Blue White Illustrated

February 2022

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 65 of 67

6 6 F E B R U A R Y 2 0 2 2 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M P enn State is through the first month of the 2022 offseason. Is the Nittany Lions' stock up, down, or about the same as it was when a 24-10 loss to Arkansas in the Outback Bowl officially ended the 2021 chapter of the program's storied history? The winds of change started blowing long before that, of course. After eight seasons in State College, Brent Pry left his defensive coordinator post in No- vember to head to Virginia Tech, where he is a first-time head coach. Former Miami head coach Manny Diaz was tabbed to replace him before the calen- dar flipped to January, which is when he officially assumed Pry's duties. Beyond that, there have been other staff changes. Out is special teams coordinator Joe Lorig, who left for the same job at Oregon, and in is Stacy Collins, who moved across the country from Boise State to replace Lorig. All the other on-field staffers re- main, but there has been some shuf- fling among the off-field personnel. Longtime director of player personnel Michael Hazel took a promotion with the Hokies, and some others followed Pry to Blacksburg. Then, in mid-Jan- uary, Penn State announced that head strength coach Dwight Galt III was retiring. He has since been replaced by Chuck Losey, who spent 11 years learn- ing under Galt. As for the roster, veteran quarter- back Sean Clifford is returning, as are safety/linebacker Jonathan Sutherland and safety Ji'Ayir Brown. All three will be super seniors in 2022. Numerous starters and key contrib- utors are no longer on the roster, how- ever. The list of departing first-teamers includes running back Noah Cain, cen- ter Mike Miranda, guard Eric Wilson, left tackle Rasheed Walker, receiver Jahan Dotson, defensive ends Arnold Ebiketie and Jesse Luketa, defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo, linebackers Brandon Smith and Ellis Brooks, cor- nerback Tariq Castro-Fields, safety Jaquan Brisker, and do-it-all specialist Jordan Stout. Receiver Cam Sullivan- Brown, defensive tackle Fred Hansard and offensive lineman Des Holmes are among the 2021 reserves who will not be with the team in 2022. There is still accounting to be done, of course. The rest of the latest sign- ing class will enroll in May and June, joining the nine who have already done so, plus Western Kentucky transfer receiver Mitchell Tinsley. More play- ers will enter the transfer portal be- tween now and summer camp. Some are certain to come into the Penn State program via the portal, as well. More coaching and off-field staff changes are possible, too, but unlikely. That said, these days, the carousel never seems to stop spinning. With all that said, the answer to the question posed above is this: As Febru- ary starts, Penn State's stock rating is neutral, but trending up. If that sounds crazy, consider that the offseason is a time filled with hope and beliefs that things will turn out for the better. For the Lions, that would mean better quarterback play and a more functional offense in general. It would also mean that PSU is able to replace key losses on defense the way it did last year, even with the unit under new leadership. Finally, it will be up to Collins to figure out how to replace all of Stout's kicking and punting abilities. Senior Jake Pinegar offers a boost in that regard if he can return to form. And don't forget that Georgia native Alex Bacchetta is considered the nation's best punting prospect by the highly respected Kohl's Kicking organization. He also ranks in the top 10 nationally on the kicking side of things. Not every too-early top 25 list pumped out by media outlets across the country included Penn State. Most did, however. Of those that did rank Franklin's team, the lowest was No. 24 and the highest No. 14. Most had the Lions around No. 20, which seems fair. However, there is no question that a lingering doubt persists in the fan base that these initial lists will be matched in the fall. That's simply a fact after a 4-5 finish in 2020 followed by a 7-6 showing this past year. All told, though, change can be good and lead to better things. So far, Penn State has made moves — some vol- untary, some not — that can be seen in a positive light. Its next task will be developing reserves who now need to be starters, getting the most produc- tion possible out of a top-10 recruiting class, and tweaking the offense while installing new plans on defense and special teams. Penn State's stock can climb as the offseason rolls along. Much must hap- pen, however, for that to become a reality. ■ O P I N I O N GREG PICKEL Doubts Linger, But There's Reason To Keep The Faith THE LAST WORD S a fety/ li n e ba c ke r J o n a t h a n S u t h e r la n d gave t h e Nittany Lions a lift when he announced he was planning to return for his super senior season. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL

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