Penn State's launch to the 2023 playoffs? 4 storylines to follow during spring practice
Penn State begins showing off its deepest, most talented roster yet under James Franklin this week.
Spring practice begins, which means the Nittany Lions have a month of full-scale workouts to start preparing for their highly-anticipated Top 10 season. Spring practice culminates with the annual Blue-White Game scrimmage in Beaver Stadium on April 15.
The buzz heading into the preseason is so loud because of what already is known: how the Lions possess the top sophomore running back combination in the country (Nick Singleton, Kaytron Allen), one of the top cornerbacks (Kalen King) to lead another deep secondary and a surging offensive line anchored by a top NFL Draft pick-to-be (Olu Fashanu).
Of course, the questions yet to be answered may well determine if the Lions finally do break into college football's final four in December. Here are four storylines to follow:
Drew Allar, Beau Pribula and what else?
Drew Allar, the most anticipated Penn State starting quarterback in a decade seems to be doing all the right things: Improved leadership, physical development and stellar work ethic during winter workouts.
Central York's Beau Pribula continues to earn rave reviews for his athleticism and competitiveness − for pushing Allar.
Of course, this will be their first spring and upcoming season without a safety net like Sean Clifford.
The bigger question appears to be depth. The Lions only have three scholarship quarterbacks on their roster and none have started a college game. Even Allar has only thrown a few college passes with a contest in doubt.
So they must not only be able to efficiently run a Top 10 offense but prove durable, as well. How does the season shift if Allar suffers even a minor injury early on?
The only other scholarship option is true freshman Jaxon Smolik.
QB progress:Where will Drew Allar, Beau Pribula take Penn State? Your early training report ...
Bigger, better linebackers
Penn State ended the 2022 season on a serious linebacking run. After somewhat slow beginnings, rookie Abdul Carter and veteran Curtis Jacobs grew into a two-man wrecking crew over the final few weeks of the regular season and the Rose Bowl.
Both are back and should be even better together. The most disruptive linebacker combination in the Big Ten and beyond? Could be, especially considering Carter's elite pursuit speed and knack for tracking down ballcarriers, reminiscent of the best in recent school history (Micah Parsons, Paul Posluszny, LaVar Arrington).
Even more, Carter, always a workout freak, has added considerable weight in the offseason. He's pushing 250 pounds, which puts him around the same size as defensive end Adisa Isaac and tackle Hakeem Beamon. Promising sophomore linebacker Kobe King is up to about 250 pounds, as well.
Jacobs also has added nearly 10 pounds to get to 235 for spring workouts.
It appears that Carter will possess unique position flexibility and should see more time inside. The real intrigue will be how the other linebackers develop to support the Big Two.
All eyes will be on rookie and early enrollees Tony Rojas and Ta'Mere Robinson, both of whom are advertised with elite speed and instincts. Redshirt sophomore Dom DeLuca just earned his scholarship and impressed as a do-everything, all-over-the-field contributor last fall. Returners Keon Wylie and Tyler Elsdon must further prove themselves quickly.
A No. 1 receiver yet? Malik McClain debuts
Penn State is undergoing an overhual of its pass-catching room. A new coach. A search for a new go-to receiver (or two).
Who will take over for the likes of Jahan Dotson in 2021 and Parker Washington and Mitch Tinsley in 2022?
Perhaps, the Lions next-best threat may not even be here yet. Transfer Dante Cephas won't arrive until after spring practice. Still, there's still a lot to sort through now for new position coach Marques Hagans.
Returners KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Tre Wallace must take significant development steps, at least in terms of consistency. The rest is a jumbled crowd of hopefuls, including Omari Evans, Liam Clifford, Kaden Saunders, Anthony Ivey and Malick Meiga.
One to really watch this spring? That would be Malik McClain, the 6-foot-4 Florida State transfer who has been impressing in winter workouts for his physicality and fit. He could do a lot to sure up arguably the team's biggest concern by mid-April.
New coach coming with big promise, questions
Penn State may possess the top group of pass rushers in the elite Big Ten East.
But do they own enough size and depth along the inside of its defensive line to overcome Ohio State and Michigan?
New, promoted defensive line coach Deion Barnes − a former Nittany Lion pass rusher himself − will be in charge of bringing it all together.
The Lions do appear impressive on the edge, led by returner Chop Robinson and Adisa Isaac. Most of the spring will be focused on others, though, which may determine if Penn State is truly special at rattling opposing quarterbacks. Sophomore Dani Dennis-Sutton is trending toward stardom but it would help greatly if Amin Vanover, Smith Vilbert or Zuriah Fisher could play into their potential.
A bigger concern is inside. The Lions must replace leader PJ Mustipher, who also was their biggest, best run-stuffer. While there are enough bodies to rotate at tackle, is there enough power and expertise to force their best opponents outside?
Redshirt freshman tackle Kaleb Artis (6-foot-4, 315 pounds) offers the desired size inside but is unproven. Returners Dvon Ellies (300 pounds) and Coziah Izzard (290) may have to shoulder much of the load.
Will that be too much of an ask?
Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @YDRPennState.