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The Penn State Football Spring Practice Primer

Here's what we're watching as the Nittany Lions begin spring drills with three new coordinators.

The bitter taste of the Peach Bowl officially dissolves Tuesday as Penn State football begins spring practice. The Nittany Lions ostensibly used the loss to Ole Miss to fuel those 5 a.m. wakeup calls for winter workouts, but change starts now. And there will be plenty of change at Penn State this spring.

For the first time as Penn State's head coach, James Franklin has replaced all three coordinators in the same offseason. The last time he replaced two, in 2016, was a success. Joe Moorhead (offense) and Brent Pry (defense) helped guide the Lions to the Big Ten title. This year, Andy Kotelnicki (offense) and Tom Allen (defense) take the reins, while Justin Lustig (special teams) is the latecomer.

Spring arrives in State College with plenty of promise and more than a few questions. Most center on the offense, which ranked 12th nationally in scoring last season yet still has a new coordinator. So join us as we identify some line items Penn State will address in its 15 practices over the next month. We'll convene at Beaver Stadium for the Blue-White Game on April 13 for a progress report.

Building a relationship between coordinator and quarterback

Former Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford played for four offensive coordinators, to which he often referred as a rewarding challenge. Drew Allar now is on his second coordinator. Ideally, Kotelnicki will be his last. Spring is when they will learn how to work together.

Allar has been quite complimentary of Kotelnicki this offseason, as the two talked strategy and theory. Allar has been watching Kotelnicki's offenses and appreciates his new coordinator's fondness for motions and shifts. Now, theory becomes practice.

Kotelnicki gets Allar onto the field, where he'll watch, and critique, the quarterback's footwork, field presence, huddle command and, of course, his arm. They will learn each other's rhythms and moods, how each responds to stress, and how they'll find common ground. Allar had a strong bond with former coordinator Mike Yurcich, who recruited the quarterback determinedly. Kotelnicki's most important goal this spring is building the rapport with Allar.

Charting a new course at receiver

Penn State's most reliable pass-catcher right now might be tight end Tyler Warren. His return represented one of the offseason's most important offensive moves. No. 2 was Julian Fleming.

The receiver brought a nice transfer story to Penn State: the Pennsylvania star returning to his home state after a long, uneven and injury-affected career at Ohio State. That story transfers to a key question this spring: Can he become an alpha in Penn State's offense?

The Lions need a No. 1 receiver. Allar needs one. He spent the 2023 season throwing check downs because his receivers couldn't keep their half of the bargain downfield. Talent returns for sure, notably with KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Harrison Wallace III and Omari Evans. But last year's receiving corps was a collection of pieces, not a core. Strength coach Chuck Losey praised Fleming for making a professional transition to Penn State. His next move is giving Allar a formidable target.

Reframing the offensive line

Penn State might have three offensive linemen drafted for the first time since 1996, and Olu Fashanu is a top-10 pick. That's a turning point for Franklin, whose line development has been uneven over the years. But now, Penn State must replace its three most important line positions: both tackles in Fashanu and Caedan Wallace and center Hunter Nourzad. However, this group has been pretty well recruited of late.

Fashanu has raved about Drew Shelton's promise to become the full-time starter at left tackle, and Anthony Donkoh played well at right tackle in the Peach Bowl. Nick Dawkins is the team's vocal anchor at center. There's also a group of highly recruited young linemen (J'ven Williams and Alex Birchmeier chiefly) and the newly signed transfer tackle Nolan Rucci. This shouldn't be a line rebuild. Position coach Phil Trautwein has enough assets to build a playoff line.

Introducing the 'Bull'

The most interesting defensive change involves Allen and linebacker Abdul Carter, who's now listed at defensive end. Ultimately, Carter likely will play the position that Allen calls the "Bull." It's a hybrid edge rusher/outside linebacker that takes advantage of big-framed linebackers who can generate speed off the edge. In other words, Carter.

This is the spot Micah Parsons would have played in 2020 and one in which Carter is uniquely positioned to thrive. The key is getting him to absorb all its necessary roles. It demands explosiveness, run-containment and pass coverage. Carter spent last season developing the last two. If he puts the whole position together, look out.

Identifying the next wave

Sixteen members of Penn State's 2024 recruiting class enrolled early. Their heads will swirl during spring drills, the coaches will get on them, and someone will knock them to the ground quickly. That's how spring welcomes freshmen.

But ultimately, a few emerge from the group. Kalen King did that three years ago, Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen two years ago and Tony Rojas last season. Losey already mentioned offensive lineman Cooper Cousins, defensive lineman Xavier Gilliam and tight end Luke Reynolds as freshmen to watch this spring.

Freshmen won't earn starting spots specifically this spring, but they just might fast-track their roster standing. We'll see how many more generate spring buzz.

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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button's on the home page) for more great content across the network.