STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Coming off a tough 2014 season, Penn State's offense already seems stronger to Christian Hackenberg. And it's not only physical toughness, the sophomore quarterback said, but mental fortitude after overcoming adversity last year.

"My mind was in a lot of places last year. I kind of lost that ability to focus on myself when I need to and make sure I'm doing my job," Hackenberg said Wednesday. "It's awesome having the confidence I have in them now to make sure they're doing their job, and the confidence in my leadership to step up and hold them to the standard of doing their job."

Coach James Franklin has made a point of defending his quarterback during spring practice.

"Last year, Christian spent most of his time solving problems, running from problems, taking a lot of criticism, which I'm really, really defensive about," Franklin said March 17. "I don't know if it was fair, just, or realistic."

While a more confident Hackenberg would mean good things for the Nittany Lions, there are still gaps that need filling on the offensive line.

Hackenberg hedged when asked what he thinks of the left tackle prospects, which include junior college transfer Paris Palmer and redshirt freshman Chance Sorrell.

But, as for replacing linebacker Mike Hull, the signal caller had some ideas. "You see a guy like [linebacker] Ben Kline who's been through so much," Hackenberg said. "It's almost like everyone brings a different piece of the puzzle."

He also mentioned linebacker Jason Cabinda, safety Marcus Allen and defensive tackle Anthony Zettel as players who could become leaders.

Coming off a 7-6 season, Penn State has much to prove. But Hackenberg is focusing on growth, looking ahead and learning from mistakes.

"Now, you know the expectations. You've been through live bullets in the game," he said. "I'm really excited about what that experience has done for us in terms of our togetherness."