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MMQB - Which Areas Will Take a Step Back in 2023

Not EVERYthing can be better, right?

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Penn State at Utah Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve talked more than once already about the various positions that Penn State figures to be as good or better in 2023: offensive line, running back, quarterback, linebackers.

But where will the Lions potentially take a step back? Not fall off a cliff, per se, as they’ve recruited very well across the board, but potentially not fare quite as well as they did in 2022? I have a few candidates in mind.

Defensive Tackle

Let me reiterate that I think Penn State will be fine at DT in 2023. But there’s a difference between fine, good, great, and grand, let alone elite. And I worry that fine may not be good enough for the aspirations the Lions have in 2023.

For starters, PJ Mustipher is gone. While he wasn’t quite the same player in 2022 after coming back from injury, he was still a mountain of a human being, and a respected leader in the locker room. Losing someone like that is always tough.

The DTs will rotate as always, but right now it appears that Hakeem Beamon and Dvon Ellies have the inside track to start, backed up by Zane Durant and Coziah Izzard. It stings to lose Alonzo Ford, as he figured to slot into the three-deep, but there are still good players along the interior D-line. But will they be as good as 2022?

Wide Receiver

Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley are gone, with Keandre “KLS” Lambert-Smith the sole returning starter. Given that KLS is a pretty bona fide slot receiver, the Lions appear to be without a true deep threat at WR - which, let’s be fair, they haven’t really had since Jahan Dotson left for the NFL.

In step Harrison Wallace III and newcomer Dante Cephas, both of whom have the physical traits you want, but can Drew Allar develop a good enough rapport with them? Will depth become an issue? Omari Evans, Liam Clifford, and Kaden Saunders are all floating in the two- and three-deep, so like DT there are plenty of bodies. But can the receivers produce as well as last year’s group?


I’m generally of the opinion that the secondary as a whole will be good, but if there’s a spot of worry back there it would be safety. No Ji’Ayir Brown, no Jaquan Brisker. Keaton Ellis and Jaylen Reed figure to be a solid starting duo, but I’m not sure if either will rise to the level of Brown or Brisker.

What about the depth? Cam Miller and Kevin Winston are both sophomores, followed by a handful of transfer players in Audavion Collins and Tyrece Mills. If the three-deep is called on, can the Lions secondary hold firm?

Overall I’m bullish on the team, and I think the recruiting James Franklin has done has built a team that can absorb some positions underperforming relative to previous years. But if Michigan is carving up the interior DL for huge gains, or Drew Allar can’t find an open receiver, will those handful of thin spots on the roster become bigger and bigger problems? Here’s hoping that won’t be the case.