Penn State Athletics
James Franklin begins his fourth spring practice as Penn State's coach Wednesday.

Penn State questions to ponder on the eve of spring practice, the secret of wrestlers’ success, and more

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This is your Penn State Wake-Up Call for Tuesday, March 21. Let’s get started.

Rites of spring (practice)

Penn State opens spring football practice Wednesday, which brought a spate of previews Monday.

Donnie Collins of the Scranton Times-Tribune offered five questions facing the Nittany Lions. listed four. Campus Insiders conjured up three storylines.

So here we go, in 5 … 4 … 3 …

The biggest overlap in the three stories concerns the offensive line – specifically, who replaces Brian Gaia at center.

The consensus seems to be that Connor McGovern, who started eight games at right guard in 2016, will be the guy. But Michal Menet, who redshirted last season, also was mentioned. So too was Ryan Bates, though he seems more likely to play guard or tackle; he excelled at both last season. New arrival Mike Miranda was included in the discussion, though he seems likely to redshirt.

Then there was talk of how the wide receiver picture might shake out, now that Chris Godwin is gone. Again, there are plenty of candidates. DaeSean Hamilton, Saeed Blacknall and DeAndre Thompkins have played a lot. Juwan Johnson and Irv Charles offer promise. Brandon Polk – who, incidentally, was a high school teammate of quarterback Trace McSorley – returns from injury.

There also were questions about guys rising in the pecking order after redshirting or filling backup roles last year.

Collins settled on defensive end Shane Simmons as the redshirt most likely to make a splash, seeing as PSU has to replace both starters at that position. Pennlive mentioned tight end Jon Holland as a guy who might take the next step. Running back Miles Sanders and offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins also were in the conversation, though there are plenty of good players in front of both on the depth chart.

The final bit of cross-pollination came in the form of this question: How will Penn State handle expectations? It is no secret that this is a program on the rise, and that James Franklin has successfully restocked the roster. So how will the Lions fare, now that they have the proverbial target on their backs?

That can hardly be determined six months before the season, but the Lions emerged as a confident, focused group last year, and now they have a solid resume. They know they can succeed, because they have. The great unknown is health, not to mention a schedule that looks far more difficult than last year’s slate.

But the talent is there. And momentum is building.

Sanderson sets the tone

Jim Carlson of offered a look behind the curtain at the Lions wrestling team and what has powered it to six national championships in the last seven years. His conclusion is that everyone has bought into the hard-driving approach of coach Cael Sanderson.

Zain Retherford won his second straight national championship at 149 pounds Saturday in St. Louis and is riding a 63-match win streak. He told Carlson that everyone relentlessly pursues excellence, every day:

“It’s hard to show up in practice and be a different person than match day. Just being that same person consistently every day, I think that’s what happens.”

Jason Nolf (157), Vincenzo Joseph (165), Mark Hall (174) and Bo Nickal (184) were the Lions’ other individual champions, and they too are eager adherents to Sanderson’s philosophy. As Nickal told Carlson:

“That’s who we are as people.We’re not going to go out there and shy away, try to win a one-point match or anything like that. We’re going to try to compete and wrestle and make the most of our opportunities.”

On the recruiting front …

Justin Fields, a 4-star quarterback from Kennesaw, Ga., looms as one of the jewels of the Lions’ 2018 recruiting class. He told that he is “locked in” and “100 percent committed” to PSU, though he added some caveats:

“You never know what the future holds. I have no plans to change my mind, though.”

Auburn, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee are among the schools that continue to woo the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Fields, who is rated among the best in the nation at his position.

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