Penn State Athletics
Ryan Bates excelled at guard and tackle as a redshirt freshman last season.

Several challenges face James Franklin during spring practice, wrestlers gird for nationals and more

We hope you’ll start your day with us here at as we work to prepare you for everything that you need to know – Monday through Friday – around the world of Penn State sports. Whether it’s football, basketball, wrestling, hockey, baseball or just a wild story we hope you’ll find interesting, we’re here to share it all with you.

This is your Penn State Wake-Up Call for Monday, March 13. Let’s get started.

Springing ahead

Penn State opens spring practice March 22, and Blue-White Game is scheduled exactly one month later.

In between will be 15 practices, during which James Franklin and his staff will begin sorting out a few things.

First, they must figure out the offensive line, which returns six players with starting experience. Specifically, how healthy are tackles Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon? What is the best position for Ryan Bates, who as a redshirt freshman excelled at guard and tackle last season? And who replaces Brian Gaia at center?

Second, who picks up the slack for departed wide receiver Chris Godwin? That likely will be done by committee, since Saeed Blacknall, DaeSean Hamilton and DeAndre Thompkins have played a lot, and others such as Irv Charles, Juwan Johnson and Brandon Polk are chomping at the bit. But Godwin was definitely the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency guy, so it will be interesting to see if anyone emerges in that capacity.

Third, how does PSU improve the pass rush now that defensive ends Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan are gone? The Lions managed 40 sacks last year, but seven came in the opener against Kent State, and they didn’t have any in their losses to Pitt, Michigan and USC. Torrence Brown and Ryan Buchholz, reserves in 2016, are two ends to keep in mind. So too is Shane Simmons, who redshirted.

The overarching goals, Franklin told Mike Poorman of, are consistency, competitiveness – “every play is the Super Bowl” – as well as ball security on offense and ball disruption on defense.

Franklin summed it up this way:

“I’m not a big theme guy. … Some people do that, with a new theme every single year. Our theme is going to be consistent. That means focusing and being present and making each day the best day you can possibly make it. Focus on all the things that are going to impact success.”

Drawing conclusions about the draw examined the prospects for each Penn State competitor in the NCAA Championships, which begin Thursday in St. Louis.

In short, things look promising for defending champion Zain Retherford, the top seed at 149, as well as Jason Nolf, who is No. 1 at 157. Bo Nickal, the second seed at 184, is also a good bet to get to the finals.

Mark Hall (174), Matt McCutcheon (197) and Nick Nevills (285) also appear to be potential point-producers.

And while Flowrestling did not see much promise for the injured Nick Suriano at 125 or Jimmy Gulibon at 141, another national championship is not out of the question for PSU, which has won five of the last six.

Lost weekend for hockey team

PSU’s hockey team dropped a pair of games over the weekend at Michigan, 3-2 on Friday night and 4-0 on Saturday, and enters the Big Ten Tournament as the fourth seed, where it will face … Michigan.

The rematch between the Lions (21-11-2) and the No. 5 Wolverines (13-18-2) takes place Thursday in Detroit, after No. 3 Ohio State (20-10-6) faces No. 6 Michigan State (7-23-4).

The top two seeds, Minnesota (23-10-3) and Wisconsin (19-14-1), have earned quarterfinal byes and will meet Thursday’s winners in the semifinals Friday. The championship game is slated for Saturday.

A third-period goal by the Wolverines’ Brendan Warren snapped a 2-2 tie Friday night, and on Saturday Zach Nagelvoort turned aside 46 PSU shots to record the shutout.

The Lions will learn whether they have earned an NCAA bid next Sunday.

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