Penn State Football: Realistic 2013 Expectations for Nittany Lions Offense
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
Penn State will feature a young offense in 2013 that could run into some rough spots along the way, but with Bill O'Brien at the helm, the Nittany Lions should be one of the more entertaining offenses in the Big Ten once again.
The quarterback situation remains a significant question months before the first game of the season. After Steven Bench decided to leave the program, the competition for the starting job was reduced to two players; JUCO quarterback Tyler Ferguson and incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg.
Bill O'Brien said this week on a coaches caravan stop that Ferguson probably has the edge for now, but Hackenberg is going to have every opportunity to compete for the starting job right away once he arrives on campus this summer.
While we do not know much about how Ferguson or Hackenberg will perform, we do know that O'Brien will have an offensive plan of attack that will be catered to their ability. O'Brien will also make it as easy for either quarterback to run an effective offense, featuring multiple tight ends and what could be a dependable running game.
One of the strengths of Penn State last season was the depth and production at tight end. That should once again be the case for Penn State with Kyle Carter, Jesse James and Matt Lehman all returning and the possible addition of freshman Adam Breneman if he does not get a redshirt in 2013.
The tight end position is loaded, so much so that Gary Gilliam was moved to the offensive line in order to help out on the line and to receive more playing time. It would be within reason to expect that Penn State's tight ends will keep the passing game moving with consistency, opening up the playing field for guys like wide receiver Allen Robinson to build off of his Big Ten-leading receiving production.
Robinson caught many around the Big Ten by surprise with a 1,000-yard receiving season and 11 touchdown receptions. Much of that production should be credited to effective tight end usage, but those numbers also do not happen by accident.
Robinson also had an experienced quarterback throwing his way in Matt McGloin. McGloin may not have been the most proficient quarterback, but his experience the previous two seasons made him a steady leader on the field, and his time spent learning O'Brien's playbook paid off.
Robinson is certainly a talent, but after an award-winning season, he figures to see more attention from defensive coordinators and defensive backs in the fall. With an inexperienced quarterback leading to a potentially questionable year under center, Robinson's production could see a dip in the fall.
Penn State's passing game will need to see more support from the other wide receivers because at some point, they will not be able to rely on the tight ends all of the time. Getting more out of upperclassmen such as Brandon Moseby-Felder and Alex Kenney would be good to see, and Matt Zanellato has shown some promise as well.
Redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis is one of the players to watch. Lewis had just one catch in the spring game for eight yards, but he should be expected to get some playing time this season and has potential to become a No. 2 receiver.
The other strength that may have been put on display in the spring game, and one area of the team that could become more of a factor this season, is the running game. Akeel Lynch had a very positive spring, and he put on a good show at the spring game.
After redshirting in 2012, Lynch had time to develop and learn the system. He should be expected to lead the running game, with Zach Zwinak taking on more of a secondary role in terms of production in the fall. Zwinak should be ready to go for the regular season after injuring his wrist in the spring game, but when he does return, he should probably be used more for some blocking and short-yardage situations while Lynch emerges as the primary running back.
One player worth noting here is Bill Belton, who was beat up pretty good early in 2012 and never really bounced back. Belton could have a bit of a rebound season and has the skills to offer some diversity to the Penn State offense. He can carry the football and hope to use speed to his advantage for a solid gain, or he can line up in the slot and give defenses something else to think about.
As is generally the case with any offense, the success of the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers can thrive or be set back by the performance of the offensive line. Penn State's offensive line should be anchored by three senior players from the middle over to the right side of the line between Ty Howle at center, John Urschel and Adam Gress on the right side.
Redshirt junior Miles Dieffenbach will be one of the fixtures on the left and Donovan Smith could round out the offensive line.
In short, Penn State looks to have a fairly experienced offensive line, which is generally a positive sign. But Penn State ended up second-lowest in rushing yards per attempt and was right in the middle of the Big Ten in sacks allowed last season. That would indicate that there is still room for improvement on the line. While the new strength and conditioning program has made Penn State's offensive linemen bigger and stronger, the line still can show some weaknesses against the top competition at times.
Altogether, Penn State has potential to be one of the top offensive units in the conference again in 2013. If the quarterback situation can get off to a good start, then Penn State should be able to win a few more games in 2013.
Some things need to come together quickly, none more so than the quarterback situation. When you compare the numbers at the end of the year, the 2013 Penn State offense may come up short across the board compared to the 2012 team, but remember that this year will be more about growth from individual players than anything else.
That alone should be a reason for optimism.
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