Penn State Football Spring Practice Primer: Offensive Position Breakdown
This is the first in a two-part series previewing the position breakdown of Penn State’s football team heading into spring practice, which starts Monday. Saturday’s installment takes a look at the offense.
Naturally, much of the focus will be on the quarterback position, but does anyone have to do more evaluation than first-year offensive line coach Mac McWhorter?
“I wasn't smart enough to ask Coach O'Brien that before I took the job,” McWhorter quipped last month. He was coaxed out of retirement following 37 years of coaching to work under first-year head coach Bill O’Brien.
Penn State is thin on experience up front. Only center Matt Stankiewitch returns from a unit that led the Big Ten in fewest sacks allowed. On the bright side, that’s half the battery for whoever lines up at quarterback, so there's some level of comfort.
Off we go . . .
Key losses: LT Quinn Barham, LG Johnnie Troutman, RG DeOn’tae Pannell, RT Chima Okoli
Key returnees: C Matt Stankiewitch, T Matt Farrell, G John Urschel
Penn State has many options up front; the question is can any of them perform.
Redshirt freshman tackle Donovan Smith (6-foot-5, 310 pounds) will get a lot of buzz this spring because of his size, but McWhorter has said he's looking for nimble linemen whose size does not forsake athleticism.
Unlike most units on this team, little, if anything noteworthy, is known at this juncture.
Key losses: None
Key returnees: RS Sr. Matt McGloin, Jr. Rob Bolden
McGloin and Bolden each have more than a season’s worth of experience, but here’s where it gets ugly: McGloin completed just 54.1 percent of his passes last season for 1,571 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. Bolden completed 39.3 percent of his passes for 685 yards, two touchdowns and seven interceptions.
And here's where it gets uglier: Against teams ranked in the AP Top 25, McGloin completed 42.6 percent of his passes. Bolden completed 32.3 percent his passes.
Redshirt sophomore Paul Jones is the third quarterback that will split first-team reps throughout the spring, but he hasn’t seen any game action mainly because of academic issues.
Key losses: RS Jr. Brandon Beachum, RS Sr. Stephfon Green, RS Sr. Joe Suhey
Key returnees: Jr. Silas Redd, Sr. Michael Zordich
O’Brien has declared every position open competition.
OK, now go ahead and pencil in Redd as the starting tailback. Penn State’s best offensive player, Redd ran for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
One guy to watch here this spring is sophomore Bill Belton, who converted from wildcat/wide receiver.
Key losses: None
Key returnees: Jr. Kevin Haplea, RS Jr. Garry Gilliam
Most are expecting the tight end to play a prominent role in O’Brien’s offense.
Here’s the issue: Haplea caught three passes last year, and Gilliam sat out rehabbing a torn ACL.
Dakota Royer, a converted linebacker, must feel he provides value to the position since he asked for the switch.
Key losses: RS Sr. Derek Moye
Key returnees: Sr. Justin Brown, Sr. Devon Smith, RS Jr. Curtis Drake
Moye’s departure leaves Penn State with no consistent vertical threat.
But O’Brien will tweak his offensive system around the capabilities of his players, and Penn State returns a veteran receiving corps with different skill sets.
O’Brien’s pro-style attack is certainly intriguing, but it’s the same cast of characters from recent years, and in case anyone forgot:
- Penn State ranked 95th nationally in total offense
- Out of 120 FBS teams, only 11 scored fewer than Penn State’s 29 touchdowns
- Penn State ranked 112th in passing efficiency
- The Nittany Lions converted less than 37 percent of their third downs, 96th in the country.
Did we mention the offensive line needs to be retooled?