The annual Blue and White spring game is just moments away, and Penn State football has been hitting the turf at full stride in preparation for it. After months of strength and conditioning workouts, this year’s team is aiming for its chance at another Big Ten title run.
However, before the regular season rolls around, spring practices are an excellent time for new players to make early impressions, as well as get into sync with their teammates and coaches.
Football is one of the best sports around because it has so much parity, meaning that the game and its participants are constantly changing.
It makes football that much more exciting, but also brings questions about each team throughout the offseason.
With coaches leaving for other jobs and star players heading to the NFL, Penn State football has its own answer bubbles to fill in before August.
Here are a few questions that the Nittany Lions should answer before the 2018 season begins:
How does the secondary adjust after losing all its starters from last season?
The secondary has been criticized heavily for the past five years, so there is going to be a lot of pressure on the upcoming group of starters.
A lot of talent is waiting in the wings, and Penn State fans should be eager to meet the new group ready to defend opposing air attacks.
Rumors are swirling that Wade might make the move to a safety position, as Reid and Oruwariye will be expected to man the boundaries. Wade is too talented to keep off of the field, which is why he will see reps at another spot.
Speaking of safety, redshirt senior and former running back Nick Scott is most likely to assume the free safety role.
Aside from Oruwariye, this is an inexperienced group in terms of time at the collegiate level and consistent play time on the field.
Everyone mentioned above has not experienced consistent reps in key moments of Penn State football games. This may be true, but these players are capable and talented enough to handle the pressure and more.
Reid, Taylor, Wade and Castro-Fields are all former four-star or higher rated high school prospects.
Do not be surprised if there are some growing pains along the way, but this group will mature quickly and prove that they can shut down any passing attack once they find their groove.
How is the offense going to replace Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton’s offensive production?
The majority of the responsibility is going to fall on redshirt senior quarterback Trace McSorley.
The Virginia native will have to prove if he was a product of a good system and Barkley to his side, or if he is truly a top college signal-caller.
Time will tell, but the offense begins and ends with McSorley in 2018 now that Barkley is no longer in Happy Valley.
In addition, McSorley is losing three of his top receiving targets from last season, making his job that much more difficult.
I am not just talking about a breakout year, McSorley, Sanders and Johnson must become a three-headed monster on that side of the ball.
It is a lofty expectation to place on them, but it is the only way for Penn State to replace all of that talent, which these three can do.
Johnson had a breakout season in 2017 and showed flashes of NFL caliber ability with his memorable walk-off TD catch at Iowa and his multiple one-handed snags throughout the season.
Sanders is the true diamond in the rough, as Penn State teammates believe that the nation does not recognize his true skills.
In an interview, Barkley told Sanders to save him some records after he is gone. THAT is how highly the team thinks of No. 24.
McSorley’s play-making role should remain the same, while helping Johnson and Sanders adjust to the level of play they are destined to reach.
McSorley is a tenacious leader, whose personality and will to succeed inspire the people around him to work their tails off. He must become more of an educator if the offense wants to be as dangerous as it can.
Yes, other players like DeAndre Thompkins, Brandon Polk and Danny Dalton will contribute mightily, but McSorley, Sanders and Johnson are responsible for carrying the bulk of the offensive load this season.
Which youngsters can we expect to break out next season?
Head coach James Franklin is a firm believer in the next man up mentality. This means that the young guys will see action on the field if they are ready.
Penn State has a plethora of young talent just clambering away to achieve their shot at playing time.
While this may be true, the Nittany Lions still rock a strong group of veterans that makes them lethal at the collegiate level.
So based on skill and depth a position, who should Blue & White fans expect to see get a crack at opponents on the turf.
The first name that will most definitely come to a lot of people’s minds is incoming frosh Micah Parsons. Primarily a defensive end, Franklin deemed him too skilled to sit behind all of the capable players he has there already.
So, Parsons moved to middle linebacker due to his small amounts of prior experience at the position, the lack of numbers at linebacker and the unbelievable physical and football abilities that this 18-year-old man possesses.
Parsons will dawn No. 11, which alludes former Penn State LB Lavar Arrington. If those are the comparisons Parsons is receiving as a freshman, there is no reason he cannot come right in and contribute at high levels.
Speaking of too much talent on the defensive line, there are two players who will flash signs of greatness in 2018. Yetur Gross-Matos and Shane Simmons will wreak havoc in the backfield of opposing quarterbacks when they are on the field.
Gross-Matos, like Parsons, is a physical freak and received playing time as a true freshman. Simmons, a rising redshirt sophomore, was able to consistently improve over the course of 2018.
Other notable players rising redshirt freshman K.J. Hamler. The Florida native is currently competing for time at both return positions, as well as the slot receiver behind fellow wide receiver Brandon Polk.
He is a former four-star prospect and calls himself the human joystick. The title fits him well due to his agility, footwork, quickness and pure, breakaway speed.