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MMQB - Which Position Group Will Take the Biggest Step Back this Fall?

An influx of talent across the roster doesn’t always mean improved on-field results

Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Penn State was a reasonably experienced team in 2018, and will look to be a bit younger overall in 2019. As detailed last week, that drop in age and experience will be offset by a step up in overall talent.

While I am overall optimistic about the team in 2019, it’s not fair to say that the team will be better across the board. So MMQB asks - which position group will take the biggest step back this fall?

In reviewing the roster, I see a few likely positions.

  1. Defensive line - Overall I think there is talent at both the defensive end and defensive tackle position, and there are enough bodies that fielding a competent starting four should not be a problem. But after the top four - of, say, Yetur Gross-Matos, Robert Windsor, PJ Mustipher, and Shaka Toney, I’m a little concerned. Shane Simmons has been battling injuries, Jayson Oweh is inexperienced, and Daniel Joseph has been inconsistent. Antonio Shelton should be a good third DT, but Damion Barber and Aeneas Hawkins are both inexperienced. Given how much Sean Spencer likes to rotate the DL, having at least 8 quality guys - and really, preferably 12 - may be a tall order.
  2. Wide receiver - There’s no real delicate way to put this: the receivers in 2018 were not very good. I still maintain that the amount of drops resulted in Trace losing faith in the passing game, and thus opting to run more often. As a result, he took more hits, got injured, and wasn’t his usual self in the latter portion of the season. While the receivers in 2018 were not always sure-handed, they were, at a minimum, veteran. Jahan Dotson (true sophomore), Justin Shorter, (redshirt freshman), and KJ Hamler (redshirt sophomore) bring loads of talent, but are very young. It’s not a stretch to say that the talent will be improved, but mistakes made by young players could cost the offense.
  3. Quarterback - I’m as big a Sean Clifford fan as there is, but I was really hoping Tommy Stevens would stick around for his last season. I think Sean will be really good, but wanted him to get one more year of development while the staff used Tommy as a transition between the über-mobile Trace McSorley and the more traditional pocket passer Clifford. While there’s no doubt about his arm talent, he looked flustered in the bowl game against Kentucky when the pocket got dirty, and one more year to learn the offense could only have been a boon. You also go from having Stevens-Clifford-Levis as your depth chart to Clifford-Levis-Roberson/Johnson Jr. That’s... not quite as feel-good.

What say you dear reader? There’s lots to be hopeful about, but there are also some areas for concern. Any one area stand out to you?