Penn State Football Media Day: Offensive Takeaways
1.) Production out of the running back position will be better than expected
The production at the running back position should decline with the loss of Saquon Barkley, at least that’s what the majority of college football fans have been saying. However, one of the biggest takeaways from football media day was the potential this running back core has this year.
While this year’s roster may not have a once in a lifetime talent like Barkley, it does have more versatility at the running back position. Junior Miles Sanders will headline the running back core, as he will get the majority of the handoffs.
“Now’s his time,” Franklin said. “As you can imagine, he’s very hungry for the opportunity.”
The Pittsburgh native totaled 88 yards last year on 12 carries over six game appearances
“The time is now, and I’m ready to show the world what I can do,” Sanders said.
Outside of Sanders, senior running backs Johnathan Thomas and Mark Allen will receive most of the carries. For now, neither has really separated themselves. Redshirt freshman Journey Brown's name has also been in the middle of this conversation, but nothing concrete has been announced yet in regard to naming the backup running back.
Perhaps the most surprising statement from Franklin on this running back core was not something he said, but rather something Thomas said during the team’s leadership council meeting.
“I went around to each guy, kind of asking them where they think we’re at,” Franklin said. “Johnathan Thomas said we are going to be really good at running back, and we will have just as much production this year, if not more, at the running back position than we had last year.”
2.) The offensive line is much more experienced
Of course, the running backs are nothing without an offensive line. One of the weak points of last year’s Nittany Lion team was the offensive line. This year, it seems like the script is the exact opposite, as five of the six starters from last year’s team are returning.
“I think it [the competition] will be good,” Franklin said. “As you guys know, I was excited about the offensive line last year, and I thought we made great progress.”
The projected front five is junior Ryan Bates at left tackle, sophomore Michal Menet at right tackle, junior Steven Gonzalez at left guard, and junior Connor McGovern at center with senior Chasz Wright and sophomore Will Fries will compete for the right tackle position.
The only question mark is whether McGovern will return to center or if he will be moved to right tackle. If he were to move to right tackle, Menet would assume the center spot. Regardless, this offensive line has another year under its belt which will help them tediously.
“I think there’s still a difference between having a legitimate Big Ten offensive line that we had last year and being able to have an offensive line that allows you to compete consistently with top 10 programs,” Franklin said. “We took a real nice step last year with that, and that’s still what we’re working towards.”
3.) Trace McSorley will be the face of this team
The senior quarterback has solidified himself as one of the best leaders this program has ever seen. The same will hold true this year. The Ashburn, Virginia native has grown to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country, even being mentioned in the Heisman race conversation heading into this year.
“It’s definitely been an honor seeing all these things happen where I’m getting mentioned in this and that,” McSorley said. “But, to me, my job is to be the best quarterback for Penn State and be the best captain and leader I can for this team.”
McSorley threw for a total of 2,452 yards last season on a 64.3 percent completion parentage. What separates him from the rest is his ability to tuck it and run if the pocket collapses. Running the ball 203 times last season, McSorley recorded eight touchdowns and 305 total rushing yards.
While McSorley lost a lot of production from last year’s offense, he is completely confident in the unit that he has surrounding him this year.
“If we were to go out and face a tough third down right now, I would be confident that all the guys would understand the game plan and what we’re trying to attack,” McSorley said.
The only change that he has made coming into this year is assuming an increased leadership role.
“I’ve had to take a little bit more of vocal role as a leader,” McSorley said. “As the Senior, as they guy returning, I kind of got to be a little bit more vocal and that’s something that I’ve done more this offseason.”
Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens will also have an increased role this season. Last year Stevens was used very sparingly, either in blow out games or trick plays that sent him into the slot to run the ball.
“I think I will play more just because some of the things that we’ve lost in the past,” Stevens said. “[We] lost a lot of production on the offense from last year, and so I think that being one of the older guys in the offensive room and some of the things I can bring to the table will help.”
4.) The wide receiving core is the biggest question mark
Penn State will have to replace three of its top four wide outs from last year, with senior Deandre Thompkins being the only returner at the position. Junior Brandon Polk will also assume a bigger role this year right behind Thompkins.
Senior tight end Juwan Johnson will serve a similar role as last year in coming off the line and giving McSorely big target down field. However, the last two wide receiver spots are currently vacant.
Outside of Thompkins and Polk, the rest of this wide receiving core are all either freshman or redshirt freshman.
One of the favorite candidates to step to fill this gap is true freshman Justin Shorter. The 6-foot-four-inch wide out was one of the best in his recruiting class. Shorter has all the intangibles a coach could ask for in the slot, and can beat the secondary in nearly every way imaginable.
The coaching staff may fill these two roles by committee for the first couple games until two players separate themselves or just pick their guys to ride with for the season. Regardless, this is a very young position that may take a step back in production from last year.
Cooper Deck is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.