Penn State

Beat writer Donnie Collins keeps you posted with in-depth analysis and commentary

Breaking down the Penn State spring roster: Defensive tackles

Breaking down the Penn State spring roster: Defensive tackles

As Penn State kicks off spring football practice, there’s no better time than the usual time to take our first look of the year at Penn State’s full roster. Today, we take a deep dive into the defensive tackles.

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First-year students only at non-traditional ‘Blue-White’ scrimmage

First-year students only at non-traditional ‘Blue-White’ scrimmage

There will be a scrimmage inside Beaver Stadium to end Penn State’s slate of 15 spring practices next month.

It just won’t be a traditional Blue-White game fans are used to; not that many will get to see it anyway.

On Wednesday, Penn State announced it will allow only University Park first-year students to attend the team’s final practice, slated for April 17 at Beaver Stadium. The 15th practice is traditionally the Blue-White game, which is usually open to the public.

Families of players, coaches and staff will also be allowed in attendance. Tailgating will not be allowed and parking lots will be closed.

 

University president

Dr. Eric Barron said in a statement that freshmen were chosen to attend the game because they were the first group of students at Penn State to “miss out” on attending games last fall.

“Because of the pandemic, these students have missed out on this special tradition of cheering on the Nittany Lions, and we hope this will be a memorable way for them to gather together and celebrate the final practice of the spring,” Barron said in the statement.

According to the announcement, Penn State expects all in attendance for the scrimmage to practice social distancing and follow state and federal guidelines. Penn State said it will announce plans for a virtual spring practice event over the upcoming weeks “to provide an opportunity for the broader Penn State community to participate.”

“We are thrilled they will be able participate in many other favorite traditions during this final spring practice, including the team entering the field, the Blue Band playing, cheer and dance squads performing, and the team singing of our beloved Alma Mater,” vice president for Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour added. “We are hopeful for the fall and continue to focus on the health and safety of our community and on providing the best opportunity for a full capacity stadium for the Sept. 11 game against Ball State.”

During his spring-opening press conference Monday, head coach James Franklin raved about the thought of a “true 15th practice,” noting that typical Blue-White Games — while useful to get recruits and alumni back on campus during the offseason — don’t provide opportunities to focus on the total development sought in the spring.

“A final practice or a final scrimmage, a lot of times those things in such a public setting like that are pretty vanilla,” Franklin said.

The April 17 scrimmage will mark the first time since the Nittany Lions’ 27-6 win over Rutgers on Nov. 26, 2019 that fans outside of players’ families will be allowed to watch a game from the stadium’s bleachers.

The university’s announcement did not mention plans to broadcast the game. But citing sources, Blue-White Illustrated reported Wednesday that the scrimmage will not be broadcast on Big Ten Network, which has traditionally aired all of the conference’s spring games, and media coverage of the event won’t be permitted.

Breaking down the Penn State spring roster: Receivers

Breaking down the Penn State spring roster: Receivers

As Penn State kicks off spring football practice, there’s no better time than the usual time to take our first look of the year at Penn State’s full roster. Today, we take a deep dive into the wide receivers.

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Breaking down the Penn State spring roster: Safeties

Breaking down the Penn State spring roster: Safeties

As Penn State kicks off spring football practice, there’s no better time than the usual time to take our first look of the year at Penn State’s full roster. Today, we take a deep dive into the safeties.

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Breaking down the Penn State spring roster: Tight ends

Breaking down the Penn State spring roster: Tight ends

As Penn State kicks off spring football practice, there’s no better time than the usual time to take our first look of the year at Penn State’s full roster. Today, we take a deep dive into the tight end position.

No.

Name

HT

WT

ELIG

44

Tyler Warren

6-6

250

Fr.

47

Tommy Friberg

6-3

223

Fr.

84

Theo Johnson

6-6

253

Fr.

86

Brenton Strange

6-3

246

Fr.

