Penn State’s annual Blue-White game was a success off the field, with an estimated 71,000 fans in attendance and two commitments for the 2018 recruiting class.
There wasn’t a lot to take away from the scrimmage, with 11-minute quarters and a lot of key players not participating. A few players had productive games, but the real value of this spring camp will come from the hours of film that the coaches will evaluate.
The biggest development of the spring was top cornerback John Reid’s injury. Sean Fitz of 247Sports reported that it is a major one.
While James Franklin never discusses injuries, the knee brace and crutches Reid was sporting Saturday at Beaver Stadium confirmed that it is not a minor thing. Cornerback is one of the deepest positions on the roster, but it will be a huge loss if Reid can’t play in 2017.
There are 133 days between the Blue-White game and when Penn State welcomes Akron to Beaver Stadium to start the season. Expectations for the Nittany Lions haven’t been this high in nearly a decade, and given what has transpired in between, it might feel even longer for Penn State fans.
Much can happen between now and then. That’s four months of development time, and there are a lot of young players in the program who are starting to settle in and unlock their potential.
Let’s take an educated guess at what the depth chart might look like right now, and some potential position battles for the offseason.
(Returning starters are in bold.)
Trace McSorley, redshirt junior
Tommy Stevens, redshirt sophomore
Sean Clifford, freshman
Jake Zembiec, redshirt freshman
Billy Fessler, redshirt junior
McSorley didn’t have his best day Saturday, but it didn’t matter. Stevens looked very good, and his coaches and teammates are convinced the team’s quarterback play would be fine if Penn State needed him.
After the spring game, Franklin said the team needs to find a No. 3 quarterback. That’s not great news for Jake Zembiec, who went 2 for 8 for 14 yards against the Blue defense. Even if Clifford does arrive this summer and performs well enough to earn the No. 3 spot on the depth chart, the plan will be to redshirt him unless there’s an emergency.
Saquon Barkley, junior
Mark Allen, redshirt junior
Andre Robinson, junior
Miles Sanders, sophomore
Josh McPhearson, senior
Journey Brown, freshman
Barkley sat out the spring game for the second straight year. Sanders did not participate, and his left arm was in a sling while the team was signing autographs before the game.
There was very little separation between Allen, Robinson and Sanders last season. Sanders offers the most upside, but there weren’t any indications that he had clearly passed the other two this spring.
Allen and Robinson both got 11 touches in the game. Allen started, but they rotated pretty much every series.
Maybe Sanders will make his move during fall camp. If not, look for those three backups to split time again. McPhearson moved to running back because he’s seen as a potential return specialist, and the coaches wanted him to spend more time with the ball in his hands during camp.
Mike Gesicki, senior
Jonathan Holland, redshirt sophomore
Tom Pancoast, redshirt senior
Nick Bowers, sophomore
Joe Arcangelo, sophomore
Gesicki did not play in the Blue-White game. Holland did, and was one of the stars. He looked very comfortable catching the ball in the middle of the field.
Holland finished with 8 catches for 62 yards. He’s clearly the top option behind Gesicki. Franklin said he’s excited to get Bowers rolling again. He missed all of last season with an undisclosed injury and didn’t factor into the spring game.
Arcangelo had 3 catches for the White team. He and Pancoast are walk-ons. Pancoast was the de facto No. 2 tight end last season.
There’s a pretty clear pecking order at slot receiver:
DaeSean Hamilton, redshirt senior
Brandon Polk, junior
KJ Hamler, freshman
Polk had a nice catch for a touchdown in the spring game. At one point earlier in the spring, Franklin expressed a hint of frustration that Polk hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Hamler missed his senior high school season with a torn ACL and did not participate Saturday.
Juwan Johnson, redshirt sophomore
Saeed Blacknall, senior
Dae’Lun Darien, redshirt freshman
DeAndre Thompkins, redshirt junior
Irv Charles, redshirt sophomore
Cameron Sullivan-Brown, freshman
Mac Hippenhammer, freshman
The other wideout spots are murkier. Johnson was the breakout star of camp. Blacknall and Thompkins are the guys with the most experience, but Blacknall didn’t play Saturday. Like Johnson, Thompkins had a nice outing.
It’s fair to say those three are in the first tier, and Charles needs to do more to move into that group. Like Johnson, Charles is oozing with potential.
Connor McGovern, sophomore
Michal Menet, redshirt freshman
Michael Miranda, freshman
Zach Simpson, redshirt sophomore
Stephen Gonzalez, redshirt sophomore
CJ Thorpe, freshman
Gonzalez started at the end of last season when attrition at tackle led Ryan Bates to shift to that position. It seemed like a reasonable assumption that Gonzalez would occupy one of the two guard spots next to McGovern. Then Gonzalez was on the White team Saturday, which was a curious development.
Miranda has earned plenty of praise during the spring as an early enrollee. McGovern had a perfect day snapping the ball Saturday, which is a big deal. He played center in high school, but in a no-shotgun offense.
