Blue White Illustrated

June-July 2022

Penn State Sports Magazine

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J U N E / J U L Y 2 0 2 2 2 5 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M S P R I N G F O O T B A L L 2 0 2 2 receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith said this spring. "I'm playing a lot faster because I'm just comfortable with the playbook. I know what I'm doing. I know my as- signment. I'm pretty sure we all feel like that, and it's helping us click better as an offense." With the Lions now in their second season under Yurcich, one of the factors that bogged down the offense last sea- son has been removed from the equa- tion. On a team that's been searching for that speed, it's the first, necessary step toward finding it. 7. Manny Diaz has been a good fit as defensive coordinator. The Nittany Lions were able to bring in Diaz shortly after he was let go as head coach at Miami. Franklin said he wanted someone to come in and fully run the defense, and Diaz has so far shown he's ready for that challenge. "He's done a really good job in meet- ings," Franklin said in April. "He's got a presence to him. I like how he views the game of football and how he leads." Penn State is going to have an aggres- sive defense under Diaz. It will blitz of- ten, surely much more than when Brent Pry was in charge, and the Lions won't be afraid to use sub packages. It's so far, so good for this new hire. 8. Ji'Ayir Brown has become an elite safety and a team leader. Few things are more valuable in college football than takeaways, and, with the return of Brown for his su- per senior season, the Nittany Lions should have that playmaking ability in abundance. In his first season as a starter in 2021, Brown tied for the nation's lead with six interceptions, helping to transform a defense that struggled to make impact plays during the 2020 campaign. Cornerbacks coach Terry Smith called him PSU's best defensive player this spring. Brown is also proving to be a will- ing leader — another quality Penn State needs on the defensive side of the ball. He is in tune with the learning prefer- ences of the younger players in Penn State's group of defensive backs and has expressed a sense of pride in helping them along. 9. Jonathan Sutherland is fitting in nicely at linebacker. A 5-foot-11, 210-pound super senior, Sutherland doesn't have the size nor- mally wanted at the linebacker position, but that's just fine with Franklin. "Right now, Sutherland gives us the best ability to get our best 11 guys on the field," Franklin said. "It also allows us to play with more of a DB with linebacker traits than the opposite." As schools across the country con- tinue to move more toward 4-2-5 de- fensive alignments, Sutherland may be ideal for the "star" position that Penn State has used for years now. Add in his leadership, and the Lions may not need a linebacker via the transfer portal as much as we once thought. 10. The Lions' placekicking could be better this year even with Jordan Stout gone. Stout was a fantastic do-it-all spe- cialist for Penn State the past three sea- sons, but the Lions did finish ninth in the Big Ten in field goal accuracy (68 percent) a year ago. It was hardly PSU's biggest weakness, but given that the team lost four games by four points or fewer, it's an area where improvement would be welcome. Senior Jake Pinegar and redshirt freshman Sander Sahaydak both looked good in the Blue-White Game. They were working under controlled condi- tions, but it was Sahaydak's first time kicking in front of a Beaver Stadium crowd, and he nailed a 46-yarder with plenty of room to spare. Pinegar went 20 of 25 during the 2019 and 2020 seasons before giving way to Stout last year, so he may have a leg up. This position battle will be worth watching in August. ■ Nate Bauer, David Eckert, Matt Herb, Greg Pickel and Ryan Snyder contributed to this report. First-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, formerly head coach of the Miami Hurricanes, has "got a presence to him," James Franklin said during spring practice. PHOTO BY RYAN SNYDER

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