Dienhart: Penn State Nittany Lions' offseason to-do list
Change is the theme as James Franklin begins this third season at the helm of Penn State. The staff has been altered radically. Franklin fired offensive coordinator John Donovan and shockingly saw defensive coordinator Bob Shoop leave for Tennessee. And offensive line coach Herb Hand also high-tailed it, bolting for Auburn. Plus, a raft of players transferred after a season that ended with four losses in a row.
Is this a cause for alarm? No matter your spin, there is no denying that 2016 is a big season for Franklin in Happy Valley.
To fill the offensive coordinator job, Franklin turned to Joe Moorhead, who was head coach at Fordham and has deep ties in the East. The Nittany Lions’ attack needs help, ranking 106th in the FBS in total and rushing offense and 126th on third downs in 2015. The arrival of former Minnesota OC and line coach Matt Limegrover to coach the line also should bolster the PSU offense and put more brain power on the job. The defense is in good hands, as LB coach Brent Pry was promoted to replace Shoop.
Here is a look at Penn State’s to-do.
1. Develop the QBs. Life without Christian Hackenberg has begun. And, the early returns are positive. Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens both looked good in the spring. McSorley flashed his stuff in the bowl game last year. He looks like the presumptive starter. Stevens also had his moments, as both of these signal-callers look equipped to run the new multiple, quick-pace attack of new coordinator Joe Moorhead.
2. Keep developing the offensive line. This has been a well-documented sore spot for a few seasons. How bad was it? Christian Hackenberg absorbed 104 sacks in his career. But this spring, the big fellas showed some potential—especially the first-team unit. James Franklin’s recruiting of the last couple seasons finally may be paying dividends, as talent and depth have improved. But things can still get better and aren’t yet where they need to be. Connor McGovern could be good. And keep an eye on Ryan Bates. The arrival of new line coach Matt Limegrover should help.
3. Try to reload the defensive line. The unit lost top talent like Anthony Zettel, Austin Johnson and Carl Nassib, all 2016 NFL Draft picks. No doubt, Kevin Givens stood out in the spring game with 3.5 tackles for loss to go along with a pair of sacks. And he also tallied six tackles. Antoine White also looked good in the spring, but more help is needed up front. Good thing some JCs will be arriving to bolster the unit. Brenon Thrift and Tyrell Chavis need to get up to speed quickly inside. End could be deep with Garrett Sickels at one spot and Evan Schwan or Torrence Brown at the other.
4. Develop the linebackers. Nyeem Wartman-White and Brandon Bell need to play big roles at “Linebacker U.” Still, this group has room for improvement. Manny Bowen had his moments in the spring along with Jake Cooper. But depth is a big issue. Jason Cabinda needs to be a stalwart, as many youngsters got a chance to play in April. More is needed. This group may be only as good as the line in front of them. And, it’s a line with a lot to prove.
5. Keep adapting to the new offense. With the arrival of Joe Moorhead and his up-tempo offense, James Franklin seems to have a coordinator who fits his preferred style. The scheme of Moorhead has varied looks that play to the skills of a dual-threat quarterback. And the Nittany Lions have a pair of good signal-callers who are suited to run this new offense. Plus, there is ample skill talent at wideout in Saeed Blacknall, Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton, Brandon Polk and DeAndre Thompkins. And there are several nice options at running back, headlined by super sophomore Saquon Barkley. And remember: stud Miles Sanders arrives with a fat scrapbook.
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