STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — While quarterback Tommy Stevens was the highlight of the Wednesday workout and not because of what he did on the field, but rather because of his decision to stay at Penn State, there were plenty of other nuggets not related to the quarterback.
During Penn State’s fifth practice of the spring the media was able to watch the end of the workout, one where Penn State used various combinations of offensive linemen all in an effort to continue developing that depth up front. Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer and wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins met with the media after Stevens.
Here are some of the observations and quick hits following the sessions:
• Des Holmes worked at right tackle for part of the workout — 15 minutes of which was open to the media. The Nittany Lions had Alex Gellerstedt at left tackle at one point and Holmes as right. That’s certainly a potential promising sign for the future of this line, but Penn State always wants position versatility up front and will continue moving the young linemen around as much as they can. Now is certainly the time to do it.
• What’s the benefit of the added reps for quarterback Sean Clifford, who is serving as the No. 2 quarterback for the time being with Stevens sidelined? Clifford continues getting comfortable as he’s backing up Trace McSorley this spring while Stevens is navigating campus on a scooter.
“We’ll have three quarterbacks for the first time since I’ve been here that will be available to play without having to burn redshirts and they’re guys that we think can play, can play and be ready and be prepared at this level,” coach James Franklin said. “That next guy on the list gets a bunch of reps and now you’ve created a lot of depth.”
• Running back Johnathan Thomas reeled off a nice run at the end of the workout. The backfield will still need to be sorted out in the summer, but there shouldn’t be a shortage of contributors, with Franklin again praising senior Mark Allen for his pass protection skills. That’s something that’s come up in the past too as the 5-foot-8 back tries to find a way to contribute however he can.
• The darling of spring ball — or the “buzz” of the spring at least at this point — is wide receiver KJ Hamler. That was Franklin’s pick and Hamler also wowed teammates when he hauled in a deep ball this spring. Thompkins said as soon as the ball was in the air Penn State’s players knew it was a touchdown.
“He’s so quick and so fast,” Franklin said. “Usually you get a guy who is really fast or a guy who is really quick and he’s both. He’s still not even as efficient with his movements as he needs to be, but he’s an exciting prospect.”
Added Thompkins: “The dude is a lightning bolt. I’d love to think I’m the fastest guy on the team, but he might got me.”
Keep in mind this is Hamler’s second spring with Penn State after he early enrolled last winter.
• There’s not much clarity at the middle linebacker spot, as one would expect at this point of spring practice. Franklin said Micah Parsons is “still figuring it out.”
“It’s good to see Ellis [Brooks] out here getting some work as well and then we got all those guys who kind of have been developing and waiting for their time,” Franklin said. “The Jan Johnson’s, [Jake Cooper] Coop’s and guys like that. … There’s more depth than we’ve probably had there in awhile.”
While that middle spot will still be up for grabs, Cam Brown and Farmer are still anticipated to be those other guys flanking whoever is in the middle.
“This is his year,” Franklin said of Farmer. “We really think he has a chance. He’s another guy who was new to the position — he was a high school running back and safety, and we transitioned him to linebacker — so he’s still learning, but growing. Excited about what he’s going to be able to do.”
• Freshman wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer is playing baseball for Penn State as well. That was part of the recruiting pitch and so far it’s been followed through as both sides are working to make it work. Franklin said Hippenhammer’s confidence is built with baseball and that he’s done well academically despite the many demands between the two programs.
• Franklin said it’s a “huge” spring and summer for wide receiver Brandon Polk, someone who he said the Nittany Lions need to step up. Polk will likely be vying for time with Hamler and Polk likely will continue to be an option in the kick return game as well.
• Franklin was at the NIT semifinal win Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden and was encouraging Penn State fans to pack The Garden on Thursday night for the Lions’ title game against Utah. Franklin said he arrived back in State College in the wee hours of Wednesday morning and then had a staff meeting at 7 a.m. He’s hoping to make the game Thursday night.