Key position battles for Penn State football ahead of the 2024 season

Penn State has plenty of continuity on its roster heading into 2024, a must-win season for James Franklin, but Franklin's new coordinators still have a few tough decisions at key spots on the depth chart.
Delaware v Penn State
Delaware v Penn State / Scott Taetsch/GettyImages

Penn State lost plenty of talent to the NFL draft, but in the offseason, James Franklin put a lot of energy towards retaining his roster and fending off the portal piranhas. That homegrown NIL philosophy is reflected in the team’s “Retain the Roar” offseason campaign and gives the Nittany Lions serious roster continuity from year to year. 

That on-field familiarity will be crucial because Franklin was forced to replace both of his coordinators this offseason after firing Mike Yurich and watching Manny Diaz leave for the head job at Duke. New offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki and DC Tom Allen have the depth chart fairly set from last season, however, there are a few battles they’ll need to wage this summer to decide their starting 11 for Week 1 against West Virginia. 

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There are a few factors that have created a wide-open competition at off-ball linebacker for LBU. Curtis Jacobs declared for the NFL Draft, which left a void, but one that Penn State was confident enough would be filled that Allen moved Abdul Carter to defensive end. After that move, redshirt sophomore Keon Wylie suffered a significant injury that will likely keep him off the field in 2024, so snaps are up for grabs. 

Tony Rojas was fantastic in his 122 snaps as a true freshman last season and he will likely step in as the primary starter next to King. However, DeLuca and Elsdon who both played more snaps than Rojas in 2023 will battle two redshirt freshmen, Kaveion Keys and Ta’Mere Robinson for the third spot in the rotation. All five players should see significant reps throughout the summer and into the season. 

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From 2019 to 2023 Caedan Wallace played 2,296 snaps on Penn State’s offensive line with all but two coming at the right tackle spot. He was a perfect counterpart to Olu Fashanu last season and Penn State’s excellent bookends kept Drew Allar upright all season. Now, both Wallace and Fashanu are in the NFL and the Kotelnicki and Allar will need to decide who they feel most comfortable with at both tackle spots. 

Donkoh was first off the bench in the Peach Bowl once Wallace’s day was done, but Wisconsin transfer and 2021 five-star Nolan Rucci, that year’s top player in the state of Pennsylvania transferred to Happy Valley this offseason and will almost certainly be in the mix for a starting role after serving as a backup in Madison. 

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James Franklin has done a fantastic job of recruiting offensive tackles and the battle to replace Fashanu, who was the No. 11 overall pick to the New York Jets, will demonstrate the depth of talent at the position. 

Drew Shelton started at left tackle in the Peach Bowl, so he’s most likely to hold onto the job, but Penn State’s top two recruits in the 2023 class were left tackle prospects, J’Ven Williams and Alex Birchmeier. If you include JB Nelson, who will likely fight for reps on the interior, and true freshman Cooper Cousins who looks prepared to start at any of the five spots from Day 1, the Nittany Lions have eight players who are viable options are either of the two offensive tackle spots.

Next. 3 freshman who need to be key contributors for Penn State in 2024. 3 freshmen who need to be key contributors for Penn State in 2024. dark