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Penn State Football: Six Things Worth Watching As Spring Ball Starts

by on March 18, 2016 2:00 PM

Pro Day is over and winter workouts are in the books. So that means one thing, spring football, and on Friday the Nittany Lions will take the field for the first of many practices between now and April 16th Blue White scrimmage.

With a new defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach in the mix there are plenty of names and faces to get familiar with as training camp and the start of the season slowly closes in. To be sure the Nittany Lions will be far from game-ready when the spring comes to a close, but the next several weeks will be key towards taking the next step forward as a program.

So what to look for? Here are six things.

1. Does a Brent Pry unit have to take a step backwards?

While technically Pry is the fifth defensive coordinator in six years for Penn State he has the advantage of having been with the program the past two years. Maybe the most under appreciated coach on the staff, Pry has been a rock for the defensive staff working with the linebackers. It's safe to assume that Pry will have his own take on things compared to how Bob Shoop was running the unit the last two years, but this bunch might be able to get away without taking any meaningful step backwards. If Penn State can still push out a top defense in 2016 despite a new DC, that will go a long way towards something positive in the W/L column as the season grinds on.

2. Can Zembiec make an early move in the QB race?

Seemingly this is Trace McSorely's job to lose and Tommy Steven's job to steal, but figuring out where Zembiec fits into this mix is still up for debate. The 6-3, 202 pound freshman has size on McSorely, but will likely have to put together an exceptionally strong spring to jump Stevens in the race. Zembiec could be destined for a redshirt season no matter what happens, but if he can in the very least get his name into the mix from the start that's probably a good sign for his career down the road.

3. Is the MLB spot Cabinda's to lose, even with Wartman-White back?

Nyeem Wartman-White will be limited this spring as he continues to rehab and recover from his Week 1 knee injury against Temple last season. When healthy Wartman-White ought to find himself back in the middle linebacker position all things being equal. The problem is that Jason Cabinda has locked that spot on the field with relative ease in Wartman-White's absence. According to James Franklin both players will battle it out for the MLB spot all summer long. In the end with Troy Reeder out of the mix either Wartman-White or Cabinda are going to bounce to OLB, the question is who, and with all this time under his belt, it's hard to imagine Cabinda making the switch.

4. Do Johnson or Charles finally impress at WR?

Juwan Johnson and Irving Charles, the so-called "Twin Towers" both at 6-4 and with arms and length to match it. Penn State is theoretically deep across the field at wideout but with size and speed it's hard to picture these two not finally making an impact this season. Last year Charles was "green lit" by the staff, one of just four freshman to get the nod for playing time, but he never saw the field as Penn State's pass attack struggled. With that year of eligibility saved and in the tank, now seems as good of a time as any to give a new quarterback a big target to throw to. Even if they don't become primary targets, 6-4 receivers can't stand on the sideline forever.

5. What happens to Andre Robinson?

Saquon Barkley has essentially ruined everyone's chances of making a big impact at the running back position for the next two or three years and that includes Robinson. While it's safe to say Barkley won't get every single carry between now and the end of his career, Robinson was poised to be one of many to make a major impact for the future of the program. Add in the fact that incoming freshman Miles Sanders is allegedly as good as Barkley and Robinson is the odd man out. Even James Franklin has admitted to not entirely knowing what they're going to do with Robinson. Safe to assume though that a player that talented won't spend the season on the sidelines.

6. Is it good the offensive line is back?

Penn State's offensive line can largely look exactly the same as it did during periods of last season. No more Angelo Mangiro means a new center is in play, but Wendy Laurent has taken snaps at that position before. So aside from that minor change everybody is ready for another crack at keeping the quarterback safe. Paris Palmer even is considerably stronger and more experienced, which is probably the best news for fans out of this winter.

But talent has been waiting in the wings. So the question now becomes, is Penn State better off using incumbent offensive linemen or can the program afford another season of learning curves in the early going? That will depend greatly on how the depth performs during camp this spring and summer, and right now that's simply a great unknown.

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