STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Daryll Clark walks with a little swagger in his step, his voice cool and confident.

He’s not worried about who left, he’s excited about who’s stepping in.

Penn State’s top three receivers are gone, as are its top three offensive linemen. Clark’s backup at quarterback? A hotly recruited true freshman.

Yet Clark assures the No. 9 Nittany Lions’ potent offense isn’t going to change.

“We haven’t tuned down anything in the playbook,” said the charismatic signal-caller. “It all comes down to the confidence and faith that you have in the guys that you have around you now.”

Leave it to team captain Clark to give his teammates a boost. He’s the unquestioned leader of the offense that assistant coach Jay Paterno has dubbed the “spread HD.”

Yet there’s much to replace on a unit that often tattered defenses.

Receivers Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood combined for 132 catches, 1,900 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2008 alone. Center A.Q. Shipley provided leadership on the offensive line and joined tackle Gerald Cadogan and guard Rich Ohrnberger as the quarterback’s trusted bodyguards.

Plus, the departure last December of quarterback Pat Devlin, who transferred to Delaware, left Penn State without an experienced understudy. True freshman Kevin Newsome and redshirt freshman Matt McGloin must step in if Clark goes down.

And that’s a concern for fans since Clark has had two concussions in his career, including one that knocked him out of last season’s win at Ohio State.

At 6-foot-3, 232 pounds, Clark is built like a contact-seeking linebacker, but he’s got the agility to take off, escape trouble or rumble into the end zone.

Clark says he’s not getting away from the hard-nosed style that helped him succeed in 2008, when he completed 60 percent of his passes, threw for 19 touchdowns and ran for 10 more.

A player who tries to avoid getting hurt will end up “protecting yourself too much because it tends to take way from your game a little bit,” Clark said.

At media day earlier this month, head coach Joe Paterno remained uncertain exactly how he would use his star until the rest of the roster shook out.

All options appear to still be available, though.

“We can’t say, ’We’re only going to do this with Clark,’ if we don’t have certain people that can do what we think they should do with him to protect him. We’re out to win games,” Paterno said.

“That means if we have to use Clark to run the football, we’re going to use Clark to run the football,” Paterno said. “If we have really good wideouts and an offensive line that can do a good job in pass protection, I’d prefer not to run him a lot until the other kids come along.”

With the tailbacks Penn State has coming back, Paterno may not have to worry much about the running game.

The Nittany Lions return 1,200-yard rusher Evan Royster, a longshot contender for the Heisman Trophy, along with Clark. Speedster Stephfon Green offers a change of pace, and backups Brent Carter and Brandon Beachum offer quality depth.

Paterno, in fact, hinted that he might use Royster and Green in the same backfield at times, a prospect that excites the quarterback.

“As long as those guys are pounding away with the ball, it will keep the defenses guessing, and allow the passing game to get open,” Clark said. “I would rather throw it than run it anyway.”

The X-factor in the passing game could be how much Paterno uses his experienced tight ends. Seniors Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler could provide quality targets to Clark in the red zone.

The most important person, though, clearly is Clark.

“We’re not going to get out there and fall behind ... and say, ’We don’t want to get Clark hurt.’ I can’t isolate it for you that way,” Paterno said. “I don’t know exactly what we’re going to do until I find out what team I got, and I won’t know that until” the Sept. 5 opener against Akron.

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