2018 Penn State Preseason Superlatives: Offense, Part One

By Joe McIntyre on July 30, 2018 at 11:00 am
Apr 21, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley (9) throws a pass during the first quarter of the Blue White spring game at Beaver Stadium. The Blue team defeated the White team 21-10. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
© Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
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My goodness gracious we're getting close to college football. You can almost hear the soothing sound of Beth Mowins' voice in the back of your head calling an 11 a.m. local time kickoff between Northwestern and Indiana, can't you? 

Anyway, as we approach what will undoubtedly be an exciting season for the Nittany Lions, the RLR staff is taking a preseason look at the 2018 Penn State offense. Today is part one of our offensive superlatives, with part two coming later this week.

Most Improved Player

Juwan Johnson

J.J. has got to be the most improved player for the 2018 team to reach the heights it can achieve. Losing Mike Gesicki, DaeSean Hamilton, and Saeed Blacknall is going to hurt, and they're going to need Johnson to be a monster if the Lions want to replicate their offensive upside from 2017. — Joe McIntyre

Sixty percent of Penn State’s receiving yards are gone. Juwan Johnson will have a big year as the Nittany Lions look to replace that. — Matt Filipovits

Johnson had a solid first year as a starter, but with Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton off to the NFL, he will step up to a true No. 1 receiver. — Matt de Bear

He seems like the most obvious choice to take the next step. The talent is there, and he will be one of the most experienced options for Trace. — Kevin Fay

Will Fries

All things considered, Fries did a solid job last year. But a solid job as a redshirt freshman called into action and a solid job as a guy with experience under his belt are two different things, and this year, Fries will go from "he's decent for a redshirt freshman" to "he's one of the conference's best offensive tackles." — Bill DiFilippo

Miles Sanders

He wasn't bad last year, but he lacked opportunity. With no one in front of him, Sanders is primed to be one of the top backs in the Big Ten. — Craig Fritz

Most Important Player

Trace McSorley
I don't know how you could possibly pick a different player other than simply trying to be contrarian. So, I won't. Trace is everything to me. — Joe McIntyre

Any step or steps back the offense would logically take after Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki, and DaeSean Hamilton moved on can be offset by McSorley having an All-American type season. If that doesn't make him the most important player, I don't know what would. — Bill DiFilippo

With uncertainty at key positions, the Nittany Lions will only go as far as their senior signal-caller will take them. — Craig Fritz

Sure, this is an easy answer, but with all of the losses across the offense, Penn State will rely on the senior signal caller to be the guy this fall. — Matt de Bear

Ryan Bates
Penn State’s offense stalled against Ohio State when Bates went down with an injury. He’s the Nittany Lions’ best offensive lineman and will be a key part of the offense’s success. — Matt Filipovits

Miles Sanders
It's a cop out, but he is going to be extremely important to the success of the offense. If he isn't an effective as a runner or in pass protection, the offense won't be effective. — Kevin Fay

Player Most Likely to Surprise

K.J. Hamler
I don't know if it would qualify as a surprise now since it seems everyone's talking about K.J. having a breakout year, but whenever you go from being a redshirt to having 13 touchdowns (my modest prediction), you will still surprise some folks. — Joe McIntyre

I am admittedly bullish on Sanders, and calling a former five-star prospect a guy likely to surprise could be a reach. However, in two years, he has had limited chances, and I expect him to have a big year with a bigger role. — Matt de Bear

Brandon Polk
Now that he's healthy, Polk's game-changing speed and ability to take the top off of the defense is quite the asset for Penn State's offense. If he can do that — and I think he can — it'll make life much easier on Trace McSorley and the rest of the pass catchers within the offense. — Bill DiFilippo

Jonathan Holland
I think he's going to take the opportunity at the TE spot and have a fairly productive season. — Craig Fritz

Hey, somebody has to step at tight end. If Holland can provide a fraction of the production Gesicki had, it’ll be seen as a success. — Matt Filipovits

Holland has been around for awhile and has a chip on his shoulder, I think he will surprise with not only production, but his blocking ability. It's no secret Gesicki worked hard on his blocking ability, but struggled at times. I think if Holland is even serviceable in both categories it will mean big things for the offense. — Kevin Fay

Freshman With the Biggest Impact

Jake Pinegar
If Gillikin handles all kicking duties across the team then this may not be as relevant, but it's possible Pinegar, as the kicker, scores the most points for the Lions this year and therefore has the biggest impact on the team this year as a freshman. — Joe McIntyre

Ricky Slade

Ricky Rahne has to find a way to get this kid the ball. He's crazy good and fans will love his style of play. — Craig Fritz

He’ll be a fun utility player. You’re not replacing Saquon, but Slade will help Ricky Rahne find new ways to beat teams. — Matt Filipovits

Five-star receiver Justin Shorter is probably an easier pick here, but Slade's skill set is something Penn State quite simply does not have on the roster. He won't get a ton of touches, but I expect him to find a niche in this offense. — Matt de Bear

There aren't a ton of options here as there aren't many freshman that figure to factor into the rotation. Of the ones that are coming in, Slade figures to be one of the only ones that could have an impact. I have the pleasure of working with a couple of high school football coaches in Virginia who all agree he is the best running back prospect they have seen in their time coaching. I can't wait to see him on the field. — Kevin Fay

Most Missed Player from 2017

Mike Gesicki
I don't really know how you can replace what Large Mike brought to the Lions last year, both from a production standpoint and a mismatch standpoint that other teams had to face defensively. He took a lot of the load off the receivers' shoulders and opened up the passing game because of his big play ability. You will be missed, Large Mike. — Joe McIntyre

Guys like Saquon Barkley and DaeSean Hamilton are replaced by players who have played a lot of football. The tight end position doesn't really have that, and with how much Gesicki brought to the table (albeit mostly as a receiver), figuring out who among the morass of tight ends will rise to the occasion is really, really hard to do right now. — Bill DiFilippo

McSorley's security blanket is playing for the Dolphins, and someone will have to step up to be an outlet on crucial third downs and in the red zone. — Craig Fritz

Saquon Barkley
This question is unfair, but it's fine. He dictated every defensive game plan, and it made everyone else around him better. Now that role falls to Trace, and I am confident he is more than ready for it. — Kevin Fay

It’s an obvious answer but it’s true. It’s impossible to not miss the best to ever do it. —  Matt Filipovits

DaeSean Hamilton
It's hard to believe the program's all-time receptions leader was an afterthought, but with Saquon Barkley and Mike Gesicki on the same offense, Hamilton's dependability was often overlooked. Penn State will struggle to replicate that production. — Matt de Bear

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