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In Bloom

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Penn State hits the field for their second spring practice under James Franklin. After a 2-6 Big Ten season but a big bowl win, the Nittany Lions are looking for improvement.

As Penn State continues to recover from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the Nittany Lions are looking for improvement in year two under James Franklin. Here are the issues they'll be trackling this spring:

C Hack on Track?
Christian Hackenberg returns for his third and probably final year as Penn State's starting quarterback. Hackenberg, who will enter the 2015 season as the top NFL Draft prospect among quarterbacks, started and finished his sophomore campaign with a bang. He threw for 1,082 yards in the first three games and capped the season with a 371-yard, four touchdown performance in a win over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl. The two months in between, however, were awful. Hackenberg threw 10 interceptions and 3 touchdowns during an eight-game stretch in which Penn State was 2-6. A poor offensive line is partly responsible, but when your best player is your biggest negative, it’s a major concern. Getting Hackenberg’s play to match his talent will be a major focus this spring.

Improve the Line.
As much as the Nittany Lions offensive line struggled to protect Hackenberg last fall, the unit was even worse trying to establish a running game. With the departures of tackle Donovan Smith and guard Miles Dieffenbach, the Lions lose their two best linemen. Sophomore Brandon Mahon shows promise at guard, while the athletic Albert Hall can play both tackle positions. Penn State added four linemen in their incoming recruiting class, including Paris Palmer, a juco tackle who is already enrolled in school and has the potential to help right away. A second-year under o-line coach Herb Hand should help the returnees.

Reinforcements Needed.
Defensive ends C.J. Olaniyan and Deion Barnes are gone, as are reserves Tyrone Smith and Brad Bars. The return of Anthony Zettel gives the defense a difference maker, however. Zettel is a physical freak and should be one of the most disruptive linemen in the Big Ten, giving the Lions a true eraser up front. Fellow tackle Austin Johnson brings veteran experience in the middle, while Tarow Johnson and Parker Cothren add rotational depth. But the Nittany Lions need Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan to produce on the edge.

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