89

Grayson Kline

6-5

265

So.

Returning contributors

Brenton Strange

Penn State TE Brenton Strange

It’s a strange, new world when it comes to college athletics and eligibility, and Penn State’s tight end position is a pretty good example of how strange and new.

The five players in the group consist of a sophomore walk-on and four freshmen. But this is hardly an inexperienced group. In fact, it might be as talented a collection of tight ends as you’ll find in the Big Ten.

This is actually Brenton Strange’s third year in the program, and he started five games last season. He looked capable as a blocker and didn’t disappoint as a receiver, turning 17 catches into 164 yards and two touchdowns. Theo Johnson was a prized recruit in the 2020 class, and he had a strong season once he emerged as Strange’s backup. He caught just four passes for 56 yards, but he looked particularly good as a blocker.

Tyler Warren, another member of the 2020 class, saw some playing time and has impressed the coaching staff. But this group has the staff excited, and for good reason. There’s no doubt they’ll expect no dropoff here in 2020, even though…

Key losses

Pat Freiermuth wasn’t just a tight end.

He was a leader, a force, a massive presence on the entire offense for three seasons.

Freiermuth played in just four games last season before shutting it down to get shoulder surgery. But in those four games, he caught 23 passes for 310 yards and a touchdown. That was good enough to make him the Big Ten’s tight end of the year.

This is a player who has 92 career catches and 1,185 yards and 16 touchdowns, and he’s a likely early round choice in April’s NFL Draft.

Penn State's Pat Freiermuth jumps over defender

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth (87) leaps past Memphis defensive backs Chris Claybrooks (7) and Memphis Carlito Gonzalez (29) in the first half of the NCAA Cotton Bowl college football game, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Don’t be surprised if…

…Penn State’s tight ends aren’t as big a factor in the stat column as they have been in the past.

The biggest X-factor with the Nittany Lions offense this fall is clearly going to be its new offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich. How is he going to fundamentally change what Penn State does? How much is his approach going to mimic what he did as offensive coordinator from 2013 through 2018 at Oklahoma State and last season at Texas?

If it’s similar, we can assume two things: 1.) Penn State can score a lot of points, and 2.) The tight ends will be much less a focus of the attack than running backs and receivers.

On average in those seven seasons, Yurcich’s tight ends have accounted for just 19 catches, 252 yards and three touchdowns. Per season. As a group.

Penn State’s tight ends in the last seven seasons have been quite a bit more of a factor: A seasonal average of 51 catches, 588 yards and six touchdowns.

The Yurcich teams’ best seasons, stat-wise, for tight ends: 31 catches in 2015, 402 yards in 2016, and five touchdowns in the shortened 2020 season at Texas.

Penn State’s worst seasons, stat-wise: 33 catches, 299 yards and 1 touchdown, all in 2015.

Yurcich has had one tight end — Blake Jarwin — top 200 receiving yards in a season. Freiermuth, Jesse James and Mike Gesicki have all topped 300 in the last seven seasons, at least once. Freiermuth has gone over 500 once. Gesicki has done it twice (he was over 675 in 2016).

Does all of this mean the glory years are over for Penn State’s tight ends? Of course not. Coaches adjust to the type of personnel they have. It’s possible, even likely, that Strange and Johnson stand as the two most gifted tight ends Yurcich will have ever had. He’s a good coach who will figure out a way, if he wants to figure out a way, to get them much more involved.

But like Joe Paterno used to say, what you give to one, you take away from another. It’s fair to wonder whether Penn State’s tight ends will lose targets and receptions and a bigger chunk of the offense to receivers in Yurcich’s system, because that’s the way it has always seemed to go in the past.

Be on the lookout for…

Theo Johnson

Penn State TE Theo Johnson

…improved blocking.

Freiermuth and Gesicki were standout receivers, and in his own right, Freiermuth made himself a capable blocker over the years.

Strange and Johnson both looked like they can be quite a bit better than capable as last season progressed.