It will be interesting to see where Gonzalez is on the depth chart this fall. If Miranda is ready to contribute as a true freshman, there should be a little more depth here than it appeared six weeks ago.
Ryan Bates, redshirt sophomore
Chasz Wright, redshirt junior
Andrew Nelson, redshirt senior
Brendan Mahon, redshirt senior
Will Fries, redshirt freshman
Alex Gellerstedt, redshirt freshman
Starling Jenkins, redshirt sophomore
Des Holmes, freshman
Robbie Martin, freshman
The two most intriguing players here should be Fries and Gellerstedt, two young prospects who have earned positive reviews for their development. If they are ready to at least be rotation players, the offensive line should be deep in 2017.
Nelson and Mahon are the most experienced players, but where they are going to fit is a bit of a wild card. They both had season-ending injuries last year. Neither were made available for media interviews during the spring, and neither participated Saturday. Teammates have been coy about their status, saying that they were basically acting like extra coaches during the camp.
Nelson and Mahon both have played guard and tackle, and just having one or both as utility depth guys would be a big boost.
Torrence Brown, redshirt junior
Shareef Miller, redshirt sophomore
Ryan Buchholz, redshirt sophomore
Shaka Toney, redshirt freshman
Shane Simmons, redshirt freshman
Daniel Gibson, redshirt freshman
Yetur Matos, freshman
Damion Barber, freshman
Brown and Miller entered spring as the favorites to start because of their experience, and it doesn’t look like that has changed. Teammates praised Toney and Simmons for their athleticism during camp.
The Nittany Lions need at least one of the three redshirt freshmen (or one of the guys who arrives this summer) to become a dependable reserve. If more than one can step up, Penn State could have a deep group in 2017.
Curtis Cothran, redshirt junior
Parker Cothren, redshirt junior
Kevin Givens, redshirt sophomore
Robert Windsor, redshirt sophomore
Tyrell Chavis, senior
Ellison Jordan, redshirt freshman
Antonio Shelton, redshirt freshman
Robert Hansard, freshman
Corey Bolds, freshman
Pretty much status quo from the beginning of spring practice. Givens played well Saturday, and he’s probably going to end up as essentially a co-starter. Those top three guys could split reps.
Jordan is the one guy down the depth chart who earned plaudits during the spring. This might be the position in which the defensive coaching staff feels the most confident. If not, it’s probably the next one …
Jason Cabinda, senior
Manny Bowen, junior
Koa Farmer, redshirt junior
Cam Brown, sophomore
Brandon Smith, senior
Jake Cooper, junior
Jarvis Miller, redshirt sophomore
Brelin Faison-Walden, freshman
Ellis Brooks, freshman
Brailyn Franklin, freshman
Cooper did not participate in the Blue-White game and has been limited by an undisclosed season-ending injury from 2016. Juwan Johnson was probably the offensive MVP of this spring camp. A few of the linebackers could make a case for defensive MVP.
Farmer, Brown and Miller all earned praise during practice and played well in the spring game. Depending on Cooper’s health, Farmer seems like a favorite to start Sept. 2 against Akron, with Brown as the top backup at both outside spots. Smith is locked in as Cabinda’s backup in the middle.
Despite being ‘Linebacker U,’ Penn State’s depth at the position was in a bad place the last couple of seasons. Having Farmer, Smith and Miller develop into contributors despite not being recruited at the position — Smith was a walk-on, Farmer and Brown were safeties — has been critical for the Nittany Lions.
Grant Haley, senior
Christian Campbell, senior
Amani Oruwariye, redshirt junior
Lamont Wade, freshman
T.J. Johnson, redshirt freshman
Zech McPhearson, redshirt freshman
Jabari Butler, junior
Donovan Johnson, freshman
Tariq Castro-Fields, freshman
D.J. Brown, freshman
We’re leaving Reid off this list. But even without him, the Nittany Lions can be solid at cornerback. Haley, Campbell and Oruwariye have plenty of experience.
Wade was one of the stars of spring camp, and it looks like the only thing keeping him from playing as a true freshman would be an injury. T.J. Johnson also had a strong camp, and was one of the standouts for the White team in the spring game.
Marcus Allen, senior
Nick Scott, redshirt junior
Troy Apke, senior
Ayron Monroe, redshirt junior
Garrett Taylor, redshirt sophomore
Jonathan Sutherland, freshman
The competition to replace Malik Golden is one of the most important battles on the roster. There haven’t been any indications that anyone has pulled ahead, and it could be a competition that leaks into the season.
Either Scott or Apke probably will start, but Monroe had a strong spring and picked off a McSorley pass in the Blue-White game. Taylor moved over from corner and is learning the position.
The top four guys here can play both safety positions, so there’s plenty of versatility. There isn’t plenty of depth. Much like linebacker or tight end last season, this is a spot where Penn State will be challenged if there are multiple injuries.