Coming off a season that ended with a Fiesta Bowl victory and another solid recruiting class in the fold, Penn State looks to continue working hard to prepare for a run at the Big Ten title once again in 2018. That work begins in the spring, with James Franklin and his staff looking to raise the bar and keep their eyes on a few key players that could have a significant impact in the fall.
Whether they are new faces or players looking to fill some big shoes or coming back from an injury, the spring will be a good opportunity to see what these Nittany Lions have in them as Penn State begins to write another chapter in the program’s history.
John Reid, CB
A year ago, Reid was beginning the spring expecting to be a key member of the Penn State defense, but a torn ACL put his 2017 season on ice. Now ready to get back in the swing of things, Penn State will welcome back an experienced starter at defensive back as Reid bounces back from the injury. Reid started 14 games for the Nittany Lions in 2016 and will give them a veteran upperclassman to rely on in a key spot. Don’t be surprised if Penn State keeps his workload a tad lighter when possible though.
Lamont Wade, S
Staying in the defensive backfield, Wade should be watched closely as a strong candidate to fill one of the vacant starting jobs this spring. One of the top cornerback recruits in the Class of 2017 and one of the top players in Pennsylvania, Wade enrolled early at Penn State to get a jump on his college career. Though his playing time in 2017 was as a garbage-time backup, Wade appeared in 12 games and made 31 tackles to get his feet wet. Now, Wade is expected to continue to grow and step foot into a bigger role in the defense. Though he has worked at defensive back, Penn State currently lists him as a safety, but his athleticism and versatility may come in handy.
Miles Sanders, RB
With Saquon Barkley on his way to the NFL, the torch will be passed to Sanders. A junior, Sanders (above, right) has had to wait for his time to shine in the leading role on the ground, but Penn State has taken steps to prepare him for the job, including some more opportunities in the Fiesta Bowl (six carries, 15 yards, TD) in addition to his special teams duties. Sanders may not be Barkley, but he was a five-star recruit and the No. 1-ranked running back in the nation in the Class of 2016, according to 247Sports. This spring will be his chance to prove worthy of carrying the running game this fall.
Zach Kuntz, TE
Not only is Penn State losing a top running back, but the Nittany Lions also have to replace Mike Gesicki at tight end. Jonathan Holland and Nick Bowers each have limited playing experience to build on, but Kuntz was a four-star recruit in this year's class who enrolled early. By getting to campus now, Kuntz can get right to work this spring and make a push for consideration to jump right into the starting lineup, or at least find a consistent role on offense.
Trace McSorley is going to be the starter for a third straight season, but what happens in the event McSorley gets banged up and has to miss some playing time? As last football season showed, having a reliable backup option can save your season (see: Alabama and the Philadelphia Eagles). So who ends up being the No. 2 guy in State College? This spring could have something to say with that especially with a new offensive coordinator in charge. Tommy Stevens has been used in receiver formations to get him on the field, and Jake Zembiec and Sean Clifford each arrived with some high praise and potential. A strong spring by any of these three could go a long way, and seeing one of these names move on (Stevens or Zembiec) after the spring may not be a shock either.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.