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Penn State concerns for 2014

by alexander.barnhart
Mar 24, 2014 1:32 AM EDT



Penn State dodged a bullet this off season. The man who guided them through the devastating NCAA sanctions left and it appeared he took the hope of the future with him. Bill O'Brien not only went to the NFL but took almost the entire staff with him. Penn State had to act fast. Penn State ended up hitting a home run with James Franklin, someone who could bring energy and excitement back to State College. Losing O'Brien very easily could have been almost as crippling as the sanctions for Penn State if they had not won the lottery with Franklin. They were already losing their record setting receiver Alan Robinson to the draft but when O'Brien left it could have cut Penn State off at the knees with recruiting. Players pick schools almost exclusively for the coaches and that's just a fact. Coaches recruit kids to play for them, regardless what school they coach. O'Brien had a solid class put together and was ready to build on 2013 but that could have all fallen apart when he left. Luckily the remaining staff, headed by Larry Johnson, was able to keep most recruits in a wait-and-see mentality. After Franklin was announced you could hear an entire school sigh in relief of how fortunate they were.

With Franklin leading the way and finishing strong in recruiting Penn State is moving in the right direction. However whether this will be a successful season is very much in doubt. Franklin could not be better off at the most important position with Christian Hackenberg as his signal caller. The former #1 quarterback recruit in the country had a very strong freshman season and should only get better. Things you can count on with the 2014 Nittany Lions offense start and end with Hackenberg. As he goes so will the team. Two things about quarterbacks, one they need time to throw the ball and second they have to have someone to catch it. Penn States offensive line lost three starters including former center Tyler Howle. Center's are the leaders of the O-line and Penn State will need someone to take over that role. Tackle Donovan Smith should be a solid piece but is going to need some help. Brandon Mahon is the only highly regarded recruit on the roster other than Smith, he should have a clear path to a starting job just based on lack of numbers. Speaking of numbers, the problem is the numbers, Penn State doesn't have any. The roster isn't loaded with former 4 and 5 star recruits waiting to take over. It isn't even loaded with 2 and 3 stars, because of the sanctions these positions have been neglected because of number of scholarships. When Alan Robinson left he basically took all the receiving stats with him. Penn State with have talent at the receiver positions but it is unproven. Franklin brought it several outstanding prospects and has already has a commitment from at least one 4 star receiver for 2015 but these players are unproven. Recruiting rankings don't mean anything once you get on the field. How long will it take for them to get up to speed? Will a dependable receiver emerge or will Hackenberg be forced to rely on short passes to TE's and HB's? Franklin is blessed with a solid group of RB's all with different skills. The position is deep and versatile. The TE position will make Hackenberg's life a lot easier as he develops trust with his receivers. Penn State should have one of the deepest TE groups in the country. Although not as productive last year as in 2012, the group is full of players who can step up and make plays. Kyle Carter will be back after missing a large portion of 2013. Jesse James at 6-7 is a huge red zone target and Adam Breneman came on during the course of the season and should build on that this year. If they can't teams will be able to send pressure through a weak offensive line knowing that the receivers can't beat them or worse yet they may not have to send blitzes to get to Hackenberg unless the O-line progresses quickly.

The defense is in the same boat as far as depth. The D-line lost DaQuan Jones as leader in the middle. They do have some talent but much is unproven. Deion Barnes should look to have a bounce back year at DE. The real problem is at linebacker, the place you should expect a standard at Linebacker U. In the last decade you have had at least 6 All-Americans and All-Big Ten players in Posluszny, Connor, Lee, Bowman, Mauti and Hodges. Penn State's most experienced linebacker is Mike Hull a Senior who is more steady than spectacular. Again there is not much depth at the position. Even the 14' recruiting class had only two linebackers and they were both rated 3 stars according to Rivals.com so it is unlikely that they will be immediate help at least right away. To be fair Paul Posluszny and Sean Lee were both 3 star recruits but even Posluszny did not make large contributions until he was a sophomore. The secondary is in better shape with returning Senior leader Adrian Amos. The secondary has the most experience of the defense but the uncertainty and lack of depth at linebacker and D-line make it very difficult for Penn State to have a chance to have a winning season. Development of players is more important to Penn State than other teams as they do not have as much overall talent as well as depth as most of the teams they will face.