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Where Penn State Made Strides This Spring

James Franklin said the Lions answered some questions during spring drills. Here are three.

STATE COLLEGE | Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford agreed with his head coach's "best-spring" assessment, attributing that primarily to playing in the same offense for the second year. He also attributed that to the players around him.

"It was my best spring," Clifford said after Saturday's Blue-White Game. ".. I'm not going to harp on myself for that long, but I feel great. My mind is clear, I’m having a blast. This is a great team and a really great group of people. I think that we’re talented, I think they’re always listening to the leaders. There’s no fight back, there are no egos in the room or throughout the whole team. It’s fun to lead this team."

Penn State concluded spring drills on a sunny day at Beaver Stadium, where fans watched a practice that included some brief glimpses at the team's talent (observations on the game here). But through 15 spring practice sessions, the Lions established some clear strengths at certain positions and needs at others.

So what did Penn State fix this spring? Here's a look at three units.

Quarterback

Whether the position has a higher 2022 ceiling remains to be seen (that's up to Clifford), but its floor is much higher than last year. Penn State probably has its deepest group of quarterbacks under James Franklin, even though two are true freshmen.

"In the future, we're going to be amazing," running back Keyvone Lee said about the quarterback position. "The young quarterbacks, they're coming in, they're developing and learning, and we're going to be amazing."

For now, this is Clifford's team. And, for the first time in his six years at Penn State, he's working as the starter in the same offense for consecutive springs. Which means he didn't have to learn new plays, terminology or a coordinator's personality. That's significant.

Further, Christian Veilleux, who looked pretty sharp at the Blue-White Game, is a viable backup to Clifford. Should the starter get injured, Penn State is unlikely to face an Iowa situation again.

Ultimately, the offense will go as far as Clifford takes it. But Franklin noted that he was pleased with the stats Clifford compiled this spring and how teammates respond to his return.

Is it hopeful to expect Clifford to surpass his 61-percent completion rate and No. 7 Big Ten passer rating (134.41) of last year? For a fourth-year starter, it shouldn't be.

Penn State Quarterbacks Blue White

Penn State quarterbacks (left to right) Drew Allar, Beau Pribula, Christian Veilleux and Sean Clifford warm up prior to the Blue-White spring game at Beaver Stadium.

Safety

This might be the best position room on the team, one that defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will find creative ways to employ.  Returning starter Ji'Ayir Brown could follow the Jaquan Brisker model to an All-America season, particularly since he has such effective ball skills. After tying for the national lead with six interceptions last season, Brown made three more this spring and forced two fumbles.

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And yet, Brown didn't win the team's spring takeaway award. That went to redshirt freshman Zakee Wheatley, a former cornerback who led the defense in spring interceptions. Wheatley broke up three passes in the Blue-White Game, including one in the end zone on the scrimmage's final play, and drew high praise from assistant head coach Terry Smith. Meanwhile, sophomore Jaylen Reed and veteran Keaton Ellis will battle for the starting spot opposite Brown, though expect all four safeties to play.

Franklin said that, before the team begins training camp, the coaches will rank the team's best 22 players. It's possible all four safeties could be on that list.

Zakee Wheatley Blue White Game

Safety Zakee Wheatley (6) was among the breakout players during Penn State's spring drills.

Running back

Penn State ranked last in the Big Ten, and 123rd in the country, last year in rushing yards after contact (757), according to Sports Info Solutions. For comparison, 89 programs (10 from the Big Ten) had 1,000 or more. Minnesota (1,562) and Michigan (1,548) and Wisconsin (1,486) ran for more yards after contact than Penn State ran for entirely (1,402).

So yes, Penn State emphasized the run game this spring. And it certainly will revolve around an improved offensive line, which struggled with depth concerns during spring drills. But this group might be more streamlined than the collection that played through a haphazard rotation last season.

Keyvone Lee is the likely starter vs. Purdue, while veteran Devyn Ford looked poised at the Blue-White Game. But freshmen Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen will seize some of the playing time. Singleton made a significant spring impression that will lead to plenty of carries.

"It just makes you mad and drives you really hard," Lee said of that YAC stat. "We've got to be the first. We can’t be the last. I hate being last."

Nicholas Singleton Kaytron Allen Penn State

Running backs Nicholas Singleton (left) and Kaytron Allen generated plenty of attention during Penn State's spring Blue-White Game.

Read more

Observations from the Blue-White Game

Penn State's spring defensive motto: 'Let's get it'

Everything James Franklin said after the Blue-White Game

AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com 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 SI.com network.