The Penn State football team begins spring practice Monday, the first of 15 sessions leading up to the Blue-White Game April 23 at Beaver Stadium.
Here are five things to watch for the Nittany Lions this spring after their 7-6 season in 2021:
- Will Sean Clifford be a better quarterback in his sixth year and how much will Christian Veilleux and Drew Allar progress?
Clifford finished last season with one of the worst performances of his career in the Outback Bowl loss to Arkansas. He also can be great, like he was against Auburn last season.
Although he needs to find consistency, it seems like he’ll be the starter when Penn State opens the 2022 season Sept. 1 at Purdue. He should benefit from a second straight season with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich.
Veilleux, now a redshirt freshman, showed promise when he came off the bench and led Penn State to a 28-0 win over Rutgers last year. Then there’s Allar, the Ohio high school star who was rated the top quarterback in the country last year and who enrolled at Penn State in January.
It will be interesting to see how quickly Veilleux and Allar develop and if they can make the quarterback decision a difficult one.
- How long will it take for Penn State to adjust to new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Manny Diaz?
Penn State coach James Franklin and former defensive coordinator Brent Pry, now the head coach at Virginia Tech, spent the last 11 seasons together and have known each other for nearly 30 years. Having Diaz calling defensive signals will be different for Franklin.
Diaz has spent 13 seasons as a defensive coordinator in college and generally has been very successful, especially at Miami (Fla.) from 2016-18. His defenses at Miami, Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech, Texas and Middle Tennessee State were known for forcing turnovers, sacking quarterbacks and making stops in the backfield.
Diaz has to find two starting linebackers to replace Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith, who left Penn State to make themselves available for the NFL draft.
- Will the offensive line become a strong position after last year’s struggles?
Penn State’s rushing offense ranked among the worst in the nation last season, averaging just 107.8 yards per game and 3.2 per carry.
Left tackle Rasheed Walker, center Mike Miranda and left guard Eric Wilson have moved on, Walker foregoing his final year of eligibility for the NFL. Juice Scruggs, who started at right guard and center last season, figures to start at center and Caedan Wallace returns at right tackle.
Sophomore Olu Fashanu and redshirt freshman Landon Tengwall are expected to fill two of the three holes. Fashanu made his first start in the Outback Bowl and held his own at left tackle. Tengwall, a former four-star prospect, saw extensive time in the final three games last year and was impressive.
J.B. Nelson, considered one of the top three offensive linemen in junior college last year, will compete for the other spot with Cornell transfer Hunter Nourzad, who will not enroll at Penn State until June.
- How will Adisa Isaac look after his season-ending injury last year?
Much was expected from Isaac at defensive end before he suffered a unspecified non-football injury last summer and missed the 2021 season.
The 6-4, 244-pound Isaac was a four-star prospect who played in 20 games in 2019-20 and was poised to be a regular last season before his injury. He and Smith Vilbert, who had three sacks in the Outback Bowl, will try to make up for the loss of Arnold Ebiketie and Jesse Luketa to the NFL and join returning starter Nick Tarburton in the lineup.
It was unclear whether Isaac will be unrestricted during spring practice.
Zuriah Fisher and Davon Townley Jr., a raw but talented prospect who was redshirted last year, also might be part of the rotation.
- Will Mitchell Tinsley fill the void left by Jahan Dotson at wide receiver?
The 6-1, 203-pound Tinsley transferred from Western Kentucky and will wear No. 5, like the 5-11, 184-pound Dotson did the last four seasons.
And like Dotson, he is coming off a sensational season when he made 87 catches for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns in 14 games for the high-powered Hilltoppers. He ranked fifth in the FBS in touchdown catches and eighth in receiving yards and yet was the second-leading receiver on the team.
Tinsley figures to join Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith as the starting wide receivers and to create more openings for them.
Source: Berkshire mont