Penn State Football: 5 Burning Questions Nittany Lions Face This Spring
Now that national signing day is wrapped up, Bill O'Brien and the Penn State football team can look ahead to the start of spring practice and a bevy of questions that need to be answered.
Sure, last year's team faced more questions from reporters before the season got underway. That's without doubt. These are questions the players and coaching staff can only answer with their actions and decisions throughout spring practice.
Ultimately, it'll be interesting to see if the 2013 team can outdo last year's squad that went 8-4 and won eight of its final 10 games.
That journey starts around March, but let's address some of the questions O'Brien and the Nittany Lions will be faced with.
What Does Tyler Ferguson Bring to the Table?
While the 2013 recruiting class was highlighted by the commitment of blue-chip stud Christian Hackenberg, the quarterback to watch come the spring will be Tyler Ferguson.
Ferguson, a JUCO transfer from the College of Sequoias in California, is already enrolled and looks to compete for the Lions' starting job against last year's back-up Steven Bench.
And with Hackenberg not enrolling until the fall, Ferguson will have a boatload of practice time to show off his abilities to O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher without the star recruit stealing the spotlight.
On tape, Ferguson shows a need to improve in his footwork mechanics, but otherwise possesses awareness in the pocket and reads defenses well.
However, on tape and live in person are two different things.
It'll be interesting to see if Ferguson can take the starting role by the horns before Hackenberg steps on campus.
Will the Defense Be Different with New Coordinator?
To everyone's surprise, former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Ted Roof announced he would leave the program for the same position at his alma mater, Georgia Tech.
It wasn't expected in the least, but O'Brien responded quickly with the promotion of John Butler.
Butler, the Lions' secondary coach last year, runs the same type of in-your-face and aggressive defense like Roof did.
However, the question will be whether or not Butler implements the blitz as much and if there will be any new changes to the secondary.
In terms of the blitz, Roof became notorious throughout his career for being extremely aggressive in an attempt to get after the quarterback.
On a separate note, Butler said last season he'd love to install a nickel set on defense, but he didn't have the personnel in the secondary to do so.
With that being said, the development of the defense and any changes is something to look out for under Butler this spring.
How Does the Running Back Situation Turn Out?
After the transfer of workhorse Silas Redd to USC last summer, former wideout and wildcat operator Bill Belton emerged as the guy who'd step in and fill the starting role at running back.
However, a stable full of backs got their touches and Zach Zwinak outperformed the competition.
While Belton had a memorable performance against Iowa (103 rushing yards, three touchdowns), Zwinak was the more consistent back as he pounded away for exactly 1,000 yards and six touchdowns on the season.
After Zwinak's breakthrough and Belton landing himself in O'Brien's doghouse, it appeared that the former would be the clear starter heading into spring camp.
But, Belton still has phenomenal agility and the potential emergence of Akeel Lynch could shake things up a bit.
Lynch, who received offers from Iowa, Ole Miss and Oklahoma during his recruitment, redshirted last year and possesses bursts of speed—something that could be valuable throughout a long Big Ten season.
With all that considered, the spring should offer some insight into whether Zwinak has a firm hold on the starting job or if another back will steal touches from him.
How Healthy Is Adam Breneman?
With the likes of Kyle Carter and Jesse James hanging around, Penn State utilized its tight ends effectively last year and this season will be no different.
With a new quarterback in place, the short to mid-range passing game will be key for an inexperienced signal-caller.
That's where tight ends come in, but will heralded recruit Adam Breneman be in that mix by the time the season rolls around?
Breneman, widely considered the best tight end in the 2013 recruiting class, suffered a torn ACL before his senior year of high school, forcing him to miss the entire season.
Regardless, Breneman insists he is healthy enough to go and that was backed up when he ran through drills in a recent morning workout open to reporters (pennlive.com).
But, the question still remains: how healthy is Breneman and will he be fine to compete full-contact?
That's a situation that has to be monitored, but Breneman shouldn't rush back coming off an injury like that, especially when Penn State has depth at the tight end position.
How Will Team Respond Without 2012 Senior Class?
Talking about changes at quarterback and on defense may seem small when compared to the adjustments the Lions' locker room will make without the 2012 senior class.
Just think of the leaders (and talented players) that team will be losing: Michael Mauti, Michael Zordich, Stephon Morris, Matthew McGloin, etc.
With the departure of these guys, who will step in as a leader for this Penn State team? Will it be last year's breakout star Allen Robinson? Is it the team's only returning starting linebacker Glenn Carson?
A team in transition like Penn State needs a sturdy spine to lean on, and that's what they had last year.
This year that fallback has to start growing right now.
Whoever inserts themselves into a leadership position this year will have huge shoes to fill and the process starts this spring.