Penn State lost six starters on offense, including irreplaceable talents in running back Larry Johnson and receiver Bryant Johnson. The due tallied 2,655 and 1,445 all purpose yards, respectively, combining for 61% of the Nittany Lions accumulated yards. Still, Penn State returns dynamic players in quarterback Zack Mills, receiver Tony Johnson and all-purpose threat Michael Robinson. The 2003 addition of the Nittany Lions will certainly lack the explosiveness of last season's group, but this unit is not without weapons.
Zach Mills is coming off a solid sophomore campaign—2,417 yards and 17 touchdowns passing; 201 yards and three touchdowns rushing. He is an adept signal-caller with good arm strength and mobility. With all of the losses on offense, he will be counted on to take control from the opening snap and be a star.
Sophomore Michael Robinson did a little bit of everything last season. Lining up all over the field as a skill position player he garnered 263 yards, a 5.3 yards per carry average and six touchdowns rushing. He also caught nine passes and completed 10 of 17 for 119 yards. He is a dynamic athlete with size, speed and strength. Penn State will find a way to get him on the field.
Sophomore Chris Ganter is as good a third option as any team has. As the team's holder he saw action in 12 games last season. In brief, the Nittany Lions are loaded at this position.
Penn State could have a quarterback controversy of sorts because it possesses two immensely talented signal callers. Mills did not have a good showing in the Capitol One Bowl against Auburn, completing just eight of 24 passes for a paltry 67 yards and an interception in a 13-9 loss. The slightest slip and there will be calls for Robinson, which would be a mistake. Coach Joe Paterno has consistently said that Mills is his quarterback and unless Mills completely regresses, he should be the Nittany Lions signal caller and should be a star. Robinson poses a threat to defenses with his talent, versatility and the mystery factor—where will he play and when?
Running Backs Analysis
The two leading returning runners are both quarterbacks—Robinson and Mills. Junior Mike Gasparato is the leading returning rusher among running backs (158 yards, one touchdown) and the most likely choice to start at tailback. This will very likely be a by-committee position, though, with sophomore Tim Shaw and redshirt freshman Donnie Johnson competing for playing time. Shaw is bigger, while the Johnson is a quicker, more athletic back. All three have good size and speed, but little experience. This position will remain an unknown commodity until the season kicks off.
The team's depth at fullback is comparable to its depth at quarterback. Seniors Sean McHugh and Paul Jefferson return as the top two. Both are good in ever facet—blocking, receiving and as short yardage runners. Another senior, Ricky Upton, may also see time at tailback. Redshirt freshmen BranDon Snow and Chris Wilson are former high school state players of the year.