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It’s mail time! Answering fans’ mailbag questions

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Jayson Oweh

Q: How do you view our passing game, outside Freiermuth? With our not-so experienced WRs, I would assume that defenses will crowd the box, shut our running game down and double up Freiermuth? — Jack

Q: Will Dotson be the go-to receiver, or will somebody else take over the role? — Matt

A: I’ll answer both questions together here.

I expect defenses to try and double team Freiermuth or jam him at the line to keep him from getting into routes. They will not let the fantastic tight end beat them, but instead will force the wide receivers to do that.

Jahan Dotson was solid last season as the No. 2 behind KJ Hamler, catching 27 passes for 488 yards and five TDs. We’ll see if Dotson can be a No. 1 target. We’ve heard great things about true freshman Parker Washington, but I want to be careful praising him too much until we see him play. Cam Sullivan-Brown could be in for a good year. For me, the questions at wide receiver are the biggest for the team.

If the Lions can find reliable targets, this could be a special season. If not, defenses will adjust against Freiermuth and the run game and make things difficult.

One other note: New offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca is said to be good at getting the ball to his playmakers in space — which we saw last year against Minnesota — so that could be a big plus for this or any wide receiver group.

Q: Without Parsons, which linebacker will be the one to step up and make plays? — Sarah

A: Micah Parsons is phenomenal. I think everyone knows that. But in football, we talk so much about “next man up, next man up” that we sometimes forget it’s darn near impossible to replace some players. Parsons is one of those players.

That’s not to take anything away from the other linebackers on the team. It’s just that there is not another Parsons among that group, and we need to understand there will be a dropoff to some degree.

That said, I like Jesse Luketa to step into the role of top linebacker this season. The junior has the work ethic and drive to be a really good one. He started two games and played in all 13 last season, finishing with 24 tackles (15 solo).

Now, if you ask me who’s going to be the best linebacker eventually out of this group, I’ll go with Brandon Smith. The former five-star recruit will be a first-year starter, so there could be some growing pains, but everything we know and have heard about Smith indicate that he could be outstanding — and perhaps the next great one at Linebacker U.

Q: Journey Brown was awesome at the end of last season. Do you see him being the primary running back, or will they rotate others (ie Cain, Ford)? — Ed

A: I got this question before we learned that Brown could miss the season with a medical condition. My answer was going to be that Brown would be in for an outstanding season. He would have been running behind a strong offensive line, and he’s got the kind of speed and power mix that could help him become a star.

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Without Brown, I expect Noah Cain to get the bulk of the carries, with Devyn Ford also getting his share of touches. Cain was terrific last year, when healthy. When he was on the field early on last year, the offense just looked a whole lot different. He just made plays and made defenses look bad at times.

Cain is just a sophomore, and we don’t know if he can carry the running game for an entire season — even an abbreviated one. So look for Ford to get touches early in games, then Cain being a workhorse in the fourth quarter if needed.

We’ve heard good things about freshmen Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee, both four-star recruits from Florida, but I think they’ll have limited roles, especially since the Lions have to jump right into Big Ten play.

Q: Which player on the team will be best in the pros someday? — Robert

A: Freiermuth is an easy answer, and he’d be the top choice for a lot of people for obvious reasons: He’s big, a good blocker and catches everything in sight.

But I’m actually gonna go with defensive end Jayson Oweh here. He is such a gifted player, with size, speed and strength, and he plays a vital position for the NFL. He’s projected to be a first-round pick, as is Freiermuth, and I can see Oweh being an outstanding pro.

Q: Who will take John Reid’s place in the secondary? — Mason

A: I thought it would be Keaton Ellis, after he showed such a knack for getting to the ball last year as a true freshman. But the coaches have slated redshirt freshman Joey Porter Jr. to start at corner, and everyone just raves about his ability. Porter obviously comes from a great football family, and with his size and speed, he could be a big problem for opposing receivers.

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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