Penn State Football has a loaded roster as the 2023 season opener against West Virginia looms, but very few teams enter a new season without any holes, and the Nittany Lions are no different.
In this week’s Mailbag, a key position battle and two of the biggest concerns for James Franklin‘s team take center stage.
Penn State Football Mailbag:
Are you more concerned about special teams or wide receivers? Will- Pennsylvania
Penn State entered fall camp with question marks at both wide receiver and special teams.
At receiver, Penn State Football lost its two top pass catchers from 2022 in Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley.
Meanwhile, on special teams, Penn State Football lost its starting kicker, punter, long snapper, and punt returners.
All that being said, I have more of a concern going into 2023 with the special teams unit than I do the wide receivers.
Between those three and Omari Evans (who broke out during the spring game), the Florida State transfer Malik McClain, Kaden Saunders, and Liam Clifford, Penn State should have enough depth to get at least two or three receivers to step up in each game.
Pair that with two extraordinary running backs and a very deep tight end room, I am not very concerned about the wide receiver position holding back Penn State’s offense in 2023.
On special teams on the other hand, I do have some concern heading into the 2023 season.
With the expectations for Penn State to compete for a Big Ten championship and a program first College Football Playoff berth, Penn State cannot afford to allow small mistakes on special teams to change the outcome in close games.
When the gap is potentially so close between Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan, having a first-year starter at kicker, punter, long snapper, and punt returner is not ideal.
According to Tyler Donahue at 247sports on the 247sports podcast, Sander Sahaydak missed a 25-yard field goal in the rain in open practice on Saturday.
Penn State could use a “kicker by committee” approach between Sahaydak and Alex Felkins during the first few weeks of the season to see if either separates in game action in games that shouldn’t be close.
At punter, I have a bit more confidence with Riley Thompson and Alex Bacchetta. Again, Penn State may use a “punter by committee” approach until either separates in game action.
Has Kobe King passed Tyler Elsdon? Erikas
With Tyler Elsdon missing spring practice due to injury, Kobe King was able to get more reps and more comfortable with the defense. This has carried over into fall camp where King currently is from indications at practice leading the position battle at the MIKE linebacker position.
Now that Elsdon returned to practice in fall camp, there is still time for him to catch back up and surpass King on the depth chart, but if a game were played this weekend, I would expect King to start.
With the Alonzo Ford injury, who do you think is most likely to make it into the DL rotation between Townley, Artis, and Blanding? Erikas
Alonzo Ford’s injury is terrible to see from a personal standpoint of not wanting players to miss time with injuries, especially serious injuries.
However, based on indications around the program, Ford was not expected to play a major role in the defensive tackle rotation this season.
I projected last week that Dvon Ellies and Hakeem Beamon would start at defensive tackle for Penn State, at least in week one. Behind those two, Coziah Izzard, Jordan van den Berg, and Zane Durant are the next three up.
Van den Berg and Durant both played in all 13 games last season and Izzard played in 9 games last season after playing in 13 games as a freshman. That leaves potentially one spot open in the three deep rotation.
For the last spot, I will go with Townley. After entering the transfer portal and opting to return to Penn State, Townley will be looking to take the next step in his redshirt sophomore season.
In 2022, Townley appeared in 7 games and tallied three total tackles. Kaleb Artis appeared in two games last season and did not register any stats.
I would expect more work this season but not in the three deep rotation without a few injuries ahead of him. With Blanding being a true freshman, I would expect special teams play and possibly some late work in blowouts in four games to preserve a redshirt.