Penn State saw some movement in the coaching staff, but nowhere near as much as the previous season. One replacement on offense and defense each is all the Lions saw this time around, and one of those was Franklin’s doing.
- Taylor Stubblefield - Wide Receivers
- John Scott Jr. - Defensive Line
After a three-year stint at Penn State, Scott Jr. left for the same position with the Detroit Lions. Taylor Stubblefield, on the other hand, found himself on the wrong end of a carefrontation, as the coach was let go at the end of the 2022 season.
- Deion Barnes - Defensive Line
- Marques Hagans - Wide Receivers
Barnes, according to those in the circuit, was viewed as a rising star waiting for his chance. Franklin, faced with possibility of losing his star recruiter (and one the players already viewed as a coach during his time as GA and assistant DL coach), decided to pull the trigger and give him the full-time position, breaking a longstanding tradition of having his GAs spend time with other programs before coming back to coach for the Lions.
Hagans was a known commodity at Virginia, so scooping up the coach from his alma mater was quite the get. Bigger still is Hagans’s recruiting prowess, which showed itself in the recent slew of wide receiver commitments since his hiring.
Penn State returns quite a bit of experience in 2023, mostly in the form of first- and second-year players who will either become starters after their predecessors left, or will get comfortable in the system after a year of starting experience.
Offensive starters departing
- QB Sean Clifford
- WR Mitchell Tinsley
- WR Parker Washington
- C Juice Scruggs
- TE Brenton Strange
The Nittany Lions didn’t lose that much on offense, but when you lose a starter in the most important position on the field, that can sting. Of course, that might be a blessing in disguise if the player filling the gap turns out to be as good as advertised.
Offensive starters returning
- RB Nick Singleton
- WR KeAndre Lambert-Smith
- OL Hunter Nourzad
- OL Olu Fashanu
- OL Sal Wormley
- OL Caedan Wallace.
Olu Fashanu shocked just about everyone when he opted to return to the Nittany Lions for another season instead of taking the near guaranteed top 10 pick in the NFL draft. Singleton, of course, is not draft-eligible for another two years, so opposing Big Ten defenses will see just a little bit more of him.
Who will fill the gap
- QB Drew Allar
- OL Landon Tengwall
- RB Kaytron Allen
- WR Dante Cephas
- WR Harrison Wallace III
- WR Omari Evans
- WR Malik McClain
- WR Liam Clifford
- TE Theo Johnson
- TE Tyler Warren
Let’s start with the obvious one. Drew Allar, barring some miracle in fall camp, is your starter at quarterback. James Franklin chose to have the freshman learn behind Sean Clifford, but gave him plenty of opportunity to see the field early and often. In fact, Allar saw more play as a backup than any other quarterback in the documented history of the program*. That experience should help in the transition.
Of the other names above, Kaytron Allen and Theo Johnson should be quite familiar, as they spent ample time splitting reps with the starters. Allen is the perfect complement to Singleton, as he is the thunder to Singleton’s lightning. Johnson could have been the starter at tight end had he not been injured, but as soon as he returned he made his presence felt. He’s likely to get the bulk of the touches in 2023, but Tyler Warren will get his fair share of usage regardless.
The most interesting competition will happen at wide receiver, where the only secure spot is KeAndre Lambert-Smith’s. Harrison Wallace has the inside track at the second spot, and, of course, Dante Cephas didn’t transfer to Penn State to sit on the bench (neither did Malik McClain, in fairness, but he’s a longer shot than Cephas). Omari Evans showed potential in the spring game, and Liam Clifford, the younger brother of Sean Clifford, got a good amount of targets as well. My assumption today is that Cephas, Wallace, and Lambert-Smith go onto the field first against West Virginia, but Penn State will rotate as many guys as possible until they find the six they’ll stick with for the rest of the season.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Penn State finds itself in rare territory, returning an offensive line heavy in experience, with Tengwall only missing time due to injury. And, to boot, the returning players were not actually a liability a season ago!
Defensive starters departing
- CB Joey Porter Jr.
- DT PJ Mustipher
- DE Nick Tarburton
- S Ji’Ayir Brown.
Most of the conversation surrounding the Nittany Lions this offseason focuses on the offense, and for good reason. The Lions may finally take the proverbial next step if Drew Allar does well.
Almost flying under the radar, though, is the fact that the defense only lost four starters. Yes, two of those were Joey Porter, Jr. and Ji’Ayir Brown, two of the better defensive backs Penn State has seen in quite a while. However, let me remind you, dear reader, than Porter Jr. missed the last three games of the season with injury, and the Lions didn’t lose a step in the backfield.
Filling Brown’s shoes, however, might be a little harder, but with Penn State’s rotation, may not be an impossible task.
Defensive starters returning
- DE Adisa Isaac
- DT Hakeem Beamon
- LB Curtis Jacobs
- LB Abdul Carter
- LB Tyler Elsdon
- CB Kalen King
- S Keaton Ellis
The reason Penn State didn’t miss a beat when Porter Jr. shut things down for 2022 is a guy by the name of Kalen King. King found himself in plenty of All-America lists, as well as being named third-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and media. He was every bit as good as his accolades, and with a year of starting experience, he’s bound to get better.
Curtis Jacobs and Adisa Isaac announcing they were returning for 2023 may be as big as Olu Fashanu on the offensive side. The linebacker unit looked bleak at the start of 2022, but turned out to be quite decent by season’s end. Now, that unit comes back intact, with a year of experience playing together, and the promise of Abdul Carter being the next Micah Parsons looming large.
Likewise, replacing three guys on the defensive line, while not impossible, would have been a challenge. Having Isaac back means two of those spots are taken care of, and the other two, well, read below.
You don’t simply replace the talent and leadership that Ji’Ayir Brown left behind. However, Keaton Ellis has been with the program for a good while, and while he alone may not replace Brown, he should do plenty to ensure a unit that was a strength remains a strength.
Who will fill the gap
- CB Johnny Dixon
- CB Daequan Hardy
- DE Dani Dennis-Sutton
- DE Chop Robinson
- DT Zane Durant
- DT Dvon Ellies
- DT Coziah Izzard
- LB Tony Rojas
- LB Kobe King
- S Jaylen Reed
- S Zakee Wheatley
That’s a long list, and I didn’t even include everyone who will likely see time. So, if Kalen King was the reason Penn State didn’t miss a beat at corner, Johnny Dixon is the other. Dixon, held his own in his time, racking 23 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 10 pass breakups, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. Between King and Dixon, the corners are effectively taken care of for 2023. The Lions also have depth, of which Daequan Hardy will probably be the biggest benefactor of, given that he played all 13 games last season.
Chop Robinson and Dani Dennis-Sutton were a terror already, and now one of them is going to take over the starting spot left over by Tarburton. Expect the one who doesn’t start to play plenty, as both of these guys were causing havoc on opposing offenses all season long.
Zakee Wheatley has been the talk of the town for a while, and for good reason. He’s earned a reputation as a ballhawk, and now he has an opportunity to show the world what the coaches (and media, when they can see) have all been gushing about. He, along with Jaylen Reed, are the two likely to fill the starting spot left by Brown.
*As a backup who did not supplant the starter for any reason. Based on documented game data on sports-reference.com