As the Nittany Lions prepare for their season opener, which is just a few weeks away, there are plenty of questions surrounding the team.
In today’s edition of Morelli OnLion, we’ll take a look at 10 questions facing the Lions and what lies ahead this season.
We’ll start with a familiar question.
No. 1 – Will Penn State coach Joe Paterno be on the sidelines for the Sept. 3 opener with Indiana State?
Despite an injury suffered in practice last week, JoePa insists that he will be on the sidelines – not in the coaches’ box – when the season begins in a few weeks. What else would you expect from the iconic coach? This latest setback sent JoePa to the hospital, but he was back at it by mid-week. It appears that he will indeed be back on the sidelines. Chances are that you can expect a convoy of players to protect him wherever he roams.
No. 2 – What will the running game look like?
At Media Day on Tuesday, Paterno said that running back Stephfon Green will not return for the 2011 season. That comes as a bit of a surprise.
“I doubt that he’ll be back,” Paterno said. “Stephfon has had some problems with me and right now I think for the benefit and especially the good of the football team it might be better if he backs away right now.”
That means more on the shoulders of running back Silas Redd. In 2010, we saw glimpses of just how good Redd could be. Can he be an every-down back? We will find out soon enough.
No. 3 – Who will be the QB?
This is a question that began following the Nittany Lions’ 37-24 loss to Florida in the Outback Bowl. In that game, starting QB Matt McGloin threw five interceptions. Then came a whole bunch of offseason drama involving sophomore QB Rob Bolden.
So the question remains: Who will be the starter?
Paterno didn’t provide any answers at media day.
“I think the team and everyone would prefer to have one guy in the huddle and in the clutch, you always know what you’re going to get from him,” Paterno said. “And sometimes that doesn’t work out. Sometimes you get a couple of guys that are good enough that either one of them can do it.”
Does that mean we might see rotating QBs? It’s a possibility, but Nittany Nation should be rooting against that. Teams that use rotating quarterbacks rarely get into a rhythm. With Alabama looming in week two, this team must jell rather quickly.
No. 4 – How will the offensive line fare?
Make no mistake about it, the offensive line is key. The loss of Stefen Wisniewski to the NFL leaves a gaping hole along the line and the Lions will try to plug that hole effectively. Paterno said that while the line is coming along, it still has a long way to go.
“Some of these kids have been spoiled a little lately,” Paterno said. “I blame myself a little. I haven’t got them in a room yet and said, ‘You better start busting your rear end and knock someone on their back or I’m gonna knock you on your back.’”
No. 5 – How do the linebackers look?
At Linebacker U., a great deal is expected from the linebacking corps. The expectations are high in 2011. While there’s no Bowman, Connor, Lee or Poz, there are several guys to watch back there.
Right now, look for Glenn Carson to be the MLB. Flanking Carson will be Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. Backing those guys up will be Nate Stupar, Khairi Fortt and Mike Hull. Expect Stupar and Fortt to force defensive coordinator Tom Bradley to work them into the lineup fairly frequently. Those two are simply too good to ride the pine.
No. 6 – Which offseason departure hurts the most?
Not counting the guys who graduated and moved on to the NFL (Wisniewski, Evan Royster), there were a couple of big losses during the offseason (Green and QB Kevin Newsome). Newsome never really had a chance to show us what he could do at QB, so he will take his talents elsewhere. The biggest loss is, obviously, Green. If Redd goes down, Green’s departure will be more than noticeable.
No. 7 – When will Curtis Drake return?
Drake is still hurt but is expected back in two to three weeks. Filling in for Drake will be Devon Smith and true freshman Bill Belton. Smith could be a weapon, despite his lack of size. Obviously, the go-to receiver will be senior Derek Moye. He will be the deep threat for either McGloin or Bolden.
No. 8 – Will the Lions be ready for the Sept. 10 showdown with Alabama?
They better be. While the Sept. 3 game with cupcake Indiana State won’t be a test, it will be a chance for the Lions to get some reps before they face the No. 2 team in the nation. The Lions will be home underdogs to the Crimson Tide, which will certainly create an interesting dynamic for the annual White-Out game at University Park.
No. 9 – What is the weak link on this team? Offense, defense or special teams?
It’s hard to imagine Bradley’s defense being the weak link. And while special teams are never Penn State’s strength, we doubt that this year’s special teams will be the weakest link. That leaves the offense. Unfortunately, there are simply too many question marks – especially along the offensive line – to give this unit a vote of confidence just yet. It will definitely be a work in progress.
No. 10 – Will this be JoePa’s last season prowling the Beaver Stadium sidelines?
Don’t count on it.
Chris Morelli is an award-winning writer/editor who lives in Centre County and covers Penn State athletics for gantdaily.com. He’s also a regular on “Sports Central,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, be sure to check out Morelli OnLion on Facebook!