Week 1 of the college football season is fast approaching with fall camps just around the corner, including for Penn State Football, as magazine season is in full effect.
Expectations and predictions seem to be all over the map for Penn State Football heading into the 2022 campaign, after a disappointing 7-6 ‘21 season.
If head coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lions want to get back to competing for the Big Ten Championship this upcoming year, they must answer these five burning questions.
5 Burning questions for Penn State Football
No. 5. Who wins the battle at middle linebacker?
Penn State Football must replace Brandon Smith, who was a fourth round pick of the Carolina Panthers, in a linebacking corps that is going to see some turnover from a year ago.
King shined during the spring game while Elsdon was sidelined with an injury, however this isa battle that figures to rage on through the entirety of fall camp and even into the early stages of the season.
King, the brother of Kalen — who plays cornerback for the Lions — showed off his athleticism during the spring game. The Detroit native played both sides of the ball in high school and was a stand out running back at Cass Tech.
Between the two of them, they have a combined 10 tackles in their careers. So, experience is going to be an issue whichever way defensive coordinator Manny Diaz decides to go.
Diaz, a linebackers coach by nature, will have a chance to prove his mettle in year one as both of them are former three star recruits with a lot of promise.
King looked the part in the spring game, but time will tell. Regardless of who wins the battle, getting solid play out of this position will go a long way in Penn State Football’s defense being as good as they were last season.
4. Will Zakee Wheatley be the guy at safety opposite Brown?
With safety Jaquan Brisker off to the NFL, Penn State Football must find a running mate in the secondary at safety to Ji’Ayir Brown who looks primed for a breakout year in 2022 similar to Brisker’s a year ago.
An unlikely candidate has emerged this offseason in the form of redshirt freshman Zakee Wheatley, who was originally brought to Happy Valley as a cornerback but has made the transition to safety seamlessly to this point.
He was a standout in the spring game, making plays against the pass and showing an ability to come up in the box and be physical in the run game as well.
Wheatley was the team’s “takeaway king” during spring practice and has caught the eye of the coaching staff.
Coming into the winter it looked as if Jaylen Reed or Keaton Ellis, another corner turned safety would be the front runners to start but based on what we saw and heard from spring, Wheatley may be the betting favorite right now.
The redshirt freshman collected only one tackle last season in very limited playing time, however at six-foot-two and 191 pounds he looks the part of the prototypical free safety and if he can continue this push towards stardom, it could change the outlook of this Lions defense this fall.
3. Can Robinson and Isaac replace Ebiketie and Luketa?
The Lions struck gold in the transfer portal last year landing Arnold Ebiketie from Temple, who would go on to record double digits sacks.
Then, Franklin and Co. hit the lottery when out of pure necessity moved Jesse Luketa from linebacker, where he struggled in 2020, to defensive end and he thrived, so much so he was drafted by the Cardinals as an edge rusher.
Looking ahead to this season, Penn State Football will get Adisa Isaac back from an injury that sidelined him for all of last year. Isaac is a former four star recruit who has recorded only three sacks and four and a half tackles for loss in his career, but hasn’t truly been given the chance just yet.
In 2020 he played behind Oweh and Shaka Toney, and looked primed for a breakout last fall before suffering the injury. He was not cleared for contact for the spring game, but coach Franklin seems to think he will be a full go by fall camp.
Opposite Isaac, the big transfer portal addition on defense this offseason was Demeious Robinson, a former high four star recruit who played his freshman season at Maryland. The six-foot-four 250 pound edge rusher showed major flashes last season with two sacks and two and a half tackles for loss in limited playing time.
The Lions and Diaz will be counting on both Robinson and Isaac to be productive edge rushers this season. It is imperative in a Diaz defense that you create havoc, sacking the quarterback and recording tackles for loss in offensive backfields.
2. Three players for two spots at the guard positions
Franklin has said in the past that a lot of issues with the offensive line stem from the lack of competition, meaning players are not necessarily winning jobs as much they are being handed them by default.
That will not be the case this season along the interior of the offensive line at the guard positions.
Penn State Football has three players that will battle it out for the two starting spots, and this could easily be a situation where an “OR” designation is handed out on a week one depth chart.
Redshirt junior Sal Wormley would have been a starter last season if not for a camp injury that held him out for most of the year.
Going into this season he figures to be a heavy favorite for one of those spots, while the other will be a battle of a big time recruit and a transfer.
Landon Tengwall was the prized recruit of a rather disappointing 2021 class, however as most figured it seems he has been moved inside to guard and did see limited playing time last season at both tackle and guard. He played a quarter of the Outback bowl at left guard.
His competition will be Hunter Nourzad, who the Nittany Lions brought in this offseason from Cornell who comes to Happy Valley with two years of remaining eligibility. Nourzad was an All-Ivy performer at Cornell and brings more experience than Tengwall.
Regardless of who wins the jobs, the interior of this line should be better than it was last fall which should help this anemic run game from a year ago. Competition can never be a bad thing and the Lions should finally get it this offseason.
1. Quarterback play will once again be the main topic of conversation
Quarterback Sean Clifford enters what seems like his tenth season as a Nittany Lion this fall, in what will be officially his last season in State College.
Clifford looked much improved in the early portion of the season last year before a broken rib against Iowa derailed his and Penn State Football’s season.
The senior still ended up throwing for 3,107 yards with 21 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
Clifford’s flawless second-half in the win against Auburn, big time throws at Wisconsin and early fireworks on the road against Iowa has Clifford looking like the player Nittany Lion fans dreamed about before the injury.
For the first time this season he will have the same offensive coordinator for the second season in a row, which seems unfathomable for a guy who has been on campus for six plus years.
Another year in Yurcich’s offense certainly can’t hurt the signal caller and with all his weapons back minus Jahan Dotson, and Mitchell Tinsley in from the portal, he is running low on excuses as to why 2022 shouldn’t be his best season yet.
The running game needs to be much improved, as does an offensive line that gave up more sacks than anyone else in the Big Ten last fall, but the Lions success does start and stop with number 14.
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