrington: Shawn Oakman. Although Larry Johnson has his eyes on Oakman for the defensive end rotation, there has been discussion that he could get a look early on with the tight ends. Given the needs of the position and Oakman's 6-foot-8, 250-pound frame and decent blocking skills, he could make an immediate impact on the offense if the coaches opt to give him an opportunity to show what he can do there.