Nittany Lions look to retool both sides of the ball after a strong finish to the 2020 season
The 2020 season was a bumpy one for the Penn State Nittany Lions. After slumping out to a historically bad 0-5 start to the adjusted Big Ten season, Penn State managed to end the year on a winning streak before opting to stay home for the bowl season. Now, a year after not getting a chance to hold a spring practice, James Franklin hopes the opportunity to get in some work with new players and coaches will lead to a much different story in the fall.
Here is a look at some of the storylines to be following this year as Penn State opens its spring practice schedule.
5 Storylines to Watch During Penn State’s Spring Practice
1. Mike Yurcich takes control of the offense
The biggest change within the Penn State program this offseason came with the offensive coordinator. After one season with Kirk Ciarrocca, Penn State head coach James Franklin seized the opportunity to add Yurcich to the staff to handle the same role after a coaching change at Texas. Yurcich will bring some new twists to the offense, and he has some good players on his roster to work with.
2. Penn State still has quality running back depth
Running back depth certainly took an early blow for the Nittany Lions last season, but the depth at the position proved to be reliable by the end of the 2020 season. In 2021, the running back depth should be in decent shape once again with a healthy Noah Cain, a rising Keyvone Lee, and the addition of Baylor transfer John Lovett. Devyn Ford and Caziah Holmes should benefit from the experience they gained in 2020 as well.
3. Can Penn State fill out its defensive line?
The Nittany Lions have generally had good to very good defensive linemen over the years, but the spring will open with a spotlight on the entire defensive line. Outside of PJ Mustipher, this is a unit with some spots to fill. And there should be some good competition for nearly every spot from left to right. The addition of Temple transfer Arnold Ebitketie should pan out well for Penn State.
4. Locking down the secondary
On the flip side, Penn State's secondary may prove to be one of the more reliable assets on that side of the football. Jaquan Brisker returns to lead the unit with his physical style at the safety position, and the return of a healthy Tariq Castro-Fields solidifies another position with veteran leadership. Joey Porter Jr. showed some terrific promise in 2020 and will be looked to anchor another starting spot out of the spring.
5. Improving the special teams (other than Jahan Dotson)
It will likely fly under the radar for most given the focus on the offense and defense this spring, but Penn State could absolutely benefit from improvement in the kicking game. Nittany Lions kickers Jake Pinegar and Jordan Stout converted just 11 of their 18 combined attempts. Expect the two to continue to split the field goal duties based on distance, which means both will have to improve their accuracy from their respective distances.
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