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How Penn State Is Preparing for Training Camp

The Lions will bring some unanswered questions to camp in August. We examine three.
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Penn State will open training camp in early August with some lingering questions that it didn't answer entirely during spring drills. Time will be imperative, since the Lions open the season Sept. 1 at Purdue with a vital early season Big Ten game.

After taking some vacation time in July, Penn State's coaching staff will return to find these three position groups atop their to-do list when camp begins.

The offensive line

Yes, this is an annual refrain. Big Ten analyst Matt Millen underscored that in a recent interview.

"The biggest thing is, they need to get that offensive line straightened out or they'll have the same problems they did a year ago," Millen said. "They've got to move people. Until that's legit, things will be the same.

Coach James Franklin seemed to agree.

"Can we take a step where you guys [in the media] ask about the offensive line, I say something and then we back it up?" Franklin asked this past spring.

Penn State won't be able to answer the question until at least mid-September. The Lions played short-handed on the line all spring, carrying just 6-7 healthy linemen at a time. At least that meant more reps for the participants.

Left tackle Olu Fashanu said the line made "positivity" its code word of spring. Fashanu clearly thrived, as he likely secured the starting spot. Caedan Wallace is back at right tackle, and Juice Scruggs made a smooth switch from guard to center.

But those guard spots will be open through training camp. Sal Wormley, a projected starter who was injured last season, returned this spring seeking to reclaim his spot. Redshirt freshman Landon Tengwall is primed to be another starter, with Cornell transfer Hunter Nourzad, an FCS All-American last season, and redshirt sophomore Nick Dawkins contending as well. In fact, line coach Phil Trautwein called Dawkins the line's most improved player.

But even with a solid core, the offensive line knows it has plenty of ground to cover.

Linebacker

Franklin said that Penn State lost some "horsepower" at linebacker, referring to likely NFL draft picks Brandon Smith and Ellis Brooks. Curtis Jacobs returns, at a new spot, but the other two starters will be new. And behind them is an inexperienced group.

Jonathan Sutherland, a sixth-year senior, shifted from safety to outside linebacker, a move Franklin said will benefit him and the team. Franklin said the same thing last year regarding Jesse Luketa, who moved from linebacker to defensive end. He was right then; is he right again?

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz thinks so.

"He's what everybody is looking for in this era of college football," Diaz said of Sutherland. "He's got DB-type cover skills and he's got linebacker toughness.

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At middle linebacker, Kobe King and Tyler Elsdon will continue their competition in camp. King, who led Penn State's defense with five tackles at the Blue-White Game, drew praise from teammates for his ascension. As did Elsdon, who did not play in the spring game.

Elsewhere, Penn State has to develop some depth at the position. One player to watch is incoming freshman Abdul Carter, who already has logged an important milestone in Penn State football. He claimed the hallmark linebacker No. 11 as a true freshman.

Specialists

Jordan Stout, now with the Baltimore Ravens, did everything but hold last season, so Penn State has openings at punter, field-goal kicker and kickoff specialist. Sander Sahaydak and Jake Pinegar will duel, or possibly split, the kicking role. The punter, meanwhile, might be new to campus.

Sahaydak, a redshirt freshman, has the strongest leg on the roster. He made a 47-yard field goal during the Blue-White Game and has the power to take kickoffs. Stout said last year that the ball just sounds different coming off Sahaydak's foot.

Pinegar has been around for a while. The fifth-year senior was the starting kicker in 2018, went 11-for-12 in 2019 and gradually began sharing more of the role with Stout.

Last year, Stout did everything while Pinegar nursed an injury. But Pinegar stayed with the program.

"I wasn’t as healthy as I wanted to be or needed to be," Pinegar said. "But I played here three years. One year doesn’t go your way, you don’t leave. You stay here and you finish what you built. So that was my own mindset."

Franklin and special teams coach Stacy Collins liked what they saw last spring from the punters, notably Gabe Nwosu, a 6-6, 278-pound redshirt freshman. "It was awesome to see Gabe Nwosu punt the hell out of the ball," Franklin said after the Blue-White Game. "He hadn’t done that all spring to be honest with you."

But Penn State's punter still might be a true freshman. Alex Bacchetta, the nation's No. 1 punter in the 2022 recruiting class according to Kohl's Kicking, graduated from the same Georgia high school as former Penn State punter Blake Gillikin.

Gillikin has worked out with Bacchetta and offered this scouting report.

"Blake says he's the best freshman he's ever seen," Franklin said. "So, we'll see how that plays out."

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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.