Penn State Nittany Lions Football Offseason Preview

One month into the 2021 football season, Penn State seemed to have everything within its reach. The Nittany Lions were in the top five of the national rankings, playing another top-five team, Iowa, on the road. Penn State got off to a good start in that game thanks to a defense which played excellent football in the first several weeks of the campaign. Penn State looked like a team which was about to challenge Ohio State for the Big Ten East Division championship. Then everything fell apart.

Quarterback Sean Clifford got hurt in the first half of the game against Iowa, when the Nittany Lions were leading. Penn State was not able to do anything on offense in the second half of that game, and it lost. Then, as the season continued, the offensive line got overwhelmed. Clifford returned to the lineup but was ineffective because he got hit a lot and did not have much time to throw in the pocket. Penn State cratered and lost several games, settling for a middle-tier bowl game. Coach James Franklin was rumored to be on the short list for the USC Trojans’ head coaching search before Lincoln Riley eventually took the USC job. By the end of the season, he had stayed at Penn State because the outside market for him had cooled down. Franklin will try to revive Penn State in 2022 and make the Nittany Lions a factor in the Big Ten.

Key Personnel Lost

Receiver Jahan Dotson and edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie are going to be picked in the NFL draft. Dotson was a very consistent and reliable receiver with great speed. He was able to get open whenever Penn State needed a third-down conversion. He didn’t always get the ball, though, because quarterback Sean Clifford was often sacked or pressured in the pocket. Dotson will be sorely missed by this year’s Penn State offense.

Ebiketie was a dynamic and disruptive defensive force for Penn State. The Nittany Lions often produce at least one formidable defensive player who goes to the NFL. One year ago, it was Micah Parsons, who has flourished with the Dallas Cowboys. Penn State will need to fill Ebiketie’s shoes.

Important Incoming Freshmen

Drew Allar at quarterback and Dani Dennis-Sutton at defensive line give Penn State two formidable and highly-ranked recruits. They are both in the top 10 at their respective positions in national recruiting rankings. They give Penn State a significant weapon on each side of the ball, and therefore a chance to develop and grow at multiple positions on the roster.

Key Position Battles

Sean Clifford is a veteran starter and the incumbent at quarterback, but Drew Allar is the No. 4 quarterback in the 2022 recruiting class. That will be the high-profile position battle of the offseason. Penn State’s offensive line was a weak point on the 2021 team, so that’s another unit where fights for starting spots and second-string spots on the depth chart should be intense and important.

Biggest Offseason Goal(s)

The Penn State offense – both the level of pass protection provided by the offensive line, and the caliber of quarterback play, particularly on downfield throws – was nowhere close to satisfactory in 2021. The Nittany Lions regularly have strong defenses but need an infusion of badly-needed offensive production to get where they want to go.

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