5 big questions for Penn State football this spring
Coming off a season that saw the team go 10-2 in the regular season and celebrating in a shower of rose petals in Pasadena, Penn State has a lot of reasons to believe it will be in for another strong season in 2023. After a handful of young stars blossomed last season on both sides of the football with Nick Singleton, Kaytron Allen, and Abdul Carter wasting no time leaving a mark on the program, and with continued development from players like Kalen King and the return of Olu Fashanu, the Nittany Lions have the look of a team that is deserving of preseason hype as a possible Big Ten and College Football Playoff contender next fall.
And we have yet to address the big new name to the roster expected to have a leading role this season, sophomore quarterback Drew Allar.
Here are five questions Penn State will hope to have answered this spring as spring football practices are set to begin on March 14.
Is Drew Allar ready to lead the offense?
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We may as well start with the biggest question of them all. Is [autotag]Drew Allar[/autotag] fully prepared to embrace the role as the team’s starting quarterback in 2023? The expectations are through the roof for the former Mr. Ohio and there is little reason to believe Allar will not be ready to lead the offense this fall. But it has to be asked at this point in the offseason, right?
Allar got a good amount of playing time last season as Penn State head coach James Franklin found the perfect spots to get Allar some low-pressure situations to finish off some games as Sean Clifford could be pulled. That included playing on the road at Auburn, at Michigan, and in the Rose Bowl. It may not have been stressful minutes for Allar, but getting him on the field in those environments still matters to some degree.
And, fortunately, Allar will have the luxury of being coached by the same quarterback coach and offensive coordinator for his freshman season as Mike Yurcich is continuing on in the role on the staff.
How quickly do the new receivers get in sync?
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The quarterback is one big piece of the equation for the offense, but his new targets are another. Penn State searched the transfer portal to add [autotag]Dante Cephas[/autotag] from Kent State and [autotag]Malik McClain[/autotag] from Florida State to help pad the depth chart following the departures of Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley to the NFL. Washington and Tinsley were Penn State’s top two receivers from 2022 (and the departure of tight end Brenton Strange leaves Penn State without its top three receivers from a year ago, along with its top passer in Sean Clifford).
Having Allar working this spring with Cephas and McCalin, in addition to returning receiver Keandre Lambert-Smith, should allow for the passing game to figure itself out early on and not have to figure things out in the fall as the weeks go by.
Who steps up in the secondary?
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Similar to the wide receiver position, the Penn State secondary is looking to fill the shoes of two of its best players from a year ago. As Joey Porter Jr. and Ji’Ayir Brown leave for the NFL, Penn State has a couple of key starting jobs to sort out heading into the 2023 season.
[autotag]Kalen King[/autotag] is back to lock down one cornerback position, but who lines up on the opposite side of the field is to be determined. [autotag]Johnny Dixon[/autotag] returns as a potential candidate for the job, but Penn State also added [autotag]Storm Duck[/autotag] from the transfer portal as a possibility. Replacing Porter Jr. is no easy task, but Penn State seems to have some viable options to consider to keep things locked down.
At the safety position, the battle to replace Brown will be one to watch. [autotag]Keaton Ellis[/autotag] figures to hold on to a starting job, but other names to watch compete for starting jobs include [autotag]Zakee Wheatley[/autotag] and [autotag]Daequan Hardy[/autotag]. The young names on the radar could make a splash as well with [autotag]Mehki Flowers[/autotag] entering his redshirt freshman season and [autotag]King Mack[/autotag] being one of the top names from the Class of 2023.
What is the mental approach this spring?
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There should be a bit of a breath of fresh air in Happy Valley this spring. A program that had established itself as a perennial New Year Six program under [autotag]James Franklin[/autotag] with appearances in the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Cotton Bowl in a four-year span prior to the 2020 season (with victories in two of them) hit a rough patch in the bizarre 2020 season and was stuck in mediocrity in 2021. But the 2022 season saw a return to form for Penn State and ended with a victory in the Rose Bowl. If you believe in momentum carrying over from one season to the next, Penn State should have it.
The bar has now been reset for Penn State as a program and the expectations in the way-too-early rankings suggest Penn State should be a contender in the Big Ten title race, and they could belong in the College Football Playoff discussion despite Michigan and Ohio State being ranked ahead of the Nittany Lions. That motivation to take another step forward with young stars leading the way should be prevalent throughout the program this spring. There is a lot to look forward to, but a roster with young rising stars is also one that needs to be held to some reality checks from time to time.
What is the tone of the spring practices? What is the message being sent by James Franklin and his staff? And how does that change from the start of the spring to the end of it?
Who will be the defensive line coach?
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We should expect this answer to be delivered fairly quickly. Penn State saw defensive line coach John Scott Jr. recently leave the program for a job with the Detroit Lions. That left a pretty notable vacancy on the coaching staff so close to the start of spring football practices, but it is not one that should remain open for too much longer.
The reports are suggesting a replacement for the defensive line coach could be near with an assistant from the NFL ranks. It is reported Penn State is focusing on Chicago Bears assistant Justin Hinds to join the program to fill the spot on the staff.