There has been talk about a fullback being used, and a return to some old-style power football when situations call for it. I still don’t see any need to throw a true fullback out there, but it’s conceivable that what we saw a lot last year in 12 personnel can return. Either Johnson or Strange as a de facto fullback, leading the way. It’s no coincidence that Penn State’s running game had the success it did when these two were the tight ends getting all the playing time in 2020.

The key stat

Three of the last five seasons, Penn State’s second-leading receiver was a tight end.

Breaking down the Penn State spring roster: Linebackers

Breaking down the Penn State spring roster: Linebackers

As Penn State kicks off spring football practice, there’s no better time than the usual time to take our first look of the year at Penn State’s full roster. Today, we take a deep dive into the linebacker position.

No.

Name

HT

WT

ELIG

12

Brandon Smith

6-3

244

So.

13

Ellis Brooks

6-1

233

Jr.

23

Curtis Jacobs

6-1

226

Fr.

39

Robbie Dwyer

6-1

247

Fr.

40

Jesse Luketa

6-3

242

Jr.

43

Tyler Elsdon

6-2

230

Fr.

45

Charlie Katshir

6-3

231

So.

48

Cody Romano

6-3

207

So.

50

Max Chizmar

6-2

229

Jr.

Kobe King

6-1

236

Fr.

Returning contributors

The good news is, all three starters from last year’s team return for Penn State.

The bad news is that, as a group, they were wildly inconsistent.

Ellis Brooks

Penn State LB Ellis Brooks

Ellis Brooks and Jesse Luketa were the top two tacklers on the team, with 60 and 59 respectively. But that’s about a fraction more than 6 tackles per game, which isn’t much when you look at what linebackers in this system have provided in the past. Brandon Smith had some ups and some downs, but he ended up with 37 tackles, as well.

The real problem wasn’t production, so much as it was missed stops and poor reads, though. This group consistently found itself in the wrong place, allowing big running plays and finding linebackers playing essentially out of position when it came time to make the stop. This was a problem especially when it came to Luketa, who piled up mistakes and seemed to get into rhythms where he’d make every play or miss a bunch in a row.

“The criticism probably would have started with me,” defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Pry said of the group back in December. “That was some pretty shoddy tackling going on. I think, just too loose, not the normal fits. I say loose is the best word; there’s just too much space, and not getting in good position to make the tackle. And then when we did, we didn’t grab, we didn’t roll, we didn’t bring our feet. It was a combination of things.

“We saw some improvement in some areas, but we’re still not…we’ve tackled well in the box, we just haven’t tackled well in space at my spot, not well enough. We’ve worked on it. We’ve emphasized it. I do think there’s been an improvement. But, you know, it’s still not where I’d like it to be.”

They weren’t especially good at getting to the quarterback as a group (three sacks and four hurries, combined). Nor where they great when it came to forcing turnovers (one interception and three forced fumbles, as a group).

Key losses

Former five-star prospect Lance Dixon entered the portal and transferred to West Virginia, but his loss merely costs Penn State a little bit of its depth.

Dixon played in all nine games, recording 10 tackles, 2.5 for loss, and a forced fumble. But if it’s fair to knock the three starters for essentially taking themselves out of position with regularity, it’s fair to say Dixon’s wrong-place, wrong-time rate was even higher.

Dixon’s play last season was even more uneven than the group that started ahead of him, and he showed little to suggest he’d push Luketa or Smith for a starting spot. It just didn’t seem like he was a disciplined enough player when he got his chances, and he never put the big-play ability that made him a terrific prospect on display.

Brandon Smith making a tackle

Brandon Smith didn’t have a dominant 2020, but he showed plenty of flashes that better days are ahead. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Don’t be surprised if…

…Brandon Smith develops into one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten, and does so soon.

