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Projecting Penn State's Starting Offense

An energized Penn State offense prepares to take on 2021 with a veteran presence and a fresh approach.

Penn State's offense expects to get a kickstart from coordinator Mike Yurcich, whose fresh approach has energized the group. Quarterback Sean Clifford testified to that this spring.

"This is one of my favorite teams that I’ve had to be a part of, and it’s really exciting to come in and lead every day, because everybody's willing to listen and everybody wants to be here," Clifford said. "And it's cool for me as a leader and an old guy, a veteran. I talk to other vets, ... and we all say the same thing: It's easy to come into work because everybody wants to be here. And it just makes life a lot easier."

Clifford figures to be Penn State's third-year starting quarterback, leading an offense that returns plenty of experience. Nine starters are back, in addition to five additional offensive players who have starting experience.

The primary losses were tight end Pat Freiermuth, who played in just four games, and offensive linemen Will Fries and Michal Menet. Otherwise, this is a promising offense, particularly if it can internalize Yurcich's changes by the Sept. 4 opener at Wisconsin.

With two months until training camp begins, Penn State looks pretty locked into most offensive starting roles. Here's a pick for the starting 11 that Penn State will unveil at Wisconsin on Sept. 4.

Remember, though, some freshmen arriving this summer could stake positional claims, particularly at receiver. Watch for Lonnie White Jr. (if he enrolls) and Liam Clifford to chase playing time.

Left tackle Rasheed Walker: A three-year starter, Walker is among the top returning linemen in the Big Ten and an early target of NFL draft boards. Coach James Franklin has said Walker's refreshed attitude was quite evident during spring drills.

Left guard Des Holmes: The redshirt junior, who played in four games last season, was limited during spring but is the most experienced player at the position. Still, this remains the most competitive offensive spot remaining, with Harvard transfer Eric Wilson and Anthony Whigan in the mix.

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Center Mike Miranda: Among Penn State's most versatile linemen, Miranda was second-team All-Big Ten last season at left guard. He has made 17 starts at guard and shifts to center this season. Miranda said he gathered plenty playing alongside Menet last season.

Right guard Juice Scruggs: The redshirt sophomore played better and better last season, asserting himself as one of Penn State's most physical linemen. Scruggs is exceptionally athletic for his size (6-3, 302) and is a lineman to watch.

Right tackle Caedan Wallace: He stepped into the lineup last season, starting seven of nine games, and gives Penn State's line the bookend tackles it needs. 

Tight end Brenton Strange: After Freiermuth's season ended, Strange emerged as a potential successor. The 6-3 tight end caught 17 passes, two for touchdowns, and blocked well in the run game. With Strange and Theo Johnson at the spot, Yurcich could employ two-tight-end formations often.

Running back John Lovett: Though he played just one series in 2020, Noah Cain remains the starting back to beat. Lovett, though, could do that, especially if Cain has any lingering injury issues. Lovett, who transferred from Baylor, is fast and experienced, giving Penn State's backfield the "extra gear" Franklin says it needs.

Wide receiver Jahan Dotson: The fourth-year starter returns after leading the Big Ten in yards last season. He also transformed himself into a big-play receiver, catching six passes of 36 yards or longer. Of Penn State's five pass plays of 60+ yards, Dotson had four.

Wide receiver Parker Washington: A freshman standout who turned one of every six receptions he made into a touchdown. Washington returns as a strong complementary presence to Dotson.

Wide receiver Cam Sullivan-Brown: The third receiver spot is up for grabs, with Sullivan-Brown emerging from spring as a top candidate. There's a long way to go for the veteran, though, as returning starter KeAndre Lambert-Smith, position newcomer Marquis Wilson, and young players Malick Meiga and Jadin Dottin will contend. Penn State likely will have a deep receiving rotation.

Quarterback Sean Clifford: Last season was frustrating for Clifford, whose touchdown/interception rate slide to 16/9 and who also fumbled twice. If Clifford can sharply cut the turnovers and become a more precise passer, he could deliver a breakthrough senior year.