2013 Penn State Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Penn State Nittany Lion Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Head coach Bill O'Brien did wonders for the passing game and made it shine – and now he has better pieces to work with. It might take a little while, but superstar recruit Christian Hackenberg is going to be an elite quarterback who'll eventually make the passing game explode. The loaded group of tight ends might be the best in college football, and wideout Allen Robinson could be the best in the Big Ten – they all have to make the new starting quarterback better. Zach Zwiniak is a dependable workhorse to revolve the running game around, and the line is loaded with enough experience to expect a big overall improvement. It might not be the most efficient or explosive offense, but it should be solid as the season goes on.
Star of the offense: Junior WR Allen Robinson
Passing: Alex Butterworth (punter)
0-1, 0 yds, 0 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Zach Zwinak
203 carries, 1,000 yds, 6 TD
Receiving: Allen Robinson
77 catches, 1,013 yds, 11 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Freshman QB Christian Hackenberg
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OT Donovan Smith
Best pro prospect: Sophomore TE Jesse James
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Robinson, 2) James, 3) TE Kyle Carter
Strength of the offense: Tight Ends, Line Experience
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback Experience, Explosion
Yeah, there might be other options who'll get a shot at the starting quarterback job, and Penn State certainly wants to win right away, but for a program that's building for the long haul, and with the idea being to create a new identity for the school and the football team, it'll be a very, very big disappointment if super-recruit Christian Hackenberg doesn't step off the bus and into the starting role. Even with all the program's problems and issues, he never wavered in his commitment even though he could've gone anywhere. At 6-3 and 215 pounds with a next-level arm, smarts, savvy and a world of pro-style skills, he's the perfect fit for head coach Bill O'Brien, and while there will be some growing pains, the down-the-road upside is the first round of the NFL draft.
Even though he knew Hackenberg was going to sign on, sophomore Tyler Ferguson came in from College of the Sequoias to enter the starting quarterback derby. At 6-3 and 199 pounds he's a tall, thin passer with good accuracy and a little more mobility than Hackenberg. While he got to school early, he didn't exactly light it up this offseason. Even so, he's still the odds-on favorite for the gig simply because of his year of JUCO experience. 6-1, 205-pound D.J. Crook and 6-1, 190-pound Austin Whipple are smaller, athletic freshmen who'll try to develop into decent backups. It'll be an uphill fight to ever see time, but they'll get their chances in practice.
Watch Out For … Ferguson. The fans will want Hackenberg after all the hype and all the excitement, and he really does have the talent and upside to be special, but Ferguson might have a slight leg up only because he got to school early. The system takes a while to learn, and the JUCO guy has a little more time in it. However …
Strength: Hackenberg. One of the top quarterback recruits to ever sign with the Nittany Lions, all the tools are there and everything is in place to be the new, positive face of the program. There's too much pressure on his shoulders to be special right away, but the ability is there to do it.
Weakness: Experience. The team's leading returning passer is a punter. With Steven Bench taking off this offseason, the quarterback situation is starting from scratch. Yeah, Hackenberg might be a great prospect, and Ferguson might have JUCO experience, but they're not going to come out and rip it up.
Outlook: If Bill O'Brien and the coaching staff can make Matt McGloin great, then they should be able to handle a slew of untested prospects. Don't expect miracles from Hackenberg right away, and he'll have plenty of time to grow into the job, but he's mature enough to be efficient and effective right out of the box.
Unit Rating: 6
While it seemed like junior Zach Zwinak swooped in from out of nowhere, he was a terrific recruit a few years ago but wasn't able to show much early on after getting hurt. Healthy last season, he was an afterthought over the first few weeks, and then came the Temple game and everything changed. He tore off 94 yards on 18 carries against the Owls, and he never looked back hitting the 100-yard mark in six of the next eight games highlighted by a 179-yard day against Wisconsin in the season finale. At 6-1 and 234 pounds he's big, quick, and tough with workhorse ability, hitting the 1,000-yard mark with six touchdowns averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Also an excellent receiver, he caught 20 passes for 177 yards and a score.
Redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch is a tough, quick 6-1, 214-pound option from Canada with the right fit and all the tools to be exactly what the offense needs. Good between the tackles, he'll be a great part of the rotation and should be able to step in for Zwiniak and keep the production going. Junior Bill Belton will also be a part of the mix with 5-10, 199-pound size and tremendous quickness. With decent hands and good athleticism, he could find a role as a third down receiver, but he needs the ball more after making just nine catches for 50 yards and a score and finishing third on the team with 263 rushing yards and three scores averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
Senior Pat Zerbe missed all of 2011 with a knee injury, but he came back last season to work at fullback and on special teams. The 6-1, 241-pounder will never get the ball, but he's a big blocker who'll have no problems quickly stepping in and being more of a factor.
Watch Out For … Richy Anderson, the son of former Nittany Lion back Richie Anderson. A terrific runner and good receiver, he's a do-it-all back with 5-11, 171-pound size and slippery speed. He's not going to barrel over anyone, and he's almost certain to move to wide receiver, he can move.
Strength: Big runners. Belton is a smallish speedster, but Zwiniak and Lynch provide a punch and can move the chains with a tough, rugged style if needed. They can carry the offense until the quarterback situation is settled.
Weakness: Home runs. Zwinak tore off a 50-yard dash, but that was about it for the big runs. Overall, the Penn State backs averaged a paltry 3.7 yards per carry and weren't able to crank out the gamebreaking plays. It should be even harder now with defenses not likely to respect the passing game.
