Dienhart: What I'll be watching at Penn State fall practice

Dienhart: What I'll be watching at Penn State fall practice

Penn State is coming off a stunningly surprising season that saw the Nittany Lions win the Big Ten title in James Franklin’s third season.

What will Penn State do for an encore? Well, the Nittany Lions could repeat, as most of the key cogs from last season are back led by QB Trace McSorley and RB Saquon Barkley on offense, along with an improving line. The defense lost just a handful of key players and should continue to improve for one of the most exciting and upwardly mobile programs in America.

Here are five areas I will be watching in practice.

1. Hunger. Is this still a motivated team that wants to fight to stay on top of the Big Ten after last season’s surprising success? As the old adage goes: It’s easy to get to the top, but it’s difficult to stay there. Can Penn State keep its mojo?

2. Offense. Is the unit still humming? Few offenses in the nation were as deadly as this one down the stretch last season. And, what’s scary is the fact the unit could be even better. Why? Most every key cog is back, headed by QB Trace McSorley and RB Saquon Barkley. And the line finally looks like it’s primed to become a strength after being inconsistent in recent years.

3. Pass rushers. The defense lost its top ends in Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan. Who will bring the heat off the edge? There are some intriguing candidates in Torrence Brown, Shareef Miller and Ryan Buchholz. Who will be a top rusher for this defense?

4. Big-play wideout. Chris Godwin turned pro early after a sensational 2016 season. Who will be the next top wideout? There is a raft of options in the likes of DeAndre Thompkins, Saeed Blacknall and DaeSean Hamilton. And keep an eye on twin towers Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles. Mike Gesicki will be one of the Big Ten’s top tight ends.

5. Secondary. The unit received a blow when cornerback John Reid hurt a knee in the spring. It’s unknown if he will return in 2017. Some feel he is the best player on defense. The defensive staff will build the secondary around two good components in safety Marcus Allen and corner Grant Haley. Eager to see true freshman corner Lamont Wade.

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