Penn State’s preseason camp may not be scheduled to start until the first week of August. But for die-hard Nittany Lion fans, it is never too early to start breaking things down in preparation for the season.
So in the coming weeks we’ll be offering a variety of unique takes on James Franklin’s squad. Be sure to get in on the conversation on our premium forum.
In this segment, we talk about the top three reasons to be excited (and concerned) about the PSU offense.
REASONS TO BE EXCITED
3. The Left Side Of The Offensive Line
A healthy Andrew Nelson is Penn State’s best offensive lineman, and moving him from right to left tackle in the spring was smart. We also love redshirt freshman Ryan Bates at left guard. Yes, Bates may have some growing pains as he gets comfortable. But we’d rather see a young guy with a huge upside learn on the fly than a more experienced veteran struggle yet again.
2. Killer Backs & Receivers
RB Saquon Barkley set a PSU rookie rushing record last season playing behind a very dicey offensive line. He was so good that previous starter Akeel Lynch transferred and former backup Nick Scott moved to defensive back. And yet the Lions will still have excellent backups in true freshman Miles Sanders, redshirt freshman power runner Andre Robinson and versatile redshirt sophomore Mark Allen. At WR, the leading pass catchers from 2014 (DaeSean Hamilton) and 2015 (Chris Godwin) are back, and by all accounts the best receiver in spring ball was junior Saeed Blacknall. Add in speedy small guys Brandon Polk and DeAndre Thompkins — not to mention huge redshirt freshmen Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles — and you are looking at terrific depth.
1. A New Offense
John Donovan’s often complicated, inflexible, round-peg-in-square-hole attack has been replaced by Joe Moorhead's hurry-up, spread, check-with-me offense. This stuff may not be the future in the NFL, but it has been very successful at the college level. And it is going to make life easier on PSU’s mobile young quarterbacks, who won’t be forced to make pre-snap adjustments on their own. When defenses have a chance to get set, a call will come in from the sideline and the offense ideally will exploit whatever area is vulnerable. Moorhead will be coaching from the field, and PSU fans are surely hoping he’s in charge of clock management, too.
REASONS TO BE CONCERNED
3. Questions At Tight End
Graduation (Kyle Carter), injury (Adam Breneman) and a legal issue (Brent Wilkerson) have left junior Mike Gesicki as Penn State’s only scholarship tight end with any experience. And while Gesicki is an athletic freak, the experience in question is mostly negative. Projected by many (including us) as a breakout player for the Lions in 2015, Gesicki finished with only 13 catches for 125 yards and a score. He had at least half a dozen drops. The three players behind him are redshirt freshmen Nick Bowers and Jonathan Holland, as well as true freshman Danny Dalton. They have combined for zero career snaps to this point. It should be noted that Bowers drew raves in spring ball, more for his blocking than receiving.
2. A New Quarterback
Redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley looked like a perfect fit for Moorhead’s offense in the spring game, ripping up the backup defense (23 of 27 for 281 yards and four TDs). And he looked solid in taking over for the injured Christian Hackenberg in the TaxSlayer Bowl and nearly engineering a comeback win over Georgia. The kid is confident, can throw on the run and scramble for yardage. Unlike Hackenberg, he has good pocket awareness. But he doesn’t have great arm strength and — at 6-foot, 199 pounds — you have to wonder about his durability in an offense where he’ll be asked to run read-option plays. McSorley may well be terrific (and yes, we're already anointing him over redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens).
1. The Right Side Of The Offensive Line
This area did not appear close to being set at the end of spring practice. Former starting left tackle Paris Palmer and redshirt sophomore Noah Beh were still splitting first-team reps at right tackle, while veterans Derek Dowrey and Brendan Mahon seemed to be the most likely candidates at right guard. Mahon missed most of the spring with an undisclosed injury, and if he made as much improvement in winter workouts as we were led to believe, he COULD be a decent starter. But that right tackle spot has trouble written all over it.
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