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Three Reasons for Concern: Offense

While the Nittany Lion offense returns 9 starters in 2020, there is reason for concern

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 Cotton Bowl Classic - Memphis v Penn State Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No Spring Practice

By the end of the 2019 season it was obvious Penn State’s offense needed a change. Former offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne wasn’t necessarily a bad OC, but he also did not appear to have it in him to take Penn State’s offense to the next level. Especially in the play calling department.

Well, in December, that change occurred when Rahne became the head coach at Old Dominion and Minnesota offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca was hired to replace him. While Rahne and Ciarrocca’s offenses are similar, spring practice was going to be vital for Ciarrocca and the offense to install his changes. Those important practices, as you all know, never happened.

The lack of spring practice will impact the entire offense, but it will most impact the quarterbacks. If Penn State is going to finally get over the hump in 2020 and reach the College Football Playoff, Sean Clifford must take the next step in his development as a quarterback. Losing spring practice time with Ciarrocca will make this more difficult. The other quarterbacks on the roster missed out on vital developmental reps as well.

Penn State returning 11 players on offense with starting experience will help to lessen the blow of missing out on spring practice. So will the Zoom meetings each position group has been having with their position coach. But nothing can replace the live reps they would have gotten in the spring, especially when looking to install a new offense.

The Wide Receivers

The past two seasons Penn State’s wide receiver play has been subpar, and that was with KJ Hamler in the fold. With Hamler gone, the team badly needs multiple players to step up at wide receiver. Jahan Dotson is a pretty sure thing and a safe bet as the team’s new number one receiver, but after Dotson it’s nothing but question marks.

Redshirt sophomore Daniel George will likely be a starter and he is not lacking talent, but last season he battled drops while hauling in just nine passes for 100 yards. The only other scholarship receiver on the roster that has caught a pass in a game is redshirt junior Cam Sullivan-Brown, who has 12 receptions for 105 yards the past two seasons. However, last season CSB appeared to be emerging as a reliable target prior to breaking his foot and missing the last nine games of the season.

On the latest depth chart, redshirt freshman TJ Jones was listed as a starter with Dotson and George. Fellow redshirt freshman John Dunmore will have an opportunity to make an impact in 2020. Jones and Dunmore both are guys that were hurt by a lack of a spring ball.

True freshmen KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Parker Washington will likely see the field as well. Lambert-Smith was an early enrollee that was making waves this spring before everyone got corona’d. Washington is slated to arrive on campus this summer and he could be a terror in the slot from the get go.

Penn State has talent at wide receiver, but they need at least two other players to step up and become reliable targets along with Dotson. Being as deep as they are at tight end should help here, too.

Coaching Turnover

Penn State will enter 2020 with a new OC/QB coach, new offensive line coach and a new WR coach. While at least two of the three appear to be clear upgrades over their predecessor, and Taylor Stubblefield is likely equal at worst to Gerad Parker as a wide receiver coach, you still want to have spring practice in order for the coaches and their position groups to get to know each other better and begin working together.

This is especially true in the wide receiver room where Penn State will have their fourth coach in as many seasons. Throw in Penn State being in dire need of at least two guys to take a big step forward at wide receiver, and they really could have used those reps with Stubblefield this spring.

Hopefully, if there is a fall camp in August or September the new position coaches will quickly form a rapport with the players in their room. Most of all, let’s hope for no offensive coaching staff turnover next offseason.