The spring semester is entering its third week, football players are all back on campus, and team workouts have begun. Many people will argue that this is the time of the year when championship teams are built. It is often times in the weight room during the winter months that a team’s work ethic and chemistry is cultivated.
While this time of year is important for everyone on the roster, there are always players who, for one reason or another, have an important offseason ahead of them. For James Franklin and his staff, there are three players that face such an offseason this year.
Defensive End Shane Simmons
Shareef Miller is off to the NFL, leaving the Nittany Lions in search of a defensive end to start opposite All-American candidate Yetur Gross-Matos. Coach Chaos has plenty of talented options to replace Miller, but none of them may have the ceiling that Shane Simmons does.
Simmons is a former five-star recruit that appeared to be turning a corner late in his redshirt freshman season in 2017. However, after being slowed by a foot/ankle issues his 2018 offseason was a wash. This injury would then limit Simmons to just seven games during the season.
At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds Simmons has the size and length to help set the edge and defend against the run. He also possesses the tools needed to be a strong pass rusher which is what he was known for coming out of high school. If Simmons can stay healthy this offseason, then he should put himself in position to earn a starting role in 2019.
Offensive Tackle Will Fries
Penn State’s offensive line will have a new look in 2019 after Connor McGovern and Ryan Bates declared for the NFL. Despite these early departures, the team returns a trio of starters up front, with offensive tackle Will Fries having perhaps the most pivotal offseason ahead.
Fries had a strong redshirt freshman campaign in 2017 when it took him just four games to emerge as the starting right tackle, proving to be a steady force on the outside. The hope in 2018 was that Fries would progress further, perhaps pushing for some level of All-Conference honors. Unfortunately, this did not happen, as 2018 proved to be a sophomore slump for Fries. He played both tackle positions, but had his fair share of struggles at both spots.
Entering the offseason, Fries is now one of Penn State’s veteran offensive linemen, but a starting spot isn’t necessarily set in stone. After a redshirt year, Rasheed Walker is ready to compete for a starting job at tackle, while JUCO signee Anthony Whigan is now on campus, and hopes to push for time as well.
Fries will have to improve on his frustrating 2018 season, because if he doesn’t, he very well could find himself in a legitimate battle for playing time.
The Trace McSorley Era was a blast. After rewriting PSU record books, McSorley finished his career as the most decorated quarterback in program history. But now, it’s time for what comes next.
Tommy Stevens enters the offseason as the odds-on favorite to replace Trace under center. After all, Stevens turned down opportunities to grad transfer last offseason, thanks in large part to the coaching staff working to convince him to stay. Winning the starting quarterback job will not come without a fight, though. Redshirt sophomore Sean Clifford looked impressive in mop up duty this past season and has turned a lot of heads in the program with his competitiveness and drive.
With strong talent across the board at running back, wide receiver, and tight end, it’s paramount that Penn State’s next quarterback doesn’t miss a beat in the offense. Sure, Stevens or Clifford won’t be called upon to shoulder such the heavy load that McSorley did, but Penn State will still need high-level play from whoever is back there.