Indiana head coach Tom Allen gestures during the second half...

Indiana head coach Tom Allen gestures during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023. Allen, in his first year as Penn State's defensive coordinator, says he's been encouraged by the physicality he's seen during spring drills. Penn State wrapped up spring practice on Saturday, April 13, 2024, with its annual Blue/White scrimmage. Credit: AP/Michael Conroy

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Upon his arrival in Happy Valley, new Penn State offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki asked each of his new players a question that would shape their goals for spring practice.

What do they want this offense to be? The Nittany Lions’ answers, when combined, appear to be a recipe for success.

“They want to be explosive,” Kotelnicki said. “They want to be enthusiastic. They want to be confident in what they’re doing.”

A year after another third-fiddle finish to Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten’s now-defunct East Division, Penn State is determined to get there with new leadership on all sides of the ball.

Kotelnicki is the sixth offensive coordinator in head coach James Franklin’s 11 seasons at Penn State. At Kansas, Kotelnicki was part of a staff that directed a turnaround of what was the worst football program in Power Five for more than a decade.

Former Indiana head coach Tom AlleAn replaced Manny Diaz as the Nittany Lions’ new defensive coordinator after the latter became Duke’s head coach. Justin Lustig is now running Penn State’s special teams.

For the last month, the new coordinators have been busy getting their first hands-on experience with a talented roster that returns most of its skill and experience from last season.

“We need to feel like coming out of spring ball that our players have a bunch of confidence and understanding of how we want to play in really all three phases,” Franklin said. “Then on top of that, what are our strengths and what are our weaknesses? And be able to play to those strengths and be able to work on those weaknesses between now and the start of training camp.”

So far, sophomore quarterback Drew Allar said, so good.

Like Kotelnicki, Allar foresees a point when Penn State can rotate receivers effectively at every wideout position thanks to the work they’ve put in this spring.

The Nittany Lions didn’t have that luxury last season, which became noticeable against the Buckeyes and Wolverines. Penn State receivers combined to catch just 18 of Allar’s 64 passes in both losses.

Former Buckeye wideout Julian Fleming joins KeAndre Lambert-Smith and tight end Tyler Warren to form what Allar believes could be a dangerous set of downfield targets. Lambert-Smith led Penn State in yards and receptions last year while Warren, perhaps the team’s most versatile player, led the team with seven touchdown receptions.

Kotelnicki will need to wait until training camp for the offensive line to be at full strength. Tackle Drew Shelton is recovering from offseason surgery and a likely replacement for Olu Fashanu, who may be taken early in this month's NFL draft.

Meanwhile, Allen will be the second former head coach to helm Penn State’s defense. He’s looking to pick up where Diaz left off as the Nittany Lions ended last season ranked second in total defense and third in scoring defense.

Allen has enjoyed the lighter workload as a coordinator. It’s allowed him to get back to his coaching roots.

“It’s kind of refreshing to be able to just focus on developing the players, coaching the players and the defense, the schematic part of it, the personnel side of it,” Allen said.

Star linebacker Abdul Carter has switched to defensive end to give the Nittany Lions a bit more snarl on the edges. That type of play appeals to Allen and he’s ramped up the team’s physicality as practice has continued.

“Tom is continuing a tradition here of playing hard, physical defense and running to the football,” Franklin said. “But I think so far so good with both (Allen and Kotelnicki). I know they’ve been impressed with our guys and the culture of how we practice and how we compete.”


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