Penn State’s 2013 offense is loaded with top tier talent at every position except one, quarterback. The most important position on the field is a glaring question mark for Bill O’Brien going into training camp. Two untested and inexperienced players will have thirty days to compete for the the starting job. The season opens on August 31st against Syracuse in the new Meadowlands Stadium so I will break down the offense group by group for your reading pleasure.
As I said above, Penn State has a quarterback dilemma going into camp this year. Neither Christian Hackenberg or Tyler Ferguson has taken a Division 1 snap and they are about to begin a heated competition to see who will drive Bill O’Brien’s offensive machine. Hackenberg is a blue chip recruit, and Ferguson is a highly rated junior college transfer. Both players are similar in stature, skill set and fit the prototype of a pro style quarterback, but a significant learning curve is likely and the timing is unfortunate. Penn State returns a litany of experienced and dangerous weapons and whoever wins the starting job will have lofty expectations.
Whoever earns the starting quarterback job will have very a capable and experienced offensive line protecting him. From left to right the projected starters are Donovan Smith, Miles Dieffenbach, Ty Howle, John Urshel, & Adam Gress. There are also about 5 players behind them that have adequate experience and will be part of a heavy rotation within Mac McWhorter’s scheme. Donovan Smith is the most NFL ready player on the line, John Urshel is the smartest player in college football and Ty Howle is a fifth year season stepping into his natural role. The only question mark may be at right tackle where Adam Gress is a physical monster but hasn’t impressed anyone on the field. Overall this group should be a strength of the offense and will protect an inexperienced quarterback and pave the way for a strong running game.
Running back is another position of strength for Penn State entering training camp this year. Zach Zwinak leads the way as a bruising power back that will wear defenses down, Bill Belton is a change of pace back and has improved on many aspects of his game in the offseason, and Akeel Lynch is a hybrid of the two that will be a valuable third option. The running game will be relied on early and often to take pressure off an inexperienced quarterback and to take advantage of weak defenses to open the season. I would not be surprised to see Zwinak to eclipse 1000 yards again this season, Bill Belton contribute significantly more than last year, and for Lynch to give us an awesome preview of the position for the future.
Allen Robinson. Need I go further? He is hands down the best wide receiver in the B1G and top five in the country. Has the speed, size, and skill to be a major NFL player and I think he will have another monster year. However, there is a caveat. He will have trouble matching his statistics from last year. Robinson will demand a double team on almost every play which will obviously limit his production. He will be forced to work on other aspects of his game and those little things will be his major contribution. Double teaming Robinson means a team will have to sacrifice a safety to protect against the deep threat. That safety shift will force a linebacker to drop into pass coverage, and as the league saw last year O’Brien’s offense will eat that matchup alive. Robinson will also be a huge asset in play action, run blocking and as a leader for a stable of younger wideouts. Look for Geno Lewis to secure the second wideout position, for Alex Kenney to step into the slot and a heavy rotation of other players to see action.
By now everyone is familiar with this position at Penn State. This position is five, very skilled players deep. The group is led by returning players Kyle Carter, Jesse James, Matt Lehman, and supported by redshirt freshman Brent Wilkerson and early enrollee blue chip recruit Adam Breneman. Carter and James present their own unique match problems and will likely be in the conversation for B1G and national honors by the end of the year. The depth at this position will allow O’Brien to rotate players frequently keeping them fresh and the defense confused. It will also provide an inexperienced quarterback with easy targets and play a huge role in O’Brien’s aggressive play action schemes.
I have read many opinions and predictions that claim Penn State will not require its quarterback to win games but to only to “not lose them”. I disagree. I think the success of the offense and the team will hinge on the play of whoever wins the quarterback job. As the season progresses the much deeper offense will likely be called upon to make up for defensive deficiencies. The quarterback will need to be able to drive that offense effectively and more than likely win some important games.
Disagree? Get at me on twitter @theB1GtimePSU