All eyes now on QB McSorley

UNIVERSITY PARK — With Saquon Barkley now the talk of the NFL and the upcoming draft, quarterback Trace McSorley and Penn State’s other offensive weapons will be the focal points of opposing defenses this fall.

The Nittany Lions opened spring practice Monday, and coach James Franklin said he believes the offense can be more balanced this year without a running back commanding so much attention from the defenses, as Barkley did.

“Although I think we’ve been pretty darned balanced the last couple years, we always went into it trying to get the ball in Saquon’s hand a little bit more because he could change the game at any moment,” Franklin said.

“We’ll still have a little bit of that, but I think it will be a little bit more evenly distributed this year.”

McSorley has had back-to-back stellar seasons and really was the engine that made Penn State go, but some of that probably was a result of defenses putting so much emphasis and resources into stopping the all-world talent Barkley.

“In years past, (opposing teams) said, we’re not going to allow Saquon Barkley to beat us,” Franklin said. “I think now people are going to go into the approach where they say, we are not going to allow Trace McSorley to beat us.”

If and when that happens, it should create opportunities for running back Miles Sanders and others to take advantage of defenses that are focused primarily on stopping the pass.

“Our running backs are going to surprise some people in what they are able to do,” Franklin said. “But I also think people (will be) concerned with (receivers) DeAndre Thompkins, Juwan Johnson. … I think we’re balanced.”

Stevens update

Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens was not seen at practice during the portion that was available to the media Monday, those on hand reported, leading to speculation about the quarterback’s future. There has long been a concern from fans that Stevens could decide to transfer.

One PSU student/Daily Collegian staffer tweeted that Stevens has been seen in a walking boot on campus, so that could explain his absence from practice Monday.

Franklin was not asked about Stevens on Monday. The transfer speculation has existed because Stevens is expected to graduate in May and could, if he decides, play immediately somewhere else as a graduate transfer.

Pressing concerns

Franklin noted several areas the Lions will be focused on improving this spring. First and foremost is depth at middle linebacker.

“I think that’s a critical question going into the spring — two-deep that we can win with,” Franklin said.

Prized freshman recruit Micah Parsons, an early enrollee, is working at middle linebacker, so everyone will be watching his development closely to see if he can become a key contributor this fall.

Getting a two-deep at defensive tackle also is key, finding reliable guys behind projected starters Kevin Givens and Robert Windsor.

“We have a pretty good idea with what we have with Givens and Windsor,” Franklin said.

With Tyler Davis graduating, the Lions also need to find a starting place-kicker and kickoff man. Those duties might be handled by the same person, but Franklin indicated he prefers to have specialists be able to focus on one area.

O-line depth

The offensive line was expected to be much improved last year, but that didn’t turn out to be the case as the unit struggled for most of the season.

Franklin is confident the line will be better this year because of its depth.

“I think we’ve got a two-deep that you can win with in the Big Ten,” the coach said. “So instead of having six guys that you feel good about that you’re moving parts all over the place, you still may have a little bit of that, guys that create some flexibility.

“But I think there’s a two-deep where you look across it and you say, ‘You know, the guy that’s actually behind that position to go in and play in the game,’ and you’ve got a chance to play well enough to win in the Big Ten.”

Position changes

The changes for this spring include: Lamont Wade from cornerback to safety; Dae’Lun Darien from receiver to linebacker; Damion Barber from defensive end to tackle; Hunter Kelly from offensive line to defensive tackle.