It’s only natural to compare the paths of Dixon and Smith. Both were “five-star prospects,” and both joined the Nittany Lions in the 2019 recruiting class. They were the future of the position; one is now gone, and the other is coming off an uneven-at-best first season as a starter.

Once you watched a couple games, though, there really was no comparison between Dixon and Smith when it came to their potential impact with the Nittany Lions.

Take one look at Smith, and it’s clear why he was a five-star prospect. At 6-foot-3 and 244 pounds, the guy looks like an Adonis. Broad shoulders. Narrow waist. Muscles on top of muscles. As a freshman, he looked physically impressive even when standing next to a guy like Micah Parsons, the man he’d ultimately replace as a starter.

There’s more to playing linebacker than looking the part, for sure. But so much of projecting a future star is seeing what they can possibly do, even when they don’t know quite how to do it yet. Dixon never got to that point where you could dream on his ability; Smith did.

Smith was the one Penn State linebacker who showed at times, last season, he could be a game-breaking type of player. Eight of his 37 tackles were for a loss — that’s 21.6 percent.

That’s rather competitive with a No. 2 defensive end’s kind of rate, when you’re comparing starters to starters. Last season, Smith’s tackle-for-loss rate was closer to Shaka Toney’s (24.2 percent) than Jayson Oweh’s rate (17.1) was to him. But starting linebackers for Penn State have been nowhere close to that rate in recent years.

Here are the rates for starting linebackers — and Parsons in 2018 when he was a “backup” in title only — over the last three seasons for Penn State:

Player

TFL%

Brandon Smith (’20)

21.6

Micah Parsons (’19)

12.8
Cam Brown (’18)

10.3

Ellis Brooks (’20)

9.2

Cam Brown (’19)

7.6

Jan Johnson (’19)

7.0

Micah Parsons (’18)

6.0

Koa Farmer (’18)

4.7

Jesse Luketa (’20)

4.2

Jan Johnson (’18)

2.1

Why do I focus on that rate? A few reasons.

One is that covering baseball for decades has developed a fondness for metrics that are easy to compute and can kind of tell you a pretty direct story (although, baseball statisticians have turned that game into a battle to interpret impossible-for-the-average-person-to-compute metrics that can tell you whatever story you want to hear). The second is that this is one of those numbers I’ve seen over the years where it does show you who is making a big impact on a defense when it comes to splash plays.

I went back 15 seasons and only found two starting linebackers — Na’Vorro Bowman in 2008 and Brandon Bell in 2015 — who had a higher TFL percentage rates than Parsons did in ’19, but even Bell’s remarkable 18.9 percent and Bowman’s 15.6 percent fell short of where Smith was last season (albeit with many more tackles). Sean Lee matched Parsons’ 12.8 percent in ’09, and Dan Connor was over 10 percent in 2007. That was the extent of the double-digit percentages for starting linebackers during that time.

(Highest rate on a defense, for those wondering, obviously was Carl Nassib’s 42.4 in 2015. But, Aaron Maybin’s 40.8 in 2008 was pretty close. Just as remarkable: Yetur Gross-Matos was at 37 percent two seasons in a row, in 2018 and 2019.)

Ends, you expect to be higher, because they’re more regularly picking up sacks, which are tackles for loss. With linebackers, it gives you a good idea of who is making the more athletic plays, who is more aggressive, who is craftier on the blitz, who is reading the plays best, and perhaps as important in today’s game, who has the speed to go sideline to sideline and the tackling ability to make plays in space.

All that should come with a disclaimer: Smith’s tackle for loss percentage needs to go way down in 2021. I’m certain Penn State coaches would be thrilled if he was over 10 percent. But the reason it needs to come down is because he needs to be asked to make more plays inside the box. Last year, he seemed to be a guy asked to do a lot of pass coverage, and frankly, your best playmaker at the linebacker position has to be a guy that is asked to do less when it comes to covering the slot guy or the tight end. If Luketa can’t be a guy counted on in pass coverage, you find someone who can — or you throw an extra safety out there and play your hybrid lineup — so Smith can do a lot more of what Micah Parsons did.

