Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, February 24, 2015

The James Franklin debut was interesting and exciting. It also was promising, giving a glimpse into a future that looks bright. Penn State opened 2014 with a 4-0 mark-but it then went 3-6 the rest of the season, capping things with an exciting overtime win vs. Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl.

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Much work remains to be done. And it will be done so with a full complement of scholarships, as the NCAA sanctions have been wiped away. The defense was among the nation?s best last season-ranking No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring (18.6 ppg) and overall (278.7 ypg)–and should again be salty. But the offense has a lot of work to do.

Here are three key areas for Penn State to focus on this spring.

1. Develop the offensive line. This area was an abomination in 2014, thanks to a woeful lack of depth and talent. How bad was it? PSU allowed a Big Ten-high 44 sacks. And the running game was last in the league (101.9 ypg), getting a meager 2.9 yards per tote with 13 rushing TDs. The staff is bringing in better players, but it takes time to develop the big boys up front. The Nittany Lions return three starters (four players with nine or more starts in 2014) and lose two starters. Sophomore tackle Andrew Nelson looks like a future star. Who else? The staff will have six additional scholarship tackles available this spring to compete for jobs in the fall (four redshirts, two early enrollees). Massive Paris Palmer was rated the No. 1 JC offensive tackle by and the No. 1 JC offensive lineman by With Donovan Smith leaving early, Palmer is the only scholarship tackle in the junior and senior classes.

2. Find some defensive ends. The Nittany Lions lost two good ones in C.J. Olaniyan and Deion Barnes, who left early. Olaniyan had 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks in 2014; Barnes had 12.5 TFLs with 6.0 sacks. Keep an eye on Torrence Brown and Garrett Sickels. Another spot on defense to watch: middle linebacker. Mike Hull is gone. Gary Wooten and Troy Reeder are the top candidates for this key spot.

3. Sort out the running backs. The Nittany Lions welcome back top rusher Akeel Lynch, who had 678 yards last season. But Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak are gone. Keep an eye on redshirt freshmen like Jonathan Thomas, Mark Allen and Nick Scott. This unit needs an infusion of talent and figures to improve with better blocking.


Record: 7-6 overall; 2-6 Big Ten (beat Boston College in Pinstripe Bowl)
Spring ball starts: March 20
Spring game: April 18
Key players gone: S Adrian Amos; DE Deion Barnes; RB Bill Belton; G Miles Diffenbach; K Sam Ficken; LB Mike Hull; TE Jesse James; S Ryan Keiser; DE C.J. Olaniyan; OT Donovan Smith; RB Zach Zwinak
Key players back: S Marcus Allen; LB Brandon Bell; TE Kyle Carter; TE Mike Gesicki; WR Chris Godwin; P Chris Gulla; QB Christian Hackenberg; WR DaeSean Hamilton; DT Austin Johnson; WR Geno Lewis; DB Jordan Lucas; RB Akeel Lynch; C Angelo Mangiro; OT Andrew Nelson; LB Nyeem Wartman; CB Trevor Williams; DT Anthony Zettel

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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