STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — If Penn State learned anything this spring it’s that the cloudy picture at middle linebacker remains just that. During these 15 workouts, however, the Nittany Lions at saw who the primary competitors are.
That’s held true at several positions.
The need to find a tight end who can help fill the void left by Mike Gesicki was one of their most pressing questions when spring practice started and that, too, remains a position battle that won’t be sorted out until August.
That’s how spring ball works here — and everywhere. Fans flock back to town just for a little taste of football, even if this showing won’t be a competitive one as James Franklin elected to keep the same format where the Blue team is staked with the 1s while the White squad consists of the 2s and 3s. Oh well. It’s April and there’s football to watch so that’s good enough for me.
While you all fire up the grills or huddle around the TV for the 3 p.m. kick that will air live on Big Ten Network, here are five things for Penn State fans to keep an eye on during the 15th practice of the spring.
KJ Hamler as good as advertised?
When Latonya Hamler steps into Beaver Stadium on Saturday afternoon she admittedly will have some nerves.
Her son, KJ Hamler, has been the darling of spring ball, using his speed to blow past defenders and giving the offense another weapon in the slot. While Hamler enrolled early at Penn State last January, this is the next step in his return to football — one that came after he tore his ACL during the start of his senior year of high school at IMG Academy in Florida and then redshirted last season.
That has long been in the past as Hamler looks to wiggle past defenders in Beaver Stadium.
“KJ’s work ethic is amazing,” Latonya said this week. “I know how hungry he is since he hasn’t played in two years and he’s told me he’s gonna ball out. I just told him to keep on listening, soaking it all in and keep working on his imperfections.”
While DeAndre Thompkins is expected to work in the slot this year, Penn State will find a way to get Hamler involved, as well. Teammates praised him for how he’s attacked the spring and the player known as the Human Joystick could end spring ball on a high note, too.
How does Sean Clifford do?
Sean Clifford was the beneficiary of extended reps this spring while quarterback Tommy Stevens missed the entire spring with an undisclosed injury. That elevated Clifford to the No. 2 job as Trace McSorley’s backup and he should have plenty of opportunities on Saturday during his first spring game to showcase his arm.
“He’s got a strong arm and really what you kind of love about him is his competitiveness and how much he really wants to be successful,” McSorley said. “That’s the exciting thing about him is he’s hardworking, he’s diligent and he wants to be successful so bad that it drives everyone else to be successful and do everything they can around him.”
It’s always tough to gauge how quarterbacks do in a game where the sides are so lopsided and any hit on the quarterback will draw the ire of the staff, but if Clifford looks comfortable back there and continues developing a strong rapport with the entire receiving corps, then this spring will be a success for the freshman.
Franklin expects the team will see the benefit of these added reps once fall camp starts and Clifford is back to being the No. 3.
Hello, Micah Parsons
If there’s one player who could persuade fans to pack up the tailgate a little early and actually step inside the stadium it could be Micah Parsons.
Since the 5-star linebacker enrolled in January there’s been plenty said and written about his development. Parsons moved from the Mike to the Will where he, like the rest of the linebacking corps, is vying for a starting spot. For the time being, what Parsons doesn’t know in terms of sticking to the script he’s made up for with superb athletic skills. By all accounts he’s been as good as advertised, but he’s still yet to run out to the tunnel wearing the legendary No. 11.
Expect LaVar Arrington to be among those keeping an eye out for Parsons during the spring game. Arrington will be in town as part of an All-Star showcase game for elite eighth-grade football players. That game kicks off in Beaver Stadium at 10 a.m. and is free and open to the public.
“Micah is amazing,” Arrington said this week. He’s seen Parsons at various showcase events throughout the years. “What can you say? He is as advertised. He is the real deal. I’m excited to see his progression.”
How do the Penn State visits go?
With the recruiting calendar getting bumped up, the spring game is also a chance for prospects to take official visits. Penn State’s sidelines and the recruiting gallery should be packed pregame.
While the 2019 class has been awfully quiet and hasn’t picked up a verbal pledge since quarterback Taquan Roberson gave Penn State his pledge on Oct. 26, the spring game is usually good for a commitment or two. If there’s a We Are…Better tweet or two that comes out of the head coach’s account during the course of the weekend then expect the spring game to be successful on another level.
There’s a tough balancing act that will take place this weekend while the staff meets with prospects and their families and also has to get ready to the 15th and final practice of the spring.
Who flashes at defensive tackle?
Antonio Shelton and Fred Hansard will be two to keep an eye on during the scrimmage. Behind Kevin Givens and Rob Windsor the Nittany Lions need to establish a deep rotation of tackles. For the time being that means Shelton, Hansard, Corey Bolds and Damion Barber will all garner extra attention during the Blue-White Game.
“Kevin Givens stands out the most,” defensive end Shareef Miller said this week. “He’s a really, really good player. He’s doing a lot of great things. I would say out of all the defensive linemen including myself he’s the top guy this spring. We still got some young guys like Fred. Fred is doing real well. Corey is doing real well and Damion Barber. They still gotta keep learning the playbook and progressing.”