This is a guy with a lot of potential, and the Nittany Lions’ defensive coaches need to put him in a position to realize that this season. It’s reasonable to expect a big jump in performance from year one as a starter to year two. Especially from a player with this much athletic ability.

Be on the lookout for…

Curtis Jacobs

Penn State LB Curtis Jacobs

…Curtis Jacobs making a run at serious playing time.

Because of the eligibility rules with COVID, Jacobs pretty much had a bonus season of development in 2020. It’s not like the staff was going to save his redshirt even in normal circumstances, but the five-star prospect from the 2020 recruiting class got into eight games and made nine tackles and still has freshman eligibility (for what that’s worth these days).

He did a decent job when he was out there, but the coaching staff loves him. Jacobs has been in the program a year-and-a-half now, and he’s playing a position that had some disappointments last season. It will be very interesting to see how he is used this spring, and if he’s getting time at both the outside linebacker positions. If so, that’s going to be a message to the veteran guys, who have to know Jacobs is a very big part of the Penn State future at the position.

The key stat…

If nothing else, linebackers have to make tackles.

Penn State linebackers accounted for 181 of Penn State’s 581 tackles last season, that’s 31 percent of the defense’s tackles coming from the position.

In 2019, linebackers made 33.9 percent of the team’s total stops. In 2018, they made 34.6. In 2017…33.1.

The consistency pre-2020 and the drop-off in 2020 says plenty about how many tackles this group missed physically, and from being out of position.

 

Breaking down the Penn State spring roster: Quarterbacks

Breaking down the Penn State spring roster: Quarterbacks

Penn State will begin spring practice today, finally bringing some kind of normalcy back to the spring schedule in Happy Valley — even if all of this doesn’t end with a Blue-White Game. So, there’s no better time than the usual time to take our first look of the year at Penn State’s full roster heading into the critical series of 15 practices that will set the Nittany Lions up for (hopefully) a regular training camp leading up to the fall season in August.

Today, we take a deep dive into the quarterback position.

No.

Name

HT

WT

ELIG

9

Ta’Quan Roberson

5-11

195

Fr.

14

Sean Clifford

6-2

217

Jr.

17

Mason Stahl

6-1

204

Fr.

Christian Veilleux

6-4

197

Fr.

 

Sean Clifford

Sean Clifford is hoping to rebound from a tumultuous 2020 season. And for the sake of Penn State’s offense, he better. ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE

Returning contributors 

Obviously, Clifford is the name to know when it comes to the starting job in 2021.

He has started all but two of Penn State’s last 22 games, but he hardly inspired confidence across Nittany Nation with his play in 2020. He threw six interceptions and fumbled twice in the first 3 1/2 games last season, then lost the job for a week. He got the job back and Penn State ran the table over its last four games with him at the helm, but he was more caretaker than playmaker over that stretch.

In all, he threw for 1,883 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and he continued to demonstrate that he’s a capable runner, finishing second on the team with 335 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Key losses

Clifford’s backup and the man who started the two games he didn’t over the last two seasons, Will Levis, entered the transfer portal and is seeking a better opportunity to be a starting quarterback at the University of Kentucky.

His numbers, for a backup, were pretty good. He was 33 for 55 throwing for 421 yards and a touchdown, and as a runner, he had 260 yards and three touchdowns last season.

How big a loss this turns out to be will be a major storyline for the Nittany Lions in 2021. On one hand, Levis demonstrated immense raw skill — a powerful throwing arm, elite size, good speed and am uncommon physicality as a runner. On the other, coaches saw him every day in practice, and gave him plenty of chances to separate from Clifford on the field — and he never really convincingly did it. At the very least, Levis was a player the staff could turn to when Clifford’s command of the offense was collapsing.

