Penn State Week: Offensive Preview, Part 2

Our preview of Penn's offense continues with a look at the Nittany Lion's receivers and linemen.

Receivers analysis:


Larry Johnson's brother Tony is the team's leading returning player in all purpose yards (717), kick return average and yards (168, 24.0), receptions (34) and receiving yards (549). He also had three touchdowns last year. In his senior season and as the team's most experienced and talented offensive player not playing quarterback, Tony Johnson will be the team's go-to guy.


Aside from Johnson, the receiving corps is loaded with potential, but extremely light on experience. The next most productive returning receiver is Gerald Smith, a tough, possession-type receiver who caught 11 passes for 129 yards last year.


6-3, 188-pound sophomore receiver Kinta Palmer lit up the spring game, with five receptions, 90 yards and two touchdowns—all in the first half. Palmer may need to add weight, but he has all the tools. Still, he had just one catch for two yards last season. Another 6-3, super-fast target with one catch last season is sophomore Ernest Terrell. He ran an incredible 46.63 in the 400 for the Penn State track team. Expected to stretch the field, his one catch went for 30 yards.


Tight end is a different story. Senior Casey Williams caught 24 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown as the starter last year. The top reserve, senior Mike Lukac, also returns. Though he had just seven catches for 39 yards, Lukac scored four touchdowns. Senior Matt Kranchik and sophomores Andrew Richardson and Isaac Smolko provide excellent depth.


Offensive Line analysis


The Nittany Lions return just one starter to this unit, but that starter slipped to a reserve role this spring. According to, speculation is that Chris McKelvy has slipped to the second unit due to concerns over his weight. He finished last season as the starting left guard but was expected to move to tackle. 310-pound senior Damone Jones will start at left tackle and should be dependable. If McKelvy cannot win back a top spot, the other starter will be 284-pound sophomore Tom McHugh. 313-pound sophomore John Wilson also provides depth and there is a possibility that defensive tackle Levi Brown could be flipped to offense.


The official word is not to worry—about this line in general and especially the interior group. Sophomore guard E.Z. Smith garnered some starting experience last season but underwent shoulder surgery in January. Highly-touted 313-pound sophomore Tyler Reed will start at right guard, while junior Scott Davis will compete with Smith on the left side. At 280 pounds senior center Dave Costlow is the small man on a very big line. Costlow, though, is considered a lock to start and is being counted on as an anchor on the line. Another position-switch twist: 6-5, 273-pound former outside linebacker Scott Paxson may transition to guard this fall, and Marsh Creek of predicted before the spring game that he could become a starter at that position.


Final Thoughts:


Penn State will not replace Larry Johnson or Bryant Johnson and the offensive line will inevitably suffer growing pains. You cannot lose your two most potent weapons and possibly replace an entire offensive line and not miss a beat. Still, the Nittany Lions offense should be productive and, once it gets going and discovers an identity, it could still compete well in a conference full of potent offenses. Zach Mills' experience under center is a huge asset, and Tony Johnson should be primed for a break out season. Add in Michael Robinson's dynamism and the depth and talent at tight end and fullback, and the team certainly has assets to build from. On the other hand, if none of the running backs develop and the line struggles to mesh, it could be a long and painful season for Mills and Penn State's offense. 

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