People on the internet think pretty highly of the Nittany Lions heading into 2017, so let’s take a super early look at what Penn State is set to return on Joe Moorhead’s side of the ball.
Starter: Trace McSorley
Reserves: Tommy Stevens, Jake Zembiec
There’s no quarterback battle this offseason, folks. Trace McSorley is my quarterback, your quarterback, and also America’s quarterback. It is great to get Tommy Stevens back for another year, though, as he opted against transferring. In the limited time we saw of him last year, he proved himself rather capable of being the starter should something happen to McSorley. Wouldn’t be a surprise to see Moorhead implement a package for Stevens because the kid is obviously a playmaker.
Starter: Saquon Barkley
Reserves: Miles Sanders, Andre Robinson, Mark Allen
Saquon Barkley is the unquestioned starter. And please Penn State fans, savor him while you can, because this will almost certainly be Barkley’s last year in Happy Valley before he goes onto his Hall of Fame NFL career.
After No. 26, there should be an interesting battle for the second-string spot. Andre Robinson looked solid in his role this year, while Miles Sanders remains stupid talented. Both should figure to see their carries increased next year, as I’m sure Penn State will want to keep Barkley fresh throughout the season.
Starters: X- Saeed Blacknall, Z- DeAndre Thompkins, H- Daesean Hamilton
Reserves: X- Juwan Johnson, Z- Irvin Charles, H-Brandon Polk
While it’ll be tough to replace Chris Godwin, there’s no shortage of talent and experience at wide receiver. All of these guys are entering at least their third year with the program, so it’s a veteran group.
Penn State knows what it has in Daesean Hamilton — perhaps not the greatest of athletes, but a guy who moves the sticks, a very good blocker in the slot, and a true leader amongst the wideouts. Behind him, the Nittany Lions will get back the speedy Brandon Polk, who should be a fun toy for Joe Moorhead moving forward.
At the two outside wideout spots, it’s anyone’s guys which of the four guys starts. But honestly, I don’t think the “starters” really matter, because all four players should see a decent amount of playing time. Saeed Blacknall and DeAndre Thompkins both obviously had breakout games in 2016, and we know of the size and talent that Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles possess.
Starter: Mike Gesicki
Reserves: Nick Bowers, Tom Pancoast, Jon Holland, Danny Dalton
Speaking of guys who could lead Penn State in receptions, Mike Gesicki deferred on the NFL Draft for another season in Happy Valley. One would imagine he’ll continue to play a big part in Joe Moorhead’s offense. No. 88 finished the season with 48 catches for 679 yards and 5 touchdowns, and those are all numbers that should only increase in 2017.
Behind Gesicki, we have redshirt sophomore Nick Bowers. We’ve heard good things about Bowers, but he continues to rehab back from an unspecified injury that caused him to miss 2016. If Bowers is healthy enough to give it a go in, he’ll be a nice secondary option at tight end.
Starters: LT- Brendan Mahon, LG- Ryan Bates, C- Michal Menet, RG- Connor McGovern, RT- Andrew Nelson
Reserves: LT- Will Fries, Sterling Jenkins; OG- Steven Gonzalez, Chasz Wright, CJ Thorpe; C- Zach Simpson, Mike Miranda; RT- Chasz Wright, Brendan Brosnan, Noah Beh
With only having to replace center Brian Gaia, the offensive line looks like it’ll be a strength in 2017. But there’s a lot of moving parts with this unit, so let’s do our best to break it down.
Starting with the question marks, health concerns remain an issue for Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon, who both had non-specified injuries that ended their seasons. Nelson suffered a knee injury against Maryland on October 8, but it’s never been confirmed if it was a torn ACL or something less severe. Meanwhile, Mahon was admitted to the hospital in the days following the Iowa game on November 5, and hasn’t played or practiced since. Despite the injuries, both guys announced they would be returning in 2017, so while there has to be a level of skepticism, I don’t think either guy (especially Nelson) would have come back if they didn’t think they had a good chance of being healthy.
What we know for sure is that Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern will be starting somewhere along the offensive line, and it sounds like Michal Menet will be in there too. Bates could find himself at a bunch of spots, whether it be left tackle, right tackle, or (most likely) left guard. McGovern should hold steady at right guard, and Menet will be given a shot to replace Gaia at center.
Bates and McGovern proved this past season just how good they can be. Both — but especially Bates — should take that next step into being All-Big Ten caliber players. Then you have Menet, who has everything you want in an offensive lineman — size, athleticism, smarts, and a mean streak. It’s definitely a young interior, but there’s experience here too, and no one can doubt how talented they are.
As for the reserves — or potential starters depending on the health of Mahon and Nelson — Penn State has Chasz Wright (RT or OG), Steven Gonzalez (OG), and Will Fries (OT). Wright and Gonzalez obviously have a decent amount of experience, starting at right tackle and left guard respectively for the last half of the season. And then there’s Fries, who very well could have played over Wright at tackle if Penn State wasn’t so adamant about not burning his redshirt. If things fall a certain way, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any of these three guys start come Akron.