Don’t be surprised if…

Christian Veilleux

Penn State QB Christian Veilleux

…Christian Veilleux is the backup.

And, that’s a big deal. This isn’t to speak badly of Veilleux’s ability, because it’s immense. The coaching staff — from head coach James Franklin to new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich to strength coach Dwight Galt — has roundly praised his work in the weight room. They clearly think he’s further along than they believed he’d be at this point, and as Yurcich said, Veilleux enrolling in January helps.

“I think for any new quarterback coming in, it’s nearly impossible to play as a freshman without the experience in that first spring as an early enrollee, which Christian will have,” Yurcich said. “It’d be very hard to be a backup, or even to be able to contribute as an early guy coming in, without that first spring. So for him to come in early, it gives him a really good chance to get a leg up and to learn the offense, and to be well versed to give him a chance to compete in the fall for the position of being a backup, or being able to make sure that he’s maybe one snap away and can be a really good contributor for us, or maybe being the guy.”

That’s high praise.

It’s also a sign of the dire straits Penn State is in at the quarterback position from a depth perspective.

Ta'Quan Roberson

Penn State QB Ta’Quan Roberson

After Clifford, the collegiate experience level among the backups consists of the one pass Ta’Quan Roberson threw against Rutgers in mop-up duty in 2019. I asked Franklin early last season, when the Nittany Lions were mired in a five-game losing streak out of the chute, whether it made sense for the program to give a player like Roberson some meaningful playing time — they were rotating quarterbacks anyway. His response was telling, to me:

“It’s all about getting better today and it’s all about, What do we have to do to beat Michigan?,” he said.

Franklin didn’t mention Roberson by name. But, his view rang clear: It was about getting better and winning, and the guys who were most equipped to help Penn State win would play. Clifford and Levis, the two guys at the forefront of the 0-5 start, took every snap the rest of the way. Roberson battled some injuries, it turned out. But even when he was in uniform and clearly available, he wasn’t going to see the field.

Which is fine, if you’ve recruited a more ready player in Veilleux, a true freshman who was a four-star prospect. But Veilleux hasn’t taken a snap in anger since the fall of 2019. His high school season was postponed by COVID in Maryland.

It’s a tough situation for Penn State, which didn’t get a more experienced quarterback out of the transfer portal (although, that conceivably still could happen). They have a starter they believe in, but who has been less than consistent. They have two young backups with a lot of potential, who haven’t played.

Be on the lookout for…

…Nothing, really.

I guess Veilleux’s play will be worth watching this spring. But what you see is what you are going to get out of the quarterback position at Penn State the way it is currently situated.

The need Clifford to stay healthy.

They need Clifford to avoid turnovers.

They need Clifford to make big plays.

If he isn’t every bit as good as they believe he can be, Penn State is in big trouble. That’s a lot to put on a guy who has never put it all together. But unless they like Roberson a lot more than they lead on, or unless Veilleux is lights-out and ready to go as a true college freshman who hasn’t played in two years, it’s Clifford or bust.

If he doesn’t improve on his 2020 performance, Penn State can legitimately finish 2021 with a losing record.

The key stat

It’s all about protecting the football for Clifford.

Penn State is 0-4 with Clifford as a starter when he throws two or more interceptions in the same game.

The Nittany Lions are 14-3 when he throws one or fewer.

Clifford’s touchdown-to-interception ratio in wins: 27-to-5.

In losses: 12-to-11.

Top QB prospect commits to PSU

Top QB prospect commits to PSU

One of the hottest quarterback prospects in the nation verbally committed to Penn State on Monday.

Drew Allar, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound Ohio prep standout who piled up offers from some of the nation’s most prestigious programs in recent weeks, said Monday morning he will be attending Penn State with the 2022 recruiting class.

