The Penn State football program enjoyed national exposure throughout the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. This annual showcase event featured eight former Nittany Lions aiming to make a positive impression on potential employers.
Running back Saquon Barkley and tight end Mike Gesicki delivered all-time performances at their respective positions, while cornerback Grant Haley and Troy Apke proved to be two of the fastest athletes in attendance. There are legitimate expectations for all eight players to hear their names called during the 2018 NFL Draft, which could begin with Barkley heading to the Cleveland Browns at No. 1 overall.
Penn State sat atop the NFL combine medals count, which rewards players’ first-, second- and third-place performances with gold, silver and bronze medals, respectively, to their college program. The Nittany Lions established new records for total medals (13) and margin of advantage (7) through three years of measuring team results in this manner.
“Let’s face it — Penn State has lit this combine up,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said while lauding Dwight Galt, the Nittany Lions director of performance enhancement.
"Penn State has lit this combine up." 🔥
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) March 5, 2018
Galt, in his fifth year with the program, arrived at Penn State in 2014 as one of James Franklin’s initial hires. He previously served on Franklin’s staff at Vanderbilt and the two worked together at Maryland.
Despite losing several key starters from an 11-win squad, Penn State arguably approaches the 2018 season with its deepest and most talented roster under Franklin. That promise has been evident early, resulting in an impressive strength and conditioning schedule this winter.
Galt expressed plenty of excitement while meeting with media members last Wednesday following the team’s 30th winter workout session.
“We’ve always had great winters, but this one I think just kind of takes the place of the best one we’ve had so far. They’re a motivated group right now,” he said. “Every now and then, at any place I’ve been — less here than anywhere else — there always comes a time you’ve got to say ‘We’re just kind of flat today.’ I just haven’t had one of those days all year. The consistency of just grinding at the level they always grind has been the best part of this winter so far.”
Galt repeatedly praised the Penn State roster as a whole for bringing sustained intensity to this first steppingstone toward championship aspirations in the season ahead. Athletes are currently on break, but spring camp begins later this month, culminating with the April 21 Blue-White Game.
When asked which Nittany Lions players proved to be “top-tier” workers this winter, Galt identified five. Here’s a rundown, in the order Galt referenced each.
WR Juwan Johnson (redshirt junior)
Galt: “DaeSean Hamilton kind of left his legacy with Juwan Johnson and he’s a trained killer. He’s done a great job; one of our top, top guys.”
Juwan Johnson was the offense’s breakout performer in spring 2017 and largely delivered on the hype last season. This 6-foot-4, 229-pound receiver started every game, finishing second on the team with 54 catches for 701 yards. His last-second touchdown reception at Iowa kept Penn State in contention for a Big Ten title.
During media access at Nittany Lions practices last fall, Johnson could always be found on the field putting in extra work with Hamilton and Gesicki. The latter two, and their 343 career receptions, have since moved on from Happy Valley, placing an increased emphasis on Johnson’s role.
OL Will Fries (redshirt sophomore)
Galt: “He played at left tackle last year, came in as a redshirt freshman and did a really great job.”
Will Fries stepped into a starting role at right tackle last October for a matchup against Michigan, which boasted one of college football’s finest defensive fronts. He eventually slid over to left tackle following an injury to Ryan Bates.
Bates spoke highly of his fellow bookend during Fiesta Bowl media day, indicating he believes Fries can play at an all-conference level in 2018. Now with nine starts under his belt, the 6-6, 305-pound lineman will be counted on to help keep quarterback Trace McSorley clean.
TE Danny Dalton (redshirt sophomore)
Galt: “Dalton has been phenomenal. He works hard in everything he does.”
The 2015 Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year in high school football, Danny Dalton is among those to watch as Penn State attempts to replace Gesicki. The Nittany Lions said goodbye to a record-setting tight end after the 2017 season, and Dalton is one of a few veterans competing for reps, while early enrolled freshman Zack Kuntz will be a factor this spring.
This mention from Galt is particularly notable from an outsider’s perspective since reporters and fans haven’t seen Dalton in action. He didn’t play in 2017 following a redshirt 2016 campaign, but his high school success (135 receptions for 2,002 yards and 23 touchdowns) illustrates his capabilities as a pass target. Dalton is listed at 6-4, 245 pounds.
S John Petrishen (redshirt junior)
Galt: “One guy that’s been really good who has just been dinged his entire career is John Petrishen. [He] has really paid his dues, knock on wood he’s been healthy and he’s been doing a great job. He’s really, really working hard.”
Penn State must replace a pair of starters at safety in 2018 following the departure of Marcus Allen and Troy Apke. John Petrishen has appeared in three college games and probably isn’t the first name fans will think of when considering contenders for these roles, but it’s evident Galt is high on his progress.
The 6-foot, 204-pound defensive back faces significant competition, whether it’s fellow veterans Ayron Monroe, Nick Scott and Garrett Taylor or rising talents such as Isaiah Humphries, Jonathan Sutherland and Lamont Wade. Based on Galt’s comments, Petrishen is poised to battle if he can avoid more “dings.”
S Lamont Wade (sophomore)
Galt: “He was a mid-year [2017 enrollee], came in, did a nice job last year and played a nice role for us. We obviously lost all four of our [starting defensive backs] this past year, hopefully all to the NFL. Lamont is in there like a piranha in a small pool right now.”
The top-ranked member of Penn State’s 2017 recruiting class, Lamont Wade arrived on campus in January 2017 surrounded by immense expectations. He was one of three freshmen who avoided a redshirt last season and finished 11th on the team with 31 tackles.
The most surprising development in Penn State’s recent roster update was Wade moving from cornerback to safety. This 5-9, 196-pound playmaker may be primed to seize a starting job in his second year with the Nittany Lions.