5 Unanswered Questions Heading into Penn State's Spring Game

Troy Weller@@troywellerContributor IIIApril 9, 2014

5 Unanswered Questions Heading into Penn State's Spring Game

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    Although James Franklin has gotten off to a tremendous start as Penn State's new head coach, there are still some issues he needs to sort out.

    For the most part, the Nittany Lions are in good shape. They return an uber-talented quarterback, are loaded with offensive weapons to accommodate him and have some experience on defense as well. 

    Nevertheless, there's still a fair share of question marks floating around. From offensive line depth to special teams concerns, Franklin will utilize the 2014 spring game as a way to assess some of the dilemmas that need solving.  

    Here are five unanswered questions heading into Penn State's spring game. 

Which Players Will Be the Team's Return Specialists?

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    Nati Harnik

    Penn State's new staff is focusing more on special teams than the old one did, so this is an area of great importance for Franklin and co.

    Jesse Della Valle and Von Walker were the primary punt returners last season, while Geno Lewis handled the majority of kickoffs. Lewis could wind up keeping his job, but an upgrade to the punt-return unit could be in order.

    That upgrade could come in the form of freshman De'Andre Thompkins, who Franklin has said is the fastest player on the team. He's an electric athlete who's great in space, so it seems like a good fit. 

    There will be plenty of options for Franklin to chose from, as many players have worked with special teams coordinator Charles Huff in this regard. The unit wasn't dangerous last season, so changes are certainly in order.

    Who knows, maybe a lineman could even win the job.

Who Will Replace Miles Dieffenbach?

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    Gene J. Puskar

    It was bad enough that Penn State entered the spring needing to replace three starters on the offensive line. Losing guard Miles Dieffenbach to an ACL tear last month made matters worse. 

    Along with left tackle Donovan Smith, Dieffenbach was the only returning starter on the line. Aside from the obvious depth issues, his absence will be felt from a leadership standpoint as well.

    For the Nittany Lions, there aren't many options to replace Dieffenbach. The obvious one is Angelo Mangiro, who was one of the top guards coming out of high school in 2011. Mangiro, however, has been taking a lot of reps at center this spring. 

    Derek Dowrey is another name to consider after switching over from defensive tackle. Redshirt freshman Brendan Mahon could make a play for the spot as well. 

    This dilemma is one that James Franklin likely won't have figured out before the spring game. Still, it will be interesting to see who he lines up in Dieffenbach's spot with the first-team offense. 

What Will the Rest of the Offensive Line Look Like?

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    Gene J. Puskar

    You can write left tackle Donovan Smith's name in ink on the depth chart. After that, there are a lot of open spots on Penn State's offensive line. 

    Including the aforementioned injury to Miles Dieffenbach, offensive line coach Herb Hand will need to replace four starters from the 2013 squad. The Nittany Lions will need a new left guard, center, right guard and right tackle. 

    By many accounts, redshirt freshman Andrew Nelson (left tackle) and redshirt junior Angelo Mangiro (center) are two players who are front-runners for starting jobs. However, both have been held out of practice lately due to injuries

    Younger players like redshirt freshman Brendan Mahon, early enrollee Chasz Wright and redshirt sophomores Derek Dowrey and Wendy Laurent will need to grow up quick. Penn State has serious depth concerns on the offensive line, and the recent news of Anthony Alosi's assault charge doesn't help. 

    With injuries and a sheer lack of players, the offensive line is a large unknown right now. 

How Will Allen Robinson's Production Be Replaced?

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    Associated Press

    This has been a burning question ever since the wide receiver declared for the draft, and it probably won't be answered for a while. 

    Robinson accounted for nearly 46 percent of all receiving yards by Nittany Lion players last season, so there's a big hole to fill. Redshirt sophomore Geno Lewis does return, but he didn't produce much in 2013. 

    For the first time since 2011, Penn State doesn't have a clear-cut No. 1 receiving option. Expect Franklin to use his talented group of tight ends more in order to offset the loss of Robinson. 

    The Nittany Lions will be without star freshmen Chris Godwin, Saeed Blacknall and Troy Apke for the spring game, as they have yet to enroll. That leaves the floor open for veteran Matt Zanellato, redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton and early enrollee De'Andre Thompkins to make their mark this weekend. 

    The answer to this problem won't be solved by one spring game, but the game could help provide a clearer picture. 

Who Does Franklin Prefer at Running Back?

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    Gene J. Puskar

    Franklin has plenty of options to chose from at running back.

    Penn State's backfield in 2014 will feature a former 1,000-yard rusher (Zach Zwinak), a versatile playmaker (Bill Belton) and a young player oozing with potential (Akeel Lynch). There's no clear-cut No. 1 option for the Nittany Lions at this point because each player can contribute. 

    Many fans want the Lynch era to start now, but that's unlikely to happen. The duo of Zwinak and Belton combined for nearly 1,800 rushing yards last year, so don't expect Franklin to pull the plug on that. Both are seniors, so Lynch will have his turn come 2015. 

    Former head coach Bill O'Brien was constantly switching it up between Zwinak and Belton. It's unclear as to whether Franklin agrees with that course of action or if he prefers to have a singular workhorse. 

    Expect all three running backs to see comparable action in the spring game, without many answers divulged as to who the coaching staff might view as the top option.