Outlook: The Nittany Lions managed to go on with Silas Redd bolting for USC, and while finishing ninth in the Big Ten and 83rd in the nation in rushing isn't great, Zwinak was tremendously effective and made the running game a nice complement to the strong passing attack. There should be an even better rotation this year.
Unit Rating: 7
Junior Allen Robinson was brilliant in his breakout campaign, leading the team with 77 yards for 1,013 yards and 11 scores, highlighted by an unstoppable ten-catch, 197-yard, three touchdown day against Indiana. At 6-3 and 204 pounds he has fantastic size to go along with enough deep speed to get by and great hands. Steady, he was targeted by defenses and still found a way to come up with around four grabs a game. A matchup nightmare, he commands a double team on every play.
With all the attention being paid to Robinson, 6-2, 199-pound senior Brandon Moseby-Felder has to take advantage after finishing third on the team with 31 catches for 437 yards and a score, averaging 14.1 yards per play. A few years removed from a knee injury, he has his cutting ability and quickness to make big things happen with the ball in his hands.
6-0, 190-pound junior Alex Kenney started out his career at corner but moved over to receiver where he carved out a bit of a role making 17 catches for 172 yards. With some of the best wheels on the team, he has the talent and ability to stretch the field and occasionally destroy secondaries that forget about him once in a while.
While the wide receivers will be good, the tight ends are going to be fantastic. Senior Matt Lehman might be a returning starter, but he might be one of the least talented options in the mix. The 6-6, 254-pounder is smart, can hit a little bit and has decent athleticism, and he can catch making 24 grabs for 296 yards and three scores. Lehman was good, but matchup nightmare Jesse James was the dominant force as a true freshman. He didn't do much of anything early on outside of a two-yard touchdown catch against Navy, and then the light went on over the second half of the season finishing with 15 catches for 276 yards and five scores averaging a whopping 18.4 yards per play. At 6-7 and 258 pounds, he's built like an NBA power forward and is unguardable.
6-3, 240-pound sophomore Kyle Carter was devastating as a true freshman finishing second on the team with 36 catches for 453 yards and two scores, but he suffered a wrist injury and is still trying to come back. Once he's right, he'll be used like a big wide receiver with the athleticism to destroy linebackers in single coverage.
Watch Out For … Adam Breneman. Because the Nittany Lions don't have enough NFL tight ends, they signed on one with even more talent. The 6-4, 230-pounder has wide receiver speed and outstanding route-running ability. While he's not going to blast away as a blocker, he'll be developed into a dangerous target in two tight end sets.
Strength: Tight ends. How good are they? Allen Robinson is an all-star caliber wide receiver, and he might not be even the team's third best pass catcher. Fine, so that's a stretch, but Penn State is freakishly loaded at tight end – it might be the strongest group in America.
Weakness: The quarterbacks. Christian Hackenberg will eventually be the best Penn State quarterback since Kerry Collins, but he's still a true freshman. As good as he is, there will be a learning curve.
Outlook: By far, this could be the team's biggest strength. There's an embarrassment of riches at tight end, and Robinson might be the Big Ten's best wide receiver. If the complementary wideouts can do a little more, this group will make the quarterbacks stronger and better.
Unit Rating: 8
The line was okay, not dominant, but there's enough veteran talent returning to hope for more production. Sophomore Donovan Smith did a nice job in his first season and now is firmly entrenched as the starting left tackle. At 6-5 and 327 pounds he's a massive blocker who packed on weight over the last year, but he still has good feet and moves well in pass protection. The idea was to bring him along slowly, but he's a fixture. 6-6, 314-pound senior Eric Shrive has been a part of the backup mix for years and can handle himself well if needed at either tackle or guard.
6-3, 298-pound junior Miles Dieffenbach was one of the nation's top center prospects when he came to State College, but he's a left guard who grew into the job once he got his shot last season. While he's not massive, he's technically sound and moves well. He's set on one side, and 6-3, 300-pound senior John Urschel is back at right guard. Extremely smart, he's an Academic All-American with a perfect 4.0 GPA, and he's a steady run blocker for the interior, too. He bulked up a bit and should be even more physical.
6-0, 295-pound senior Ty Howie might not be tall, but he's built to generate good leverage for the ground game. While he could see time at guard, he's a center who started out as a scrappy long-snapper and now should become a leader for the veteran line.
Adam Gress was supposed to be one of the keys to the line last season, but it didn't happen. Now the 6-6, 321-pound senior will either be a top blocker at guard or right tackle. Quick for his huge size, he gets off the ball just fast enough to get into a defender right away and generate a push. The upside is there to put together a whale of a final season.
Watch Out For … Andrew Nelson, a 6-5, 295-pound tackle who hit the weights hard and grew into his frame while maintaining his athleticism. While he's not an elite prospect, he's a fighter who'll be deep in the mix for a starting job on the outside next season.
Strength: Experience. Throw Gress into the mix and Howie's experience and all five starting spots are set. There's just enough versatility and options to play around with the combination if injuries strike. A weakness last year, now it's a strength.
Weakness: Big-time blocking. The line is fine, and it'll have its moments, but it wasn't quite physical enough throughout the year and was just okay in pass protection. Smith will become a killer, and Dieffenbach should make the left side shine, but the line has to be better.
Outlook: The potential is there to see a quick and big improvement. There's just enough depth and just enough decent talent to expect an upgrade from a mediocre 2012, but the pass protection has to be a wee bit stronger and the power for the ground game has to be there.
Unit Rating: 7
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