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Penn State Football: Thursday Mailbag, Consistency, Leadership And More

by on July 09, 2015 6:00 AM

It's Thursday, and that means another mailbag and another chance to answer your offseason questions about Penn State football.

With Lift For Life coming up this weekend it is only a few short weeks before practice begins and fans, media and players embark on the start to the 2015-16 season.

While there is little truly happening right now, there is plenty to talk about concerning the program's future and the upcoming season. 

What does Hackenberg being an Elite 11 counselor say about him?

In the most basic sense it says that he's a successful alumni of the Elite 11 program who can come back and share his knowledge with the next line of great college football quarterbacks. You can say whatever you want about his ups and downs last year, but simply playing at the collegiate level means he has more knowledge and experience than any high school player.

However, this is a good chance to touch on Hackenberg's leadership, something frequently critiqued by fans and media alike.

Hackenberg has had moments he would maybe like to take back. But nearly anyone you talk to sees little issue with how he presents himself as a player and a teammate. He can be fiery and he expects a lot from everyone, but there is a reason so many of Penn State's last minute drives have ended in last minute wins.

Can Hackeneberg be a "better" leader? He probably feels like he can improve in every facet of his game. But he is not a Matt McGloin kind of leader where his emotions are so clearly apparent on the field. That's neither good nor bad. That's simply the way it is. Expecting Hackenberg to be something he isn't is a mistake by the analyst, not the player.

Chances are Hackeneberg looks the part this year more than he ever has, and that will range from his passing to his leadership. His potential and his proven skills are why he's working out in Oregon this week.

If you take away the offensive line, what is Penn State's next biggest issue?

There are general and specific answers to that question. Specifically you could say that the linebacker group still has to prove itself even with returning lettermen. Mike Hull is gone and in turn there is a hole to fill. But that's the kind of thing every team has to deal with. Replacing a player, finding a new star. Those aren't really issues as much as they are the nature of college football's ever-changing rosters.

So in a more general sense, the biggest issue is experience and consistency. Penn State simply needs more time in the offense and defense, more time with the coaches and more time together. Penn State's status as one of the nation's youngest teams last year makes the learning curve a collective effort.

Couple that with a relatively new coaching staff and things are going to take some time. Offensive coordinator John Donovan might get asked about the offensive line a lot, but the struggles were across the board. A mistake here, a miscue there. Little issues turning into big failures.

All of that, in theory, goes away with the benefit of time. Penn State's offensive line is already seeing improvement simply because of this -- going from worrying about what their assignments are in the system to simply playing football.

Talent fits into this answer as well, but that can be difficult to quantify and if nothing else is the most obvious issue that is clearly fixing itself as James Franklin and his staff recruit more high caliber players.

How many Penn State fans are traveling to Temple/Maryland?

That's obviously a hard question to nail down with a specific number, but it stands to reason both games will be well attended. Penn State's last game at Lincoln Financial Field had plenty of Penn State fans in the stands and trips to the DC and Baltimore area have yielded strong crowds as well. Considering Penn State nearly filled Fed Ex Field to play Indiana a few years ago, filling an equally largely M&T Bank Stadium to face a regional Maryland foe shouldn't be an issue.

Playing at a neutral site is a lot of fun when it comes to really mixing in two groups of fans but Penn State won't be doing that kind of thing more than it has to. For an athletic department still looking to make ends meet, playing at home in Beaver Stadium is still the best way to pay the bills. 

I would expect both of the marquee road trips to be well attended.

Who commits next?

Nothing is easy to predict in recruiting, but considering that this prospect has a date set there is at least a specific time to look forward to. Quinn Nordin, the top 2016 place-kicker is set to announce his decision at 10:30 on Friday morning. Penn State is the favorite in some people's eyes to land his services but the likes of Michigan aren't too far behind. 

Maybe a kicker doesn't move the needle like one of Penn State's defensive end commits, but considering how many games were decided by Sam Ficken's foot, the opportunity to pick up a solid kicker isn't something to be overlooked.

Have a question? Shoot me a tweet at @Ben_Jones88 or an email at [email protected]


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