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DeAndre Thompkins, shown against Minnesota this past season, figures to have an increased role in 2017.

5 Nittany Lions to watch in spring practice, Lamar Stevens named Big Ten Freshman of the Week and more

We hope you’ll start your day with us here at the Landof10.com as we work to prepare you for everything that you need to know – Monday through Friday – around the world of Penn State sports. Whether it’s football, basketball, wrestling, hockey, baseball or just a wild story we hope you’ll find interesting, we’re here to share it all with you.

This is your Penn State Wake-Up Call for Tuesday, Feb. 14. Let’s get started.


Taking the short view

Ben Jones of Statecollege.com listed five players to watch when Penn State convenes spring practice next month – defensive end Shareef Miller, wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins, linebacker Jake Cooper, long snapper Kyle Vasey and tight end Danny Dalton.

Miller, Thompkins and Vasey belong because they are among the potential replacements for departing players.

Miller, who is entering his redshirt sophomore season, will be among those trying to pick up the slack at end, after Evan Schwan and Garrett Sickels moved on. Miller recorded 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks as a redshirt freshman in 2016, though both sacks came in the season opener against Kent State.

He also attracted some attention Sunday night on Twitter, when he promised to go to prom with a girl if she could get 500 retweets. She easily surpassed that total.

Thompkins is something of a known quantity, as he made seven starts and caught 27 balls as a redshirt sophomore this past season.

One of his starts came in the Rose Bowl, with Saeed Blacknall serving a suspension, and Thompkins had a rough go. On PSU’s first offensive play, he cut his route short and Trace McSorley threw deep, resulting in an interception. And later in the first quarter, a catchable ball glanced off Thompkins’ hands and led to another pick.

On the positive side, he showed big-play ability, averaging 16.3 yards a catch. Filling Chris Godwin’s shoes is a tall order for anyone, and there is some reason to believe coach James Franklin might want a bigger receiver, like Irv Charles or Juwan Johnson, in that spot. But the Lions could do worse than to insert Thompkins.

Vasey is a possible replacement for Tyler Yazujian, part of a well-oiled, three-man machine with the holder – be it Chris Gulla or Billy Fessler – and Tyler Davis, the near-automatic kicker. Also in the snapper picture is Zach Ladonis.

As for Cooper, he is coming off shoulder surgery and can at the very least lend depth to a positional group where the Lions are thin.

Dalton was an early enrollee in January 2016 but redshirted in the fall. He joins the crowd behind Mike Gesicki at tight end and will have an eye on 2018, when Gesicki and his primary backup last season, Tom Pancoast, move on. Another guy in the mix is Nick Bowers, who missed all last season because of injury.

There are several other players to watch, several other questions to be answered. Who steps in for Brian Gaia at center? Or Brandon Bell at outside linebacker? Can offensive linemen Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon bounce back from injuries? Will Lamont Wade, the much-ballyhooed recruit, see action his first season?

Certainly more questions will arise. But at this point in their rebuild – if indeed it can be called that anymore – the Lions appear to have a lot of answers, too.


Stevens honored

PSU forward Lamar Stevens was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Monday after scoring a combined 46 points in victories over Maryland and Illinois.

Stevens, who like fellow freshmen Tony Carr and Nazeer Bostick hails from Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic High School, poured in 25 in a 70-64 upset of the then-No. 21 Terrapins last Tuesday, then collected 21 in an 83-70 road victory over the Illini.

He is averaging 12.3 points a game, second on the team to Carr (12.5). Stevens is shooting 44.9 percent from the floor and 78.8 percent from the foul line; the latter figure is tied for 10th in the Big Ten.He is also  chipping in 5.7 rebounds a night for the Lions (14-12), who visit Nebraska on Tuesday night.


Hockey team rises in rankings

The Lions, who snapped a five-game winless streak with a pair of victories at Wisconsin this past weekend, rose from No. 10 to No. 9 in this week’s USCHO rankings.

David Goodwin scored two goals as the Lions beat the No. 17 Badgers, 6-3, last Friday, the 250th victory in Guy Gadowsky’s coaching career. The next night freshmen Nate Sucese and Denis Smirnov lit the lamp twice apiece in a 5-2 victory.

The skid had been the longest since the 2013-14 season for the Lions (18-6-2), who host No. 5 Minnesota (18-8-2) this Friday and Saturday. The Gophers swept PSU on Feb. 3-4.


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