2014 PSU Preview: What You Need To Know
Penn State RB Zach Zwinak
Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Penn State (Getty Images)
What You Need To Know...
Penn State Preview
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer
What You Need To Know About The Offense:
The offense will work around QB Christian Hackenberg, and rightly so. Building off his great true freshman season, he has the look of a true superstar and a future NFL starter, but who will he throw to? Offensive coordinator John Donovan has a terrific running back tandem in Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton to balance things out, and there's a ridiculous abundance of pro-caliber riches at tight end, but true freshmen might have to rise up right away at wide receiver to make up for the loss of Allen Robinson. There's more than enough skill talent to move the attack, but it could all fall apart if the line isn't great. With just one returning starter and no depth, the front five will be the biggest concern by far.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Bob Shoop handled the Vanderbilt defense over the last few seasons, and now he gets a solid base of good players to work with in Happy Valley. The secondary struggled last season, but that might be where the talent is this season with the versatile Adrian Amos moving around where needed and Jordan Lucas a rising star at corner. Expect some playing around with the alignment and more five defensive back sets from time to time. Mike Hull isn't big, but he's a terrific run stopper when he's able to stay in one piece. The hidden gem could be the line with pass rushers C.J. Olaniyan and Deion Barnes on the outside, and decent options for the interior with the Shoop moving some of the pieces around to get the four best linemen on the field.
Players You Need To Know
1. QB Christian Hackenberg, So.
All things considered, what more could you have possibly asked for out of one of the nation's top recruits of 2013? Being tutored by Bill O'Brien helped, and having a receiver like Allen Robinson to throw to didn't hurt, but the 6-4, 220-pound star looked every bit the part of a future NFL star as a true freshman. He threw ten interceptions, and he struggled a bit on third downs, but he completed 59% of his passes for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns with ten picks. While he's not a runner, he's great on the move with excellent accuracy outside of the pocket and decent ability around the goal line with four scores.
Even with the growing pains, he cut down on the mistakes with just two of the picks coming in the final five games, and he had some fantastic moments throwing for 340 yards and three scores in the loss to Indiana and 339 yards – completing 70% of his passes – and four scores in a nearly-perfect win over Wisconsin. While he'll have to spread the ball around a little more and will have to work through a young receiving corps, he showed this offseason that he's ready to take his game to another level.
2. CB Jordan Lucas, Jr.
A safety who ended up at corner, he has decent size at 6-0 and 193 pounds, and he can move with good quickness and makeup speed. Third on the team in tackles, he came up with 65 stops with three picks and a whopping 13 broken up passes, doing a great job when challenged. Able to produce in a variety of ways, he came up with 11 tackles against Ohio State and nine against Indiana, doing a great job of making stops in the open field. Steady, he gave up a few too many passes, but he won more than his share of battles throughout the year. Now he's ready to grow into an all-star and become a leader.
3. LB Mike Hull, Sr.
It was his job to fill in for Michael Mauti when he got hurt a few years ago, and he came up with 58 tackles with four sacks while growing into a role of his own as a top run stopper late in the 2012 season. Last year, he kept on rolling finishing second on the team with 78 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss. While he didn't do much in the backfield, he overcame some issues early – missing two games – to come up with ten tackles in back-to-back games against Indiana and Michigan and 13 stops against Illinois. He's only 6-0 and 227 pounds, but he's tough. Can he stay healthy? If so, he'll be the team's leading tackler and a sure-thing All-Big Ten performer.
4. TE Jesse James, Jr.
How will Christian Hackenberg move on without Allen Robinson and with so many question marks at wide receiver? He'll utilize his tremendous array of tight ends. James is a matchup nightmare at 6-7 and 257 pounds with great athleticism and speed, finishing second on the team with 333 receiving yards on 25 catches with three touchdowns. Built like an NBA power forward, he's almost uncoverable one-on-one with great hands and the ability to stretch the field.
5. RB Zach Zwinak, Sr.
A top recruit when he came aboard, he wasn't able to show much early on – he wasn't able to stay healthy. Finally, he stayed in one piece and showed what he could do, running for 1,000 yards and six touchdowns in 2012 with four 100-yard games and six in the final eight games to close out the year. The 6-1, 240-pounder did it again last season, rushing for a tough 989 yards, but this time he scored 12 touchdowns with three against Kent State, UCF and Purdue. Like he did two years ago, he dominated over the finishing kick, tearing off four straight 100-yard games with 150 against Minnesota, 149 against Purdue and Nebraska and closing out with 115 against Wisconsin. A big, tough workhorse, he can move a little bit, but he's at his best pounding away.
6. DE C.J. Olaniyan, Sr.
The former superstar recruit and prospect needed a little while, but now it's happening. A career reserve, the 6-3, 244-pounder broke out last year finishing fifth on the team with 56 tackles and a team-leading five sacks, 11 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. Extremely quick off the ball, he dominated Michigan with 2.5 sacks and a season-high eight tackles, and he proved to be consistent and productive all season long.
7. OT Donovan Smith, Jr.
The 6-5, 322-pound junior is the lone returning starter up front, and it'll be his job to protect Christian Hackenberg on the outside. Firmly entrenched at left tackle, he's a massive blocker with good athleticism after packing on weight to fill out his frame. The feet are good and he's strong in pass protection, but he also showed he could blast away for the running game. It's his line, and he needs to be an all-star to work around.
8. CB/S Adrian Amos, Sr.
Versatile, the 6-0, 215-pound Amos can play anywhere in the secondary, and after working at corner he'll be stronger when tried out at safety. He's built like a strong safety with great hitting ability, making 44 tackles two years ago and followed it up with 50 stops with 2.5 sacks, four tackles for loss and a pick with five broken up passes. He might not be a true lockdown corner, and he'd probably be at his best as a safety able to fly around and make things happen, but he'll produce no matter where he plays.
9. TE Adam Breneman, Soph.
The offense already had Jesse James and Kyle Carter at tight end – either one would be an all-star, go-to target for just about anyone else. As good as those two are, and as much of a freak as James might be, Breneman might be better. If it wasn't for Mr. Hackenberg, Breneman might have been considered the most talented recruit in the Bill O'Brien era with wide receiver speed and outstanding route-running ability in a 6-4, 235-pound frame. The NFL tools are all there, and he showed off a little bit of what he could do catching 15 passes for 186 yards and three scores, growing into a role as the year went on with a touchdown in each of the last three games.
10. RB Bill Belton, Sr.
While he might be the biggest back, and he might not be the most talented, when called on, he showed he could handle the workload. A good athlete and extremely quick, the 5-10, 220-pounder can zip, and he can catch, making 15 grabs for 158 yards and two touchdowns. When Zach Zwinak got banged up, Belton came through running 36 times for 201 yards and a score against Illinois, and handled the ball 85 times over a key three game stretch in the second half of the year. He averaged over five yards per carry with 803 yards and five touchdowns, and now he should be an even bigger part of the rotation.
- 2014 Penn State Preview