Penn State Football: Returning Players Set Nittany Lions up for Success in 2014


Nov 16, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback

Christian Hackenberg

(14) drops back to pass against the Purdue Boilermakers during the first quarter at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Purdue 45-21. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

There is a lot of excitement surrounding the 2014 Penn State Nittany Lions. After two winning seasons, despite being under scholarship restrictions and a postseason ban, fans are once again hopeful that the winning ways will continue. This season, the Nittany Lions are led by new head coach James Franklin and his coaching staff. Franklin has the luxury of several key returning players that will set Penn State up for continued success in 2014.

Although the Nittany Lions enter the upcoming season thin at several key positions, most notably the offensive line, there are plenty of talented returning players all over the football field.

Most notably Penn State is set at one of the most important positions, quarterback. Christian Hackenberg, who did nothing but earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors last year, returns and will look to put together an even bigger season this year. As a freshman, he showed a super-strong arm and a poise in the pocket well beyond his years.

While it’s true Hackenberg will be missing his favorite target, two-time Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year Allen Robinson, there shouldn’t be many worries. Geno Lewis, who really seemed to gel with Hackenberg at the end of last season, will be the number one receiver this year. Joining Lewis will be experienced receivers Matt Zanellato and Richy Anderson. Talented freshman DeAndre Thompkins has already been in camp working with the offense, as has redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton. 4-star true freshmen receivers Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall will join the team in August and be added to the mix of returning receivers.

Nov 30, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions tight end

Adam Breneman

(81) scores a touchdown against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Though it may take a while for Hackenberg to get used to some of the new receivers, the tight end position should provide an effective security blanket for him. Penn State is blessed with four (five if you count freshman Mike Gesicki) talented, pass-catching tight ends who can make plays down the middle of the field. Kyle Carter, Jesse James and Adam Breneman all caught touchdown passes from Hackenberg in 2013 and will look to do the same this year. Brent Wilkerson really impressed the coaches last spring, but missed the 2013 season due to injury.

Another key part of the offense is the running game. Fortunately, the Nittany Lions have all three running backs from last year returning. Starters Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak have both played the last two seasons and each have their own strengths. Reserve Akeel Lynch, though he didn’t get much of a chance in 2013, has the potential to be an effective running back as well.

The 2014 Nittany Lions should have an effective, balanced attack this season. The offensive line could change throughout the season, but one stable force should be tackle Donovan Smith who started every game in 2013.

On defense, there are also several important starters returning. Up front, Deion Barnes, C.J. Olaniyan, Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel all bring valuable experience and will be expected to be leaders this season. All four have shown flashes of talent and are capable of disrupting plays in the backfield.

The Nittany Lions are thin at linebacker, but do have some talent returning. Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman, Ben Kline, Gary Wooten and Brandon Bell all have experience and could turn out to be a solid group in the middle.

Sep 14, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker

Mike Hull

(43) attempts to stop Central Florida Knights wide receiver

Jeff Godfrey

(2) during the third quarter at Beaver Stadium. Central Florida defeated Penn State 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O’Haren- USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Penn State struggled at the beginning of the year in the secondary, but really turned things around as the year went on. In 2014, the Nittany Lions have a wealth of experience returning. Adrian Amos has played in every game during his collegiate career, including starting every game the last two seasons. He’s been officially moved to safety and should stabilize the backend of the Penn State defense. Jordan Lucas, Trevor Williams, Jesse Della Valle and Ryan Keiser are just some of the many players who’ll once again see time in the secondary.

Penn State’s secondary should be an effective group that can both make tackles and make plays on the ball this season.

There will likely be some bumps in the road this season, as a new coaching staff and some new players will have to go through an adjustment period, the Nittany Lions are set up well to find success in 2014.

Follow VBR Lead Editor Barry Leonard on Twitter