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Big 10 Media Days: Penn State Strengths & Question Marks

James Franklin addressed several strengths and question marks at Big 10 Media Days for Penn State as the Nittany Lions prep for the season.

Big 10 Media Days started off with a bang as several coaches from the conference sat down to discuss their seasons ahead. Penn State Head Coach James Franklin was one of the coaches featured on Wednesday, July 26th. He discussed everything from NIL to Summer workouts. However, we won’t be touching too much on either of these items here. Instead, we will be highlighting what Franklin sees as Penn State’s strengths and question marks heading into the 2023 season.

Franklin Discusses Penn State Strengths & Question Marks

We have highlighted several position groups in the Penn State offseason. Discussing the returners and the incoming freshmen and transfers in each. Several of these groups were also discussed by Franklin at Big 10 Media Days on Wednesday. He started off on a good note, stating, “I think we probably have less question marks this year than we have in previous seasons.” All signs point to this being true for the Nittany Lions in 2023. There is no doubt that this Penn State team lost key players from the 2022 season, but several young players had the ability to get meaningful snaps last Fall. This is something that will help this team in 2023.

Penn State Question Marks Heading Into the Fall

Franklin indicated often throughout his appearance that there are fewer question marks for this team heading into the season, however, that does not mean there aren’t areas of pause from a season ago. One unit that falls into this category is the secondary. It’s not a question mark because there is a lack of depth, or because there is a lack of talent. The secondary falls into this category because the key players will be young. Franklin was deliberate about this group, emphasizing that while this group is young they come with experience. He stated to the group, “…we played a ton of players in the secondary with experience, talent, and depth.” However, when you have to replace players like Joey Porter Jr. and Ji’Ayir Brown, there is going to be pause and questions.

This is a group that defensive team passing efficiency a season ago. So, who is going to step up? We discussed the signees earlier this Spring (noting that Storm Duck is no longer with the program), but who are the returners that will make an impact? Kalen King is a name that has been thrown around a lot after his performance in 2022. King was second in interceptions last season, only behind the departed Brown. He recorded three interceptions and led the group with 16 pass breakups. King will likely be one of the leaders of this group in the Fall. He will be joined by Zakee Wheatley, Johnny Dixon, and hometown product, Keaton Ellis. Behind the core four, it will be largely unproven young players, but Franklin isn’t worried, assuring, “…I think we’re going to be in a good position there.”

The Offensive Question Mark

Another group that falls into this group is the wide receivers. The Penn State wide receivers have trended up over the years, but have also had a revolving door of position coaches. The Nittany Lions have a new wide receiver coach for 2023. Marques Hagans will lead this group this Fall and looks to build on a solid base.

Keandre Lambert-Smith will need to make strides this season. He was fourth in receptions last season, behind players that have since left for the NFL. In Spring practice Hagans was working with Lambert-Smith to make him the number one guy, with Omari Evans as his number two. However, there are also two transfers that are looking to make an impact. Malik McClain and Dante Cephas will undoubtedly be in the mix for the top three receivers this season. It seems like Franklin may agree, indicating, “Trying to figure out who our third wide receiver is going to be in that rotation, but I think we’ve got a number of young people will step up and compete for that job.”

Position Group Strengths

At Big 10 Media Days for Penn State Franklin indicated that almost every other group is seen as a strength heading into the season. However, we will mainly touch on one. The first is a group that has often been seen as a weakness for the Nittany Lions; the offensive line. Look at the number of hits that former quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Sean Clifford took over the bulk of their collegiate careers. Franklin acknowledged this issue, stating, “When I got to Penn State, we were in a much different position. I think we only had five scholarship offensive linemen in the program.” A lack of depth was apparent over those first years with Franklin at the helm. However, depth has grown in this position. Franklin sees this too, going on to say, “Our depth and our talent is right where we need it to be.”

What is likely the biggest sigh of relief for the offensive line this season is the return of veteran leader Olu Fashanu. Fashanu is projected as a high-round draft pick after this season, but that’s not all. According to Franklin, he has the highest GPA on the team. Fashanu represents what being a student-athlete at Penn State is all about. He came back to graduate from the university and be a leading presence for his teammates. This group is poised to have its best season yet under Franklin. Something that either Drew Allar or Beau Pribula (or both) will undoubtedly appreciate.


Photo courtesy: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports


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