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Penn State Football: Five Storylines Heading Into Camp

by on August 02, 2016 2:00 PM

Penn State starts training camp this Thursday, officially ending the offseason and turning the long wait of the summer into the days and weeks that will help shape the Nittany Lions' 2016 season.

Throughout the year there will be ever-changing narratives and stories to follow. How does Penn State's offense look under Joe Moorhead? Can the defensive line replace the likes of Anthony Zettel and Carl Nassib? Can Penn State transition seamlessly to a new chapter of the James Franklin era despite three new position coaches?

That and more will be the talking points that will help define how Penn State's season will go. But for right now, here are five important questions Penn State will try to answer for when Week 1 officially gets here a month from Wednesday.

1. How long does the 'competition' stay open?

It's probably the worst kept secret in State College that Trace McSorley is going to be the starting quarterback. Yet the quarterback competition is still open heading into training camp and according to James Franklin that won't be changing prior to the start of camp. So on paper it's a two man show between Tommy Stevens and McSorley, and while there are a handful of good reasons why an open competition helps the program, at some point you're just cutting into first team reps for your eventual starter. Penn State isn't going to go with two QBs in this offense, so be it week one of practice or week two, it doesn't seem like the competition will be open for long. Then again, it hasn't seemed like a true competition for a while now.

2. How does the backfield shake out?

Obviously there is no reason to think that Saquon Barkley is going to be losing too many carries to the backs behind him, but with Mark Allen and Andre Robinson getting praise from nearly everyone and Miles Sanders coming into the fold, it remains to be seen how that sorts itself out. In actuality it might be a matter of who does the most when the season finally gets here, but it's still one of the more intriguing battles in camp.

Allen and Robinson have the experience and the physicality to play right now, Sanders comes in as the nation's top-rated running back prospect. From the outside looking in Barkley is excited about the guys behind him, but who actually ends up getting the carries is an unknown. Sanders is the fan favorite, but don't count out the other two just yet.

3. Are special teams battles already over?

James Franklin has long claimed that having scholarship special teams players would be the difference between good kicking and the kind of inconsistent play the Nittany Lions have had the past few seasons. It's not that Penn State hasn't had booming kicks and long field goals, but they've so often been followed up by shanks in every direction.

So with Alex Barbir and Blake Gillikin coming into the fold, some of the best prospects in the nation, is there really even a special teams battle for those kicking jobs? Everyone likes watching Joey Julius trot out on the field, but fans probably like consistency even better. Whoever is the most consistent will win the job, but if these guys can't do it, then maybe Penn State just shouldn't punt anymore.

4. Paris Palmer and Co.

Oh hello, it's Penn State's offensive line. Angelo Mangiro is the only real loss from this group but that doesn't mean things will get any better. If they do it's because new offensive line coach Matt Limegrover has found a way to keep things simple while strengthening the fundamentals. Joe Moorhead's offense is allegedly offensive line friendly, but at the end of the day you still have to block. One would have to think with younger guys finally ready to challenge for starting jobs and older guys having more experience that everything would improve on its own, but much like special teams, seeing is believing.

5. New names on defense.

Goodbye to the likes of Jordan Lucas, Anthony Zettel and Carl Nassib, hello to Torrence Brown, Shareef Miller and Robert Windsor. While plenty of familiar faces will return to the fold like Garrett Sickles and Marcus Allen, this season will be marked by new names making an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball. Penn State should have the usual grouping of Cabinda, Wartman-White and Bell at linebacker but outside of Sickles it's open season on the defensive front. Evan Schwan will make waves around the conference at the defensive end spot with his speed and Brown and Windsor will give Penn State plenty of push on the inside. Either way, it won't be all of the usual suspects making plays this year. It's time to welcome a few new faces to the playmaking fold. That's at least what defensive coordinator Brent Pry is hoping for.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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