Take Your Marks: Offense

Brennan and Harrington answer a variety of key questions facing the Nittany Lion offense this summer.

Welcome to the latest edition of Take Your Marks, the occasional series where Fight On State staffers Mark Brennan and Mark Harrington discuss and debate topics relating to Penn State football. In this installment, they tackle the Nittany Lion offense coming out of spring practice and heading into summer workouts.

WITH THE SEASON OPENER RAPIDLY APPROACHING, THE OFFENSE'S GREATEST CONCERN IS…

BRENNAN: The line. We've seen Penn State teams succeed with inexperienced receivers (as recently as 2005, in fact). But it is difficult to remember a Nittany Lion squad making a national title run with an untested offensive line. I love the move of Stefen Wisniewski to center and think he and returning right tackle Dennis Landolt will both make a run at All-Big Ten honors. But that left side -- a sophomore (tackle DeOn'tae Pannell) and redshirt freshman (guard Matt Stankiewitch) were protecting QB Daryll Clark's blind side at the close of spring ball -- must get its act together quickly.

HARRINGTON: The line is always of concern. Whether you are dealing with rookies or veterans you always have to wonder about the chemistry and cohesiveness of five guys. However, with Wisniewski in the middle and Landolt also returning, PSU has a pair of veterans to build from. I am most concerned with the wideouts. Replacing what was arguably the most dynamic, effective trio in Penn State history in Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams is a tall order, to put it kindly. The Lions have a multitude of candidates to fill in, like Derek Moyer, Graham Zug, Brett Brackett, Chaz Powell and A.J. Price. However, with limited experience beyond Brackett and Zug, the coaches are looking at a different type of receiving corps, one that emphasizes size over speed. With a focus on the intermediate routes and fewer deep threats, the unit will present a different look for Clark. The upside is that Clark is a veteran and should be able to adjust to the supporting cast's abilities.

MEANWHILE, THE OFFENSE'S GREATEST STRENGTH IS…

HARRINGTON: Leadership. With Clark, Evan Royster, Wisniewski and Landolt, the unit has an abundance of leaders. What's even better is that it has varying types of guys who will take charge -- the loud, amp-'em-up type (Clark); the quiet, let-me-show-you-how-it's done type (Royster); and players who can do a little of both (Landolt and Wisniewski).

BRENNAN: The backfield. If injured players get healthy, Penn State should have the best backfield in the Big Ten. Clark is a proven commodity at QB and Royster is the top-returning tailback in the conference. Backup TB Stephfon Green has game-breaking speed and I think Powell will be extremely effective in spot action out of the backfield. All bets are off if Clark is injured, of course. In the meantime, while I agree that the personalities are in place for strong leadership, it should be noted that, beyond Clark, none of the players you mentioned have been looked to as take-charge types in clutch situations. Even Clark had the veteran wideouts and offensive linemen to lean on last season.

ALONG THOSE LINES, THE OFFENSIVE PLAYER BESIDES CLARK PENN STATE CAN LEAST AFFORD TO LOSE IS…

BRENNAN: Wisniewski. Getting the line calls down is essential in a zone blocking scheme and with a back (Royster) who excels while running behind said scheme. So to me, keeping Wisniewski healthy is imperative to the offense. He is big, athletic, experienced and extremely intelligent. With three new starters up front and no other experience at center, Wisniewski is not only the second-most important player on the offense, but also the entire team.

HARRINGTON: I can't disagree with the vital role Wisniewski plays. However, with questions about the receivers and the health of Green, I am going with Royster. Royster has the ability to take the pressure off the pocket and give the line time to develop. PSU was assembling some solid drives in the Rose Bowl before Royster was knocked out of the game. He has shown a propensity to find open holes and hit them hard. That's not to say there aren't guys who could take over (a returned Green or Brandon Beachum), but no one has played that workhorse back role at this level of play like Royster has.

