Preseason camp may have started a few weeks ago but the true off-season began way back in January. Not long after the dust settled in Arizona, Penn State football turned its sights towards this week. Coaches left and new coaches became part of our family which has become the norm. We said goodbye to Joe Moorhead, Charles Huff, and Josh Gattis and welcomed David Corley (wide receivers), Ja'Juan Sieder (running backs), and Tyler Bowen (tight ends). In February, we put the bow on a stellar Class of 2018 on Signing Day and with the new redshirt rule in place, we expect to see many of those new faces early on as they now have a four-game option before taking a redshirt. One of those freshman, Nana Asideu, was forced to medically retire due to a heart condition and seemed to start a wave of retirements as Jake Zembiec, Ryan Buccholz, Torrance Brown, and true freshman, Jordan Miner, were all forced to do the same this August.
Meanwhile, camp got underway with a handful of questions outside the quintet of retirements, mostly surrounding the linebackers, kicking game, and defensive line. It did not take long for head coach James Franklin, entering his fifth year at the helm, to show his pleasure that all three units were progressing well. At linebacker true freshmen Micah Parsons and Jesse Luketa have stepped up to the plate, as have Ellis Brooks and Jarvis Miller. Starters are yet to be announced but depth doesn’t seem to be in question any longer. On the D-Line, quality depth once again ruled the roost early on, even with Buccholz and Brown on the shelf, and at kicker, a grand total of four quelled any fear of not being able to at least field a serviceable field goal and kickoff unit, although a starter has not yet been mentioned to date.
On offense, the trio of Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki, and DaeSean Hamilton left a gaping hole but the cupboard is chock full of replacements; not to mention the Wizard and Heisman-candidate, Trace McSorley, back at the helm one last time. Miles Sanders is on deck and looks to blaze his own path at running back, Juwan Johnson steps into the spotlight as the No. 1 wide-out, and a whole host of tight ends aim to pick up where Mike G left off, even if it takes the entire combination to equal his production over the last two years. Oh yeah, maybe the most important thing heading into this season, we've got an O-Line full of Pancake Makers in the trenches and for the first time in years, they look to be one of our strengths. For anyone that’s suffered through the last five years of rebuild, that’s welcome news to say the least.
Behind all the established vets sit a whole host of young cubs just itching to make a name for themselves. Two straight Top 10 and four straight Top 15 signing classes has upgraded the talent to levels we haven’t seen in ages. It’s one thing to bring in the talent and it’s another thing to coach players up and bring out the best in them. For the reputation that FrankLion has rightfully garnered as a master salesman on the recruiting circuit, the showing our Lions put on at this year’s NFL Combine is living proof that he brings so much more to the table as the self-described CEO of this program. Of course, his assistants have a heavy hand in that, as does the king of the off-season in strength and conditioning, coach Dwight Galt and his crew. They have done a magnificent job turning cubs into bona fide Lions.
Penn State enters the season ranked anywhere from No. 7 to No. 10 depending on which poll you choose to look at. Some have us winning the Big Ten outright while others have us finishing as far back as third in the Big Ten East division; the nation’s toughest hands down. We have a more than favorable home schedule as we all know with the Buckeyes, Sparty, Iowa, and Wiscy all coming into the Lions Den to rumble. Road trips to Pitt and a date with Michigan in Ann Arbor will be true tests for sure, although we owe both some payback from our trips two years ago and I'd venture to guess the Wizard has had those memories tucked away in the back of his mind as motivation ever since. As for the moment you’ve all been waiting for from the Lions Pride “Pride of Lions 2018 Preview and Prediction?” Undefeated of course, and quite frankly, the competition doesn’t even stand a chance! Enjoy the season Nittany Nation, it’s going to be a wild ride!