With the spring semester finished and most of the usual roster attrition also coming to an end, there may be no better time to look ahead to the 2016 season by looking back at the 2015 season. Here is a breakdown of playing time distribution for Penn State's offense last season. It is no secret that things are going to look different in 2016: there is a new quarterback, plenty of talented redshirt and true freshmen vying for playing time, and a new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach in the mix. This is more about getting an idea of how much experience remains at each position. Where is depth a strength and where is it a weakness? Where will freshmen be needed the most? This will outline some of the answers to those questions.
Before we begin, let me place this in some context. As some of you may remember, I spent the 2015 season re-watching every Penn State game each week in order to tally up the playing team of the various members of the Penn State football team. I actually did not begin this venture until Week 2, and I gave myself a week off at one point, so there were no posts about the snap counts in the Temple or Northwestern games last year. I have since gone back and tallied up those games as well, so these posts coming up will be the first complete look we have had at the whole of the 2015 season.
|9||RS Sophomore||Trace McSorley||87||10%|
Penn State's starting quarterback is heading to the NFL, and the favorite to replace him is the man who backed him up last season as a redshirt freshman. Now a redshirt sophomore, McSorley's brief experience and maturity is enough to put him in the driver's seat of the quarterback competition. With Hackenberg healthy throughout his college career until his final game against Georgia, McSorley's only seen a partial game's worth of legitimate college snaps. His 47 snaps in the TaxSlayer Bowl were more snaps than he had seen in his entire collegiate career to that point. Still, Tommy Stevens redshirted his true freshman season and early enrollee Jake Zembiec looks destined to follow that path as well.
|No.||2016 Class||Running Back||Snaps||%Snap|
|8||RS Sophomore||Mark Allen||75||9%|
|20||RS Sophomore||Johnathan Thomas||16||2%|
Saquon Barkley has a stronghold on the starting position, but after that there are a number of intriguing questions. Akeel Lynch transferred and Nick Scott is now playing in the secondary, which means Barkley's mates in the rotation are unknown at this point. The next man up based on last year's depth chart is Mark Allen, who played well in the Blue-White Game. But he will see competition from redshirt freshman Andre Robinson and true freshman Miles Sanders for snaps behind Barkley in 2016. The odd man out here for the moment appears to be Johnathan Thomas, whose only meaningful snaps came in the Army game that saw Barkley and Lynch unable to play due to injuries.
Another important thing to remember with the running back position is that John Donovan's offense did not feature two running back sets, whereas Joe Moorhead may be more inclined to do so with this team's star potential in the backfield.
|No.||2016 Class||Wide Receiver||Snaps||%Snap|
|5||RS Junior||DaeSean Hamilton||660||78%|
|3||RS Sophomore||DeAndre Thompkins||87||10%|
|89||RS Junior||Gordon Bentley*||1||1%|
The two incumbent starters do not appear to be going anywhere, though the team may opt to use its backups more strategically this season. Perhaps Saeed Blacknall will get more assignments than "go deep," or Brandon Polk won't be used in lieu of a bullhorn to scream "HERE COMES A JET SWEEP" at the opposing sideline. Regardless, there are plenty of talented players here even with Geno Lewis' transfer. Add in redshirt freshmen Irvin Charles and Juwan Johnson and Moorhead should have a lot to work with in 2016.
|No.||2016 Class||Tight End||Snaps||%Snap|
|89||RS Junior||Tom Pancoast*||6||1%|
Allow me to clear something almost wholly inconsequential up here: I'm not including Albert Hall at tight end, even though he did technically play tight end on a couple of occasions last season. I'm going to operate under the assumption that Moorhead does not share Donovan's thought that a 4-tight end set is a thing this team should do. So his snaps are going under offensive line, where he played the majority of his 19 snaps.
The team's leader in tight end snaps in 2015 was Brent Wilkerson, who was targeted just seven times in 419 snaps. Wilkerson was mostly used as a blocker, despite not being particularly good at it, because John Donovan was the offensive coordinator. He has now been dismissed from the Penn State football team after being charged with indecent assault and is no longer a factor.
With Kyle Carter graduating and Adam Breneman's football career over, that leaves just Gesicki and Pancoast as the tight ends with any experience at this position. Gesicki likely would have received the most snaps on the team last season if a) any other offensive coordinator was on the team and/or b) he did not have so many crucial dropped passes. The overuse of Wilkerson was a mistake that only Donovan could make, but I digress.
With two redshirt freshmen behind Gesicki in Nick Bowers and Jonathan Holland (and freshman Danny Dalton probably a candidate for a redshirt this season even with his early enrollment), there is a fair chance Pancoast gets some legitimate run as Gesicki's backup. We are likely going to see a significant decrease in tight end snaps (mostly 1-tight end sets as opposed to the common 2/3-tight end sets we saw last season), so this may be irrelevant anyway, but there are big question marks behind Gesicki regardless.
|No.||2016 Class||Offensive Lineman||Snaps||%Snap|
|72||RS Senior||Brian Gaia||762||90%|
|70||RS Junior||Brendan Mahon||665||79%|
|53||RS Senior||Derek Dowrey||452||54%|
|59||RS Junior||Andrew Nelson||449||53%|
|55||RS Senior||Wendy Laurent||371||44%|
|60||RS Sophomore||Noah Beh||16||2%|
|75||RS Sophomore||Brendan Brosnan||16||2%|
|58||RS Sophomore||Chance Sorrell||12||1%|
For what it's worth, Penn State returns most of its 2015 offensive line in 2016. Of the seven players in the regular rotation last season, only Angelo Mangiro graduated. Brian Gaia, who played guard and tackle last season, appears to be the favorite to start 2016 at center, with Wendy Laurent seemingly out of the starting competition and true freshman Connor McGovern lurking. Andrew Nelson, who spent a significant chunk of 2015 injured, appears to be the starting left tackle as things sit right now. Paris Palmer, last year's left tackle, is battling with Noah Beh at right tackle. Brendan Mahon and Derek Dowrey are trying to hold on to the starting guard spots, but redshirt freshmen Ryan Bates and Steven Gonzalez will be given a chance to unseat them. For the Nittany Lions, the hope is that the combination of experience (such as it is), young talent, and the tutelage of new offensive line coach Matt Limegrover can see this unit step up in Moorhead's system in 2016.
Coming tomorrow: a look at the defensive snap counts and how those position groups look heading into 2016.