Penn State Athletics
Christian Campbell is expected to fill in for the injured John Reid at cornerback.

Penn State’s James Franklin lists 5 players who have impressed, offense ahead of last year and more

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This is your Penn State Wake-Up Call for Thursday, April 20. Let’s get started.

James Franklin’s Fab 5

Penn State coach James Franklin spent part of Wednesday’s post-practice media scrum challenging reporters to field kickoffs or punts at some point Saturday, when the Nittany Lions wrap up spring practice with the annual Blue-White Game.

More substantively, Franklin said he has been impressed this spring by backup quarterback Tommy Stevens, cornerback Christian Campbell, tight end Jonathan Holland, linebacker Koa Farmer and running back/returner Josh McPhearson.

Just by sheer coincidence, these are all players who likely will need to step up — either this year or next.

Stevens, as the saying goes, will always be one snap away from replacing starting QB Trace McSorley. Franklin talked up the No. 2 QB earlier this spring and did so again Wednesday, per John McGonigal of the Centre Daily Times:

“I’m very, very pleased with him and the progress he’s made over the years since he got here. He’s playing at a high level, and we have two quarterbacks that we feel really confident in. He’s handled everything extremely well. He’s got the whole team’s respect.”

Campbell is stepping in for the injured John Reid at cornerback, and Farmer is the new strongside linebacker, replacing the departed Brandon Bell. Franklin said the latter has “finally found a home” after playing safety earlier in his career. And, he added, per the Daily Collegian:

“He has been fighting genetics for a long time. He’s finally embraced linebacker.”

Holland is in line to back up Mike Gesicki this year, and possibly succeed him in 2018. And McPhearson potentially can give the kickoff return team a much-needed shot in the arm.

Ahead of schedule

Backup running back Andre Robinson said something Wednesday that McSorley previously mentioned – that the Lions’ offensive players have been able to hit the ground running this spring, their second under coordinator Joe Moorhead.

“Last year, I was kind of like on my toes and nervous, like ‘What am I going to do here? What am I going to do there?’ I think everyone now knows the deal, knows the road, so (Moorhead is) a little bit more relaxed with us.”

PSU didn’t really hit its stride until October last season, and the Lions scored 38 points or more in 8 of their last 9 games. This year the Lions welcome back 9 offensive starters, and McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley have been mentioned as potential Heisman candidates.

As for Robinson, he rushed 29 times for 141 yards in 2016, fifth-most on the team. He is locked in a battle with Mark Allen and Miles Sanders for playing time behind Barkley.

Josh Brandwene retires

Penn State women’s ice hockey coach Josh Brandwene announced his retirement in a statement Wednesday, less than 13 months after the Daily Collegian reported accusations of mistreatment surrounding the program.

Brandwene, who has coached the team since 2011, mentioned nothing about the allegations in his statement, noting instead that his decision was the result of the time demands his career and that of his wife, Leona, put on his family, which also includes a daughter, Sophie.

Brandwene was accused of bullying his players by 3 former team members and 1 anonymous current player in a March 2016 Collegian report. That same report cited 3 sources who said 13 players met with an administrator 2 years earlier to discuss the issues they had with the coach.

Women’s gymnastics coach Jeff Thompson, who also faced accusations of mistreating his players, was fired 2 months ago.

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