By the end of the week, Penn State will have spring ball wrapped up and will inch closer to figuring out its personnel for the upcoming season.
Spring ball doesn’t solve everything, and, in fact, many of the questions that the team started these practices with will carry into Penn State’s offseason. Some will continue into fall camp. Here’s what I’ll be tracking this week as Penn State preps for the Blue-White game Saturday afternoon in Beaver Stadium.
Who are Penn State’s linebackers?
Penn State doesn’t release a spring depth chart, and if it did, it surely would be tough to sort through all three linebacker spots. The Nittany Lions are trying out many of their younger and older linebackers at multiple spots, which will be beneficial in the long run. Brent Pry wants his linebackers — especially the older ones — to know all three spots, and that’s a task that will continue for Cam Brown and Koa Farmer well into the summer.
Micah Parsons bounced outside to the Will, and coach James Franklin still hasn’t ruled out using Brown at the Mike. Farmer could be at the Sam or the Will while Ellis Brooks, Jan Johnson and Jake Cooper continue working into their roles at the Mike. Jesse Luketa will make his Beaver Stadium debut during the Blue-White game, while many of his classmates will be on the sideline during their final visit to campus before enrolling this summer.
Someone has to take on the leadership role that comes with the Mike position, and expect that competition to play out more in the summer.
Lining up the logistics
The spring game is always huge for recruiting, but it takes on even greater importance this year given that it’ll be an official visit weekend. That means the coaches will be wearing many hats while they strive to showcase the program to recruits and their parents while also making sure they get the most out of the 15th and final practice of the spring.
In February, Franklin estimated that Penn State typically has 200-250 unofficial visits for the spring game.
“The Blue and White game will be a big official visit weekend for us, but we still have to coach the game,” he said on Signing Day. “We still have to entertain the guys that are going to come unofficially to Penn State, underclassmen and others, and then you’ve got your biggest probably official visit weekend of the year. It’s going to be challenging. It is what it is and we’re going to have to adapt and we’re going to have to find a way to overcome it. It does create a really good opportunity for us and that’s why we want to sell the spring game out.”
Look for plenty of #107kStrong tweets from Franklin this week as Penn State has to keep the atmosphere in mind for the impressionable high school prospects.
Antonio Shelton’s progress along the D-line
It’s a mystery as to who the top backups are behind defensive tackles Rob Windsor and Kevin Givens. Franklin said last week they’ve seen flashes from those behind the projected starters, but it’s still a young group. He added that the Nittany Lions better have at least a 2-deep and realistically a 3-deep along the interior that they feel comfortable with.
Penn State will need to rely on redshirt freshmen such as Fred Hansard, Corey Bolds and Damion Barber for depth while Antonio Shelton, a redshirt sophomore, is someone who also should be in line for an increased role. Shelton appeared in six games last year, and the way Sean Spencer likes to rotate his linemen, they’ll need Shelton this season.
Who flashes on Saturday?
A great spring game for a player typically doesn’t mean much, if anything, come fall. But, where it does have an impact is with younger players who are slotted to be in backup roles, since it’s in many cases the first true, extended look everyone gets at them.
Quarterback Sean Clifford should have every opportunity to impress on Saturday regardless of who is in front of him and who he’s throwing to. He’s gotten extra reps this spring because of Tommy Stevens’ injury, which will be beneficial to him and to the team ahead of fall camp.
How long the starters go on Saturday is anyone’s guess, but one thing of value during the spring game is who takes home some of the team’s awards for their improvements this spring. That’s always telling. Based off everything that’s been said so far this spring, it would seem like spring ball darling KJ Hamler could put together an impressive showing.
Can Penn State avoid injury?
Making it through the spring as healthy as possible is the No. 1 goal. The improvements made and the depth that’s being built could all be wiped away with an injury or two. A successful spring in many ways is simply a healthy spring.
Penn State wasn’t able to dodge that last April when cornerback John Reid was lost for the season with a knee injury, but we’ll see if the Nittany Lions walk out of Beaver Stadium on Saturday evening as healthy as possible headed into the summer.