ONE PLAYER POISED FOR A BREAKOUT SEASON IS…

HARRINGTON: Moye has good size (6-foot-5) deceptive speed (4.4-range 40) and the aggression to go up and after balls. With opportunity knocking, he should be a major playmaker for Clark and has the ability to provide another key offensive weapon for this team. Impressive even as a redshirting freshman in 2007, Moye earned a coveted travel roster spot. Since then he has turned heads in practice while waiting his turn behind Butler, Norwood and Williams.

BRENNAN: Powell has the physical ability to be a better multipurpose threat than Derrick Williams was last season. He is bigger, faster and a more natural running back. And as good as Williams was returning kickoffs in 2008 -- he had two TDs and averaged 25.8 yards per attempt -- Powell actually had a better average (28.8 yards). Like Williams, he must work to improve his receiving skills. But he has three seasons left to do that. Home-run threats like Powell and Moye are two reasons I don't quite buy your earlier argument that this year's wideout corps will rely more on size than speed.

IT IS NOW OR NEVER FOR…

BRENNAN: Right guard Lou Eliades. There have been high expectations for Eliades since he arrived on campus in 2006. Three years later, his most significant action came in the Rose Bowl loss to USC, when he replaced Landolt. Eliades has proved to be injury prone and inconsistent to this point of his career. With only two seasons of eligibility remaining, if he does not get it rolling in 2009, it may never happen. The pressure is on. He has the talent to play well at this level. Let's see if he can pull it all together.

HARRINGTON: The easy choice is tight end Andrew Quarless. However, I think receiver James McDonald has an opportunity ahead of him and it sure seems like he's been in the program since the mid-1990s. It's literally now or never for McDonald as a fifth-year senior. Last season he saw cleanup time in 10 games but caught only five passes for 72 yards. The upside is that the big time wideouts are gone to the NFL. The downside is that there is a herd of young talented receivers -- including some who are arriving with the incoming freshman class in late Junes -- waiting to take their place this coming year.

THE TRUE FRESHMAN WHO WILL MAKE THIS BIGGEST IMPACT IN 2009 IS…

HARRINGTON: This may be a really tall order, but Eric Shrive could be another of those linemen in the mold of Wisniewski who comes in and makes an early impact. PSU certainly has not had the best luck with five-star linemen (think Mark Farris, Joel Holler, Greg Harrison and Antonio Logan-El). However, Shrive has been a mainstay on campus since he pledged and has the size and attitude to help fortify the questionable depth at left tackle. It's a tall order, but he's reportedly determined to make a push for the position, so we'll see.

BRENNAN: I like Shrive too, and would have tabbed him had we been asked which Class of 2009 member has the most long-term potential. But, barring an injury to Landolt (a starter in 26 straight games), I don't see Shrive logging enough playing time to qualify here. So to answer the specific question posed, I'll go with receiver Justin Brown. At 6-4, 210, Brown brings a solid combination of size and speed to his position. With as many wideouts as the Nittany Lions use in the Spread HD, he ought to emerge as an impact player quickly. Overall, I liked what I saw from the rebuilt receiving corps in the spring. But there is always room for an extra talented pass catcher in this offense.

A KEY STATISTICS FOR THE PENN STATE OFFENSE WILL BE…

BRENNAN: Sacks allowed. Penn State allowed only 13 sacks last season, 11 against Clark. With the new faces on the offensive line, keeping the QB's uniform clean figures to be a greater challenge this fall. Yet with the talented but completely untested Kevin Newsome manning the second team, keeping Clark healthy is an even greater priority in 2009 than it was in 2008. Clark has already been knocked out of two games due to concussions in his career. Preventing No. 3 should be priority No. 1 for the entire offense.

HARRINGTON: Third-down conversions. With a reconstructed line and new starting wideouts, Penn State will have to convert on third down and particularly those third-and-short situations it struggled with at times last season. Even with the size advantage the receivers provide, the line must dig in and gel quickly to open up lanes and keep the pressure off Clark.

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