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2016 Penn State Spring Outlook

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This month’s spring drills for the Penn State Nittany Lions will be an important one. A promising recruiting class and strong returning starters provide hope for year three of the James Franklin era; however, there are still plenty of question marks.

Penn State’s offensive production was one of the worst in the NCAA in terms of overall efficiency last season, which gives new coordinator Joe Moorhead a lot of work to do over the next couple months.

“We want the trademarks of our offense to be: dictate the tempo, be aggressive and attacking; we want to control the running game and make explosive plays in the passing game,” said Moorhead. “We want to do that, while being successful on third down, not turning the ball over and scoring touchdowns in the red zone.”

Spring practice will help Moorhead map out a depth chart, but changes along the offensive line will be the biggest determination in how offensive will initially run.

Several redshirt freshmen will be given opportunities this spring to mend the 39 sacks and 230 lost yards given up in 2015, starting witth Ryan Bates and Steven Gonzalez. Both players had productive bowl practices and put themselves in position to compete this spring.

After adding more than 25 pounds, Bates is up to 305 pounds and has the attention of his coaching staff.

"There's a lot of excitement about him and what he's going to bring to the table," Franklin said.

New offensive line coach Matt Limegrover is also said to be high on early enrollee Connor McGovern. Franklin said that McGovern is physically ready to play and his experience this spring may have him a chance to play immediately.

"He's going to have a chance to legitimately compete at that position because of his demeanor, because of his work ethic and because of his size," Franklin said. "He's a grown man right now. We'll see if that translates on to the field with the speed of the game, which is always the difference for these guys."

Noah Beh, Chasz Wright, and Sterling Jenkins will also get the chance to compete for playing time, according to Franklin.

"Some are more ready than others," Franklin said. "But these 15 days will give us a really good opportunity to see how much progress they have made."

Which quarterback the offensive line will be protecting is another top story. Sophomore Trace McSorely, who played well in Penn State's bowl loss to Georgia, is a likely candidate for the starting job vacated by Christian Hackenberg's departure for the NFL.

“Obviously it was great to see Trace come in in more of a live situation and make plays," Franklin said about McSorely’s bowl performance.

Franklin made it clear that the position will be an open competition in the spring, with Tommy Stevens getting a chance to challenge McSorely. Jake Zembiec, a three-star recruit who enrolled at Penn State in January, is more of a traditional pocket passer with a strong arm, giving Moorhead options.

"Coach [Dwight] Galt has matched Trace and Tommy up in everything, and they are fiercely going at each other,"Franklin said about the quarterback battle. "And obviously the young pup in Jake Zembiec is right there with them as well, trying to prove his opportunity."

Another early enrollee freshman to watch this spring is Miles Sanders, the highly touted running back from Woodland Hills. Sanders’s speed andPenn State Saqaon Barkley acceleration commands attention, and this spring should. provide an idea on how the reps will be split in with Saquon Barkely, Penn State’s leading rusher last season.

Barkley will likely be the featured weapon offensively after putting together a 1,000 yard freshman season on the strength of nearly six yards per carry.  Receiver Chris Godwin is back after pacing the passing game with 69 receptions and 1,101 yards.

There are less question marks on the defensive side of the ball with many starters returning; but some spots remain open, particularly along the defensive line, where the Nittany Lions must replace Austin Johnson, Anthony Zettel and Carl Nassib – all NFL prospects.

Curtis Cothran and Kevin Givens are former defensive ends who have moved to tackle this spring.

"Curtis is a long, powerful athletic guy," said Franklin. "He's 270 pounds right now and still looks skinny. We obviously still need him and Kevin Givens to put some weight on before camp. But we feel comfortable that's going to happen."

Franklin also mentioned Ryan Monk, Antoine White, Robert Windsor and Kamonte Carter as linemen who could play themselves into the rotation with good spring performances.

While there are no major injuries for Penn State, linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White -- who missed last season with a knee injury -- will probably be limited this spring. Wartman-White is expected to challenge Jason Cabinda for the middle linebacker job.

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