James Franklin has big holes to fill on both sides of the ball
James Franklin begins another spring in Happy Valley with perhaps the most questions he has had to address in a while with Penn State. The Nittany Lions have some notable departures from the program this season leaving some fascinating position battles to pay attention to this spring, all while Franklin is looking to keep Penn State in the running for a possible Big Ten title run.
5 Storylines to Watch During Penn State's Spring Practice
1. Tommy Stevens makes his case to replace Trace McSorley
The assumption going into the spring is that Stevens will end up being Penn State's next starting quarterback following the graduation of McSorley, who held the job the past three seasons. After backing up McSorley the past two years, that would seem likely to happen, but the spring will see Sean Clifford and Will Levis get some reps to see what they can do to push Stevens for the starting job.
2. Improving the reliability of the receivers
Somewhat surprisingly, one of the letdowns for Penn State was the wide receivers. Far too many drops haunted Penn State all season long by players that were expected to be pretty steady and dependable targets in the passing game. KJ Hamler was the breakout star with his speed coming up big in key moments, but the rest of the receiver unit needs to establish itself. New receivers coach Gerad Parker, previously at Duke, will work to get the receivers to play with more confidence.
3. Who's the next star running back?
After being spoiled with Saquon Barkley and one solid year from Miles Sanders as the starting running back, Penn State will look to see if any backs on the roster are ready to take the bulk of the carries this season. While there may not be a player of the caliber of Barkley, Penn State has some good running back options in the fold with Ricky Slade the most likely next-man-up. But keep an eye on former Notre Dame running back CJ Holmes, who will be eligible this season after sitting out last fall after his dismissal from Notre Dame. Penn State's running back depth remains one of its strengths.
4. Big shoes to fill on defense too
Shifting to the other side of the football, Penn State has a good number of position battles going on this spring from up front on the defensive line all the way back to the defensive secondary. Players like Shaka Toney up front and Lamont Wade in the secondary will be key players to watch grow into larger roles. Newcomers like Brandon Smith (early enrollee linebacker) will certainly be worth watching. Linebacker Micah Parsons has already proven his worth on the field and should continue to grow this spring as well.
5. Will the look of a Big Ten contender be visible at end of spring?
Penn State has had a string of good seasons the past couple of seasons. With so many important questions across the roster this spring, will James Franklin find a comfort level at the end of the spring game to feel as though he has another team ready to contend for a Big Ten title? Or will the spring show this could be a slight step back this season with the groundwork being paved for a big 2020 season? Coming out of the spring with as many answers as possible will lead to a more focused plan of attack in the summer leading up to the start of the new season.
— 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.