While the weather may not indicate it, the heat of summer is quickly approaching, and with it comes voluntary workouts, then two-a-days.
With near-100-degree heat combined with humidity and layers of football equipment, practices in July and August are brutal for football players. But, the work put forth in those summer practices builds the team that finishes in November.
For Penn State, this summer will be vital for its success in the 2014 season. Multiple questions surround the Nittany Lions that new coach James Franklin has inherited.
With the departures of several impact players from last season’s squad, Happy Valley may not be so happy come this season unless improvements are made over the next couple months. It’s not impossible, but it will be difficult to achieve the level of play that fans and Franklin desire.
One of the positions under pressure is at wide receiver. As Allen Robinson, arguably one of Penn State’s all-time greats, heads to the NFL Draft, a hole in the offense is clear.
Geno Lewis is now the leading wide receiver on the roster, though he caught only 18 passes last season for 234 yards. Richy Anderson, who had 13 receptions for 111 yards in 2013, should move up the depth chart to take the second slot.
Without saying, the position is hurting — by the way coach, I have my wide receiver gloves from high school in my closet if you need me.
The lack of experience is evident, but it can be overcome.
The relationship between quarterbacks and receivers is built in the offseason, not gamedays. Christian Hackenberg will need to work with Lewis, Anderson, newcomer DeAndre Thompkins and the other wideouts repetitively throughout the summer months.
Working together after practices running routes and anticipating timing is how the passing game will cause havoc for opponents’ secondaries.
However, Hackenberg can’t complete a pass to his new wide receiving corps unless the offensive line is rebuilt.
Three of the big men up front from last year’s team are entering the draft, leaving a challenge for new offensive line coach Herb Hand.
If matters couldn’t get worse, guard Miles Dieffenbach reportedly suffered a knee injury in spring workouts that could result in him missing the entire season. Along with Dieffenbach’s setback, Franklin announced Anthony Alosi has been indefinitely suspended after a run-in with the law in January.
Hackenberg may be scrambling more than he’d prefer unless changes are made. Defensive linemen have already been brought to the other side of the ball to assist in the o-line depth.
Like the wide receivers that lack experience, the linemen will need repetition throughout the summer. Understanding where the man next to you is every play is essential to elite performance week-in and week-out for the Lions.
On the defensive side of things, the Lions hold a slight advantage over the offense.
DaQuan Jones is the only lineman from last season who is entering the draft, so the current group has high expectations. Clogging holes will be essential to win games in a conference that’s known for powerful run games.
The defensive linemen will be the anchor of this year’s defense.
Behind the front four is the linebacking corps that is losing a leader in former middle linebacker Glenn Carson. Senior Mike Hull will look to take over Carson’s responsibilities, but more important than making more tackles and having a physical impact is the vocal aspect.
Middle linebacker is a completely different monster compared to outside because of the play calling and recognition required. Hull’s vocal presence can’t be stressed enough to the importance of the defense’s success this season.
With an offense that has a lot of questions surrounding it, the defense could be the foundation of this season’s Penn State team.
While it may seem like a tough hill to climb for the Lions, it isn’t impossible. What happens this summer in the Lasch Building will determine how well Penn State finishes.
The phrase everyone has heard from a coach sometime in their lifetime, ‘Practice makes perfect,’ couldn’t apply better to this situation.
Practice and repetition are the only ways that can turn those questions surrounding the Lions into answers, and with answers come wins.
Mike Kilcoyne can be reached at email@example.com or (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @mjkilcoyne3.