Penn State is opening another spring looking to redeem themselves a bit. After going .500 the past two seasons and ending last season on a sour note, head coach James Franklin looks to re-energize his program and get things back on track in 2022. Penn State signed a stellar recruiting class and a number of key players from that class are already on campus as spring practices begin in Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions have a talented roster, one that should be highly competitive in Big Ten play. But there have been too many losses the past two years to suggest Penn State will enter the 2022 season as a legitimate threat to Ohio State or defending champion Michigan until we see what has changed on the field. Penn State has what it takes to have a very good season, but there are plenty of areas of concern as spring practice season opens.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on during Penn State's spring practices this year.
5 Storylines to Watch During Penn State's Spring Practice
1. Sean Clifford returns
As Penn State was losing a good number of players to the NFL, Clifford, the starting quarterback, returns for a rare sixth season. His return likely comes with the inevitable question of whether or not he is truly the best option considering the addition of one of the nation's top quarterback recruits in Drew Allar. But Clifford's experience should count for something and if given time by his offensive line, Clifford can still be a part of a winning formula for the Nittany Lions. Having a second season with the same offensive coordinator (Mike Yurcich) should help too.
2. Penn State welcomes Manny Diaz as defensive coordinator
As Miami was going through a coaching change that moved Diaz out of his position as head coach, Penn State swooped in and provided a nice landing spot for the ousted Hurricanes coach. Diaz will replace Brent Pry, who left his position to become the head coach at Virginia Tech, and he inherits a defense still full of good talent even after the roster turnover from last season's solid defensive unit.
3. Secondary remains a strength
Penn State's biggest losses from the roster last season do come on the defensive side of the football, including losing Jaquan Brisker and Tariq Castro-Fields to the NFL. But the cornerbacks and safeties actually appear to be in pretty decent shape with the return of Ji'Ayir Brown, last year's interceptions leader, and Joey Porter Jr. Kalen King also is entering his second season after a celebrated freshman season.
4. Getting the running game on track
There is no possible way to sugarcoat the ineffectiveness of the Penn State running game last season. Not one single player recorded a 100-yard rushing game a year ago and Noah Cain transferred to LSU. But Penn State likes the future of the running game with the addition of Class of 2022 star running back Nicholas Singleton. Singleton is expected to be in the offensive game plan very early on, but Keyvone Lee still has some potential to be a big factor in the running game as well.
5. It all comes down to the offensive line
If the quarterback and running back positions are going to thrive this season, then the offensive line must show steady improvement. The woes of the running game can be directly tied to not having much room to work with the offensive line getting out-muscled and not providing necessary gaps. And Clifford got roughed up a few too many times last season. Phil Trautwein knows he has work to do with his offensive line unit. Help will be on the way later this summer, but everyone can step things up this spring.