He's bigger. He's stronger. He's faster. And he's more experienced.

Christian Hackenberg, in nearly every measurable way, should be a better quarterback in 2014 than he was in 2013.

But his numbers may not show it.

Hackenberg is coming off a fairly remarkable rookie season at PSU. He was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year after completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards, with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He saved his best performance for last in a 31-24 upset of Wisconsin, completing 21 of his 30 passes for 339 yards with four TDs and no picks.

It's a finish that left Nittany Lions fans practically salivating about what he might accomplish over the next couple of years in Happy Valley.

Then on Saturday, at an open spring practice, Hackenberg showed off a more imposing physique. He added about 15 pounds during the winter workouts and now packs 235 pounds on his 6-foot, 4-inch frame. Despite the added weight, he's still managed to gain speed. He reportedly ran a personal-best 4.73-second time in the 40-yard dash recently.

And his rocket right arm apparently hasn't lost any of its velocity, either. His new head coach has definitely taken notice.

"I've been very impressed with Hackenberg," James Franklin told reporters on Saturday. "Everybody told me ahead of time (about Hackenberg's arm), but until you see it live — I've been very impressed with him."


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That is all good news for Penn State, which will hold its annual Blue-White Game on Saturday afternoon.

But there are three big reasons that Hackenberg could struggle at times this fall.

New system: One, he has to learn a new offensive system. By the end of the year, it seemed like Hackenberg had finally mastered Bill O'Brien's playbook. That seemed evident in his breakout effort against Wisconsin. Now he has to start from scratch again with a head coach and a new offensive coordinator.

Hackenberg struggled at times last season, especially early on, with his accuracy and decision-making. Those shortcomings could reappear early next season when he tries to learn another new offensive system.

And Franklin has traditionally seemed to favor more mobile QBs. Hackenberg, despite his improved foot speed, is definitely not a running QB. He's a classic drop-back thrower, which may be an odd fit in Franklin's scheme.

No Robinson: Second, Hackenberg lost his best weapon, Big Ten Receiver of the Year Allen Robinson, who is taking his considerable talents to the NFL. Robinson had 97 receptions for 1,432 yards (14.8 yards per catch) with six touchdowns in 2013. Hackenberg also lost his No. 2 wideout, Brandon Felder (28 catches, 312, yards, 11.1 yards per catch, three TDs).

Felder is very replaceable. Robinson, most certainly, is not.

The leading returning wideout is Geno Lewis, who had just 18 catches for 234 yards (13.0 yards per catch) with three TDs.

The Lions will have to rely on some young receivers to emerge as playmakers, but there's certainly no guarantee that will happen.

Offensive line: Finally, the offensive line enters 2014 as a huge question mark.

Last week's devastating season-ending knee injury to two-year starter Miles Dieffenbach means the Lions have only one returning starter on the offensive front — left tackle Donovan Smith.

And not only is PSU's O-line inexperienced, it's also very thin, and it may get even thinner. The recent legal woes encountered by Anthony Alosi makes his status with the team uncertain. The Lions even had to move two defensive linemen to offense to help fill the void.

Franklin has already said that several true freshman offensive linemen will be forced into playing time.

That is not good. Offensive line is the one position where experience is absolutely vital. College offensive linemen typically need a few years to acquire the bulk, strength and smarts to excel, especially in the smash-mouth Big Ten. Next fall, PSU won't have the luxury of waiting for its young offensive linemen to mature. They'll likely be forced to use players before they're ready.

That means Hackenberg may not have the time in the pocket that he had a year ago.

Put those three things together, and Hackenberg may find the going a bit tough in 2014.

There's little doubt he'll be an improved QB next fall. All evidence seems to support that.

But that may not translate into better numbers.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.