Allar had offers from all Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Michigan and Washington, just a handful of the programs from all five Power 5 conferences that saw him as one of the burgeoning prospects of the 2022 class. 247sports rates him as a four-star prospect, the No. 6 pro-style passer in the nation and the No. 89 prospect overall in the class. Rivals.com still has him as a three-star prospect, but surely that’s a rating that will be climbing as the offers pile up and signing day in December nears.

Watch his film, and it makes little sense why, until just a few months ago, he was largely just a guy Group of 5 schools were offering. He has prototypical size and an accurate arm. Last season, he threw for 2,692 yards and 26 touchdowns, despite an ankle injury and the uncertainty of playing through the pandemic.

Mostly though, the kid is just fun to watch. He has enough athletic ability to make defenders miss him in the backfield, and while he seems to be a good enough runner when he has to be, he’s not a runner. He’s working with his eyes down the field, looking to make a big play that way. He throws the bomb. He isn’t afraid to go to all the off-angle stuff, sidearm and away from his body, that Patrick Mahomes has made hip. He just looks like a guy who can do it all and, perhaps more exciting than anything when it comes to what kind of potential he has, he did all of that in his first season as a starting quarterback in high school.

How did Penn State end up sealing the deal with him? Well, at the end of the day, Penn State fired Kirk Ciarrocca and invested in Mike Yurcich as its offensive coordinator for moments like this.

Yurcich was one of the first coaches among the power conferences to notice Allar’s potential, and he actually started recruiting him when he was the offensive coordinator at Texas. Of course, he moved on to Penn State in January. The Nittany Lions needed to take two quarterbacks in the 2022 class, even after getting a commitment from York standout Beau Pribula late last year, and it became clear very soon after Yurcich came on board that Allar was the top target to join him.

How this all plays out from here, who knows. There are 252 days between now and Dec. 15, the start of the early signing period for football, and these are very different times when it comes to recruiting. Penn State can lose one or both of those prospects to another school or a more clear opportunity to play by then. It’s just a fact.

But, these are two really good building blocks for an offense that seems to be headed in a new, better direction under Yurcich. Pribula can do a little bit of everything really well, and he’s a guy who has a Trace McSorley, Sean Clifford vibe to him when you watch his film. Allar’s skill set reminds me of another Ohio high school standout who started late in his career, had rare skills for a big man and went on to a great college career and a terrific professional career, Ben Roethlisberger.

So, however Penn State settles into the Yurcich era on offense, they’ll be doing so potentially with a couple of young quarterbacks able to run just about any kind of system.

Mallas retires from Penn State Scranton after four decades

Mallas retires from Penn State Scranton after four decades

Jeff Mallas didn’t walk out the door as much as he trudged toward it.

There comes a moment in every career when it’s time to leave the office for good, he knows. He decided his would come in December. But he held out some hope Penn State Scranton could get its basketball seasons going this spring. After more than four decades worth of coaching and leading and teaching and building there, it turned out, for him, that Penn State Scranton is a difficult place to leave.

After 42 years with the school — the last 21 as its athletic director — Mallas announced his retirement earlier this month.

“Believe me, it was not an easy decision,” Mallas said. “I love it there. I love the job. But, I guess, you know when it’s time.”

The time came during a pandemic, with the 10 sports sponsored by the university that competes in the Penn State University Athletic Conference shut down since last March. But it also comes with hopes of a spring restart for several sports in a department forever changed by Mallas’ leadership.

Four years after graduating from Penn State in 1975, and eight after leaving Dunmore High School following a strong athletic career with the football and track teams, Mallas joined the staff at Penn State Scranton. He served as assistant athletic director to longtime AD Joe Simoncelli starting in 1980, and in 1981, he started the campus’ baseball program.

By the following summer, Mallas worked literally alongside the Army Corps of Engineers and the school’s former head of maintenance, Herb Rogers, to clear out space near a wooded hillside to build the campus’ baseball field. Mallas would coach that club in its first 26 seasons. He said the $3 million project that remodeled the field in 2015 — and added softball and soccer fields, and a fieldhouse — might stand as an even bigger accomplishment.

