Penn State's Biggest Questions Heading into 2019

By Matthew Filipovits on January 15, 2019 at 9:20 am
Nov 10, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Jahan Dotson (5) runs the ball during the second quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Wisconsin 22-10. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
© Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

With all the early declarations and transfer news over the past few weeks, Penn State's roster is starting a look a bit different. While most of the departures were at least somewhat expected, they still create new problems that the Nittany Lions will have to deal with. Let's take a look at the biggest questions marks going forward.

Wide receiver depth

With Juwan Johnson and Brandon Polk on their way via the mysterious NCAA Transfer Portal, Penn State has just seven scholarship receivers, just two with more than 10 career catches, and none older than sophomores eligibility-wise. 

No matter how you swing it, that's not great. James Franklin loves to rotate in a ton of receivers so some of these guys will have to grow up fast. Mental lapses are destined to come with young players, so not having guidance from veterans and bringing in a new wide receivers coach may cause some headaches early on. If a few guys get injured or drops plague this unit again, it may once again be a struggle to find consistency in the passing game.

offensive line reshuffling

Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern declaring early shattered the dream of returning all five offensive line starters, but Penn State has recruited for this moment. Will Fries and Steven Gonzalez should hold down the left side and Michal Menet will maintain the reigns at center.

Mike Miranda was terrific in his lone start against Maryland. With CJ Thorpe switching back over to offense, those two should be in for a heated battle that will last well into fall camp. The biggest question mark comes at tackle. The staff is very high on Rasheed Walker but he is very young. Des Holmes is a high ceiling guy but spent most of last season at guard to make up for the depth lost with Thorpe going over to defense. Then you have the wildcard in all this, Anthony Whigan. Whigan was one of the most highly touted JUCO offensive linemen in the country for a reason. Enrolling early will only help him, but will it be enough to supplant some of the younger guys who have been around a bit longer?

who starts at linebacker?

Not all problems are necessarily bad. The linebacking corp is on much better footing now than it was a year ago. Regardless, James Franklin and Brent Pry have a big decision on their hands. Do they stay loyal to Cam Brown and Jan Johnson or do they go with some younger talent?

Franklin has shown he will remain loyal to his starters as long as it doesn't hurt the team, but the idea of having guys like Ellis Brooks, Jesse Luketa, Brandon Smith, and Lance Dixon play a lot of meaningful reps could prove too appealing to pass up. Expect all those guys to rotate in, but the staff will quickly need to figure out what the best combination of guys is to help Penn State get some wins.

defensive tackle...again

Kevin Given's decision to forgo his senior season took this unit from a potential strength to a relative unknown. You have Robert Windsor back after a very strong junior season, but it looks like you have a handful of guys vying for the other spot.

Ellison Jordan and Fred Hansard were putting together very solid years before injuries prematurely ended their seasons. While we still don't know the status of Jordan, we at least know Hansard is out of his walking boot and on the road to recovery. Antonio Shelton got the start in place of the suspended Windsor, proving the staff has confidence in his abilities going forward. PJ Mustipher did more than hold his own as a true freshman. He was able to force plays to the outside with consistency, something that's rare to see a younger player do at such a physical position. You also have Judge Culpepper and Aeneas Hawkins coming off redshirt seasons. All of these guys will at least play a role, meaning Penn State probably has more depth at the position than it did last year, but not as much proven talent. That could lead to some problems in the trenches in the early part of the season.

the other safety

Lamont Wade entering the almighty transfer portal came as a bit of shock, especially considering what Terry Smith said about the former five-star prospect less than a month ago. 

With him potentially gone, the race to earn the job as Garrett Taylor's running mate seems as wide open as possible. Jonathan Sutherland was getting the third-most reps at safety towards the end of the season, but that was mostly in relief of Taylor. The staff needs to decide if the hard-hitting Canadian is ready to shift to a more centerfielder-like safety role, or if he's better suited to continue backing up Taylor.

It appears Sutherland's main competition will be JUCO transfer Jaquan Brisker. The Lackawanna Community College product won't be arriving on campus until the summer, making it just a bit harder to see him grabbing the starting job right away. It's also possible that one of the two incoming safety recruits impress enough for the staff to feel comfortable with them. Depth will be an issue at the safety spot regardless of who wins the job.

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