Penn State conducted a productive set of spring practices, coach James Franklin said, which included a vital few weeks installing coordinator Mike Yurcich's new offense. But the Lions take some questions into the summer that they'll need to answer before visiting Wisconsin for the Sept. 4 season-opener.
What questions does Penn State have? Here are 10.
Where does the offense go from here?
Quarterback Sean Clifford has raved about Yurcich's offense and how he feels emboldened by its possibilities. "He is somebody who, as he says, brings the juice every day," Clifford said of Yurcich. "He's never short of it, and he's been really inspiring to this offense, giving us a lot of optimism."
Clifford needs to harness that optimism in summer 7-on-7 drills and deepen the passing game's chemistry. Penn State clearly missed that element last season, having to install a new offense remotely and then hastily in a few weeks before its first game last October.
Clifford has mentioned how he and receiver Parker Washington threw together for the first time two weeks before the first game. That shouldn't be an issue this summer; Clifford and his offense need to smooth their timing and connection as much as possible before camp.
Is the No. 2 quarterback on the roster?
Franklin praised quarterbacks Ta'Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux (see the video above) for their spring progress. He also said that Yurcich is the right person to coach them.
But the Lions still have a pronounced lack of experience behind Clifford, their only quarterback who has thrown a pass in college. In addition, Penn State has just three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.
As a result, Franklin hasn't shied away from mentioning the NCAA Transfer Portal as a possible way to bring in another quarterback. For instance, the program hosted a junior college quarterback from Mississippi last week. And the coaches are keeping tabs on others.
If Penn State can find an experienced quarterback willing to play that role (and compete for a starting spot in 2022), look for it to sign another QB.
Are more transfers looming?
Franklin conducts annual post-spring interviews with every player on the roster, during which some harsh truths can emerge. Players who don't see a path toward starting, or more playing time, might be inclined to enter the portal.
It happens every spring. Though the transfer portal has been quiet so far, that likely will change. But time is growing short. Players have until July 1 to notify their current teams of their intent to transfer if they want to be eligible this season.
Who emerges at running back?
This is a fascinating position, with four returning backs and one transfer player who have experience and different characteristics. Yurcich and running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider certainly have options.
Noah Cain, who participated in parts of spring drills after being injured last season, is expected to be ready by September. Freshmen Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes learned plenty from last year, while Devyn Ford needs to "put it together for a whole season," Seider said.
Meanwhile, veteran John Lovett could be the speed back Penn State lacked last season after Journey Brown was forced to retire. Franklin noted Lovett's speed and experience during spring drills, suggesting that the Baylor transfer quickly has become a key player at the position.
What decision does Lonnie White Jr. make?
Lonnie White Jr. is a top-40 baseball prospect, according to multiple scouting sites, and originally committed to Clemson to play baseball. He also is one of the most intriguing prospects of Penn State's 2021 recruiting class, a 6-2 receiver who played some quarterback at Malvern Prep.
The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft begins July 11, less than two months before Penn State's first game. If White is selected in the first round, he might have to choose between football and baseball next season. That decision will have major ramifications for Penn State's offense.
Who else starts at safety?
Jaquan Brisker has established himself as one of the nation's top safeties. So who joins him in Lamont Wade's vacated spot?
Ja'Ayir Brown, a Lackawanna College graduate like Brisker, emerged as a prime candidate this spring. Veteran captain Jonathan Sutherland has played a lot, and Penn State experimented with shifting Keaton Ellis from cornerback to safety this spring. Brown looked like the leader after spring drills, but the competition likely isn't over.
Who's the third linebacker?
Franklin said during spring drills that Brandon Smith and Curtis Jacobs looked like starters outside, and Ellis Brooks is the returning starter inside. But will Brooks maintain that position?
Franklin referred to Brooks and 2021 captain Jesse Luketa as "starters for us at the linebacker position, whether that is inside or outside." The coach also referenced a possible position switch for Luketa, potentially to defensive end. Penn State likely will stick with Brooks inside, though that could change.
What's the situation at left guard?
The offensive line looks mostly firm, with Rasheed Walker and Caedan Wallace set at tackle, Mike Miranda shifted to center and Juice Scruggs ready to start at right guard. That leaves left guard as the competitive spot.
Des Holmes played in four games last year and will compete with Harvard transfer Eric Wilson, who arrives on campus soon. Wilson did not play last season and will need to get up to speed quickly.
What is Kalen King's next step?
Cornerback Kalen King and his brother Kobe, who plays linebacker, were two standouts of spring drills. Kalen made a particular impact, winning the award for most turnovers forced and contributing to Penn State moving two cornerbacks to other positions.
Both are likely to see playing time this spring, with Kalen King evidently working his way into the cornerback rotation.
"He is physically ready," Franklin said of Kalen King. "You know, he's a guy that's come in and is already physically developed from a weight standpoint, from a strength standpoint. He's also very mature. ... Then on top of that, you know, he's got great ball skills. You want to recruit guys that can play both sides of the ball. He's got tremendous confidence, you know, in his talents and he's got ball skills."
Could the Lions have a two-way player?
Marquis Wilson is a two-year cornerback who started two games at the position last season. But with Tariq Castro-Fields and Joey Porter Jr. returning, Johnny Dixon transferring in and Kalen King emerging, Wilson could play another role.
The sophomore shifted to receiver this spring, a move Franklin said happened in quick time. Wilson has the ball skills and confidence to play multiple positions, Franklin said, perhaps even in the same season.
"With Marquis, he was a guy that we’ve been really talking about, since we recruited him, the possibility of playing both ways," Franklin said. "My philosophy is, once you really have established yourself on one side of the ball, I’m open to discussing playing both ways."
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