Mallas coached tennis and soccer as well, and was a driving force in bringing women’s sports to the campus. Women’s basketball returned to the campus in 2002, and Penn State Scranton started its women’s soccer program three years ago, and has added a co-ed golf program.

He ran soccer camps for area youth players for more than a decade, and he is leaving his yet-unnamed replacement with recently completed refurbishments to the tennis courts and the school’s gymnasium.

Penn State honored him with the 2018 Robert J. Scannell Roll of Honor Award, which recognizes an administrator, faculty or staff member or coach who served commonwealth campus athletic programs with distinction. He was named the 2004 Alumnus of the Year by the Greater Scranton Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association.

“But the big accomplishment,” Mallas insists, “was working with the kids, making sure they went to school, that we retain them, and that they got their degrees. Over 50 percent of our student-athletes over the last five or six years, I can say, were 3.0 (grade point average) or better.”

Mallas touted the partnerships he built with the coaches he worked with and hired over the years, maintaining that building the athletic program was always a joint effort with them.

In retirement, Mallas doesn’t plan to stride too far from Penn State itself. He’ll still serve the university as president of the Greater Scranton Penn State Chapter, and he’s hoping to see Big Ten football stadiums he never had the opportunity to visit.

Still, he’ll miss just about everything about Penn State Scranton.

“I’ve had so many people coming back to me and saying thanks for everything,” Mallas said. “I probably could have stayed forever.”

Top QB prospect commits to PSU

Penn State’s makes Poindexter hiring official

Penn State officially announced Wednesday what had been widely reported earlier in the week, that it has hired former Purdue co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Anthony Poindexter.

Anthony Poindexter

Penn State co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Anthony Poindexter

What is official now is what we figured would be the case a few days ago, that Poindexter will assume those same two positions on head coach James Franklin’s staff. It makes for a seamless transition from Tim Banks, who held the co-defensive coordinator and safety posts with the Nittany Lions the last five seasons before heading to Tennessee to become the Vols’ defensive coordinator earlier this month.

“I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to be a part of the Penn State football program,” Poindexter in a statement released by Penn State athletics. “As long as I’ve played the game of football, I’ve been aware of the long-standing tradition and history of excellence here at Penn State. I look forward to being under the leadership and guidance of Coach Franklin. I’m inspired by his relentless desire to win and I look forward to contributing in any way I can. Coach Pry has assembled one of the best defensive units in the country and nothing motivates me more than young men with a will to work hard and learn. My family and I are truly grateful to be a part of this incredible University. Thank you for having us. WE ARE!”

I think, by any standard, Penn State did a pretty good job here.

It’s later than you’d want to have to make a change on the coaching staff, for sure. But Poindexter is a really intriguing fit on a staff that has seen a lot of transition this offseason, but also seemed to maintain the guise of some continuity.

They lost tight end Tyler Bowen, a fast-rising coaching mind who was also big on the recruiting trail, to the Jacksonville Jaguars. But his replacement, Ty Howle, is another fast-rising coaching mind who has a much more of a history with Penn State than even Bowen did. And Poindexter is a guy with a very similar background and coaching/recruiting strengths to Banks. Plus, through his Hall of Fame career as a player at the University of Virginia, he potentially could bring some extra credibility on the recruiting trail in a fertile area — the D.C./Maryland/Virginia zone — where Penn State would love to get an even stronger foothold.

It’s an interesting scenario when you consider the staff turnover in recent years, for sure. Penn State’s stated goal has been to reduce staff turnover. But it has responded well-enough to most of it. Would you rather have really good, quality assistants who are in demand for promotions? Or, lesser assistants who might not be quite at that in-demand level, but are certainly good enough to help grow your program over the long haul? There are cases to be made for both sides, but wherever you fall, it’s clear Penn State is starting to do a nice job rolling with it when their more in-demand guys take off for promotions elsewhere.