Both national signing days have passed, and all eyes are now turned towards spring practice. Fans and players alike are already beginning to imagine what will hopefully be a warm day at Beaver Stadium when the Nittany Lions take the field for their annual Blue-White game.
Prior to the Blue-White game, Penn State will hold its annual collection of spring practices. Those practices are a great opportunity for players and coaches alike to battle for playing time and get a grasp of how the depth chart will look when summer ball begins.
A lot of questions remain about who the starters will be when Penn State opens their season on August 31st, and how the rest of the team’s depth will fill out. Between spring and summer practices, many of those questions will begin to be answered.
With all of that being said, let’s take a look at what fans should be paying attention to as spring practices get underway next month.
How will the quarterback depth chart fill out?
Trace McSorley may be gone, but Penn State still has plenty of options at the quarterback position. Tommy Stevens will head into camp as the starter, but Sean Clifford will be right on his tail throughout.
Stevens obviously has the edge, given he stayed and waited his turn behind McSorley, but an impressive camp from Clifford could give coaches something to think about. Behind those two, Penn State will have a lot of decisions to make for how the depth chart plays out.
Will Levis, a redshirt freshman, will likely get a crack at the third-string spot and a strong camp could put him in the running to start in 2020. A talented quarterback, Levis has a lot of work to do and if he finds himself buried deep on the depth chart, then he could be a candidate to transfer down the road.
After those three, early enrollee freshman Michael Johnson Jr. and Taquan Roberson will compete for opportunities. The best guess is that those two will likely redshirt the 2019 season and compete for the starting job heading into 2020.
How will carries be split amongst running backs?
Just like at quarterback, the running back position is losing their lead guy. Miles Sanders opted to leave school early and declare for the NFL draft. But, Penn State should not be at a loss for options at running back and will have a tough time deciding how carries will be split.
Ricky Slade will likely enter camp as the lead back, but the four guys behind him will be in the mix for significant playing time as well. Journey Brown played sparingly last year, but he possesses sub 4.4 speed, so the redshirt sophomore should be up there as well.
CJ Holmes sat out last season after transferring from Notre Dame and will be joining Penn State’s running back rotation this season. Having Holmes, Brown, and Slade up there will make it very difficult for the coaching staff to divide carries.
Behind those three are true freshman Devyn Ford and Noah Cain. Cain enrolled early so he will be on the field this spring, while Ford will not be on campus until this summer. That alone should give Cain the leg up in getting carries over Ford.
Could Penn State redshirt one of the two? That will be something worth paying attention to this season. Especially if Slade plays up to or exceeds expectations, then who will get the carries to supplement him. Brown? Holmes? Slade? Cain? Odds are one of the true freshmen will likely be left out of the mix.
How will the wide receivers shape out?
KJ Hamler will go into the spring as the number one wide receiver. After him, there are a lot of options to fill out number two, three and so on. Penn State’s two other starting receivers from the beginning of last season, DeAndre Thompkins and Juwan Johnson, are no longer a part of the program.
So, who will get the reps at the outside spots and in the slot? One of the favorites has to be Jahan Dotson. Dotson was a true freshman in 2018 and looked very impressive when he was in. Justin Shorter will also be given the opportunity to compete for a starting job.
Shorter redshirted last season, and now healthy will look to make an immediate impact in 2019. He has a lot to prove this spring and a good camp should put him up in the mix for a starting role this upcoming season.
Beyond those three, Mac Hippenhammer, Daniel George, Cam Sullivan-Brown and Florida State transfer George Campbell will compete to fill out the rest of the depth chart. A good spring from any of those could put them in the running for a starting job heading into the season.
How much of an impact will Brandon Smith have?
Five-star linebacker Brandon Smith will look to carve at a role immediately at Penn State. Smith and Micah Parsons have the potential to be a lethal combo at linebacker. But how much of an impact will Smith have right away?
A trajectory to compare Smith to is that of Parsons. Parsons was not a starter early on last season but eventually worked his way into a significant role on Penn State’s defense. It will all come down to how much trust the coaches have in Smith.
At the end of the day, talent will prevail, and Smith will eventually work his way into a starting role for Penn State. When will that be? That will all come down to Smith and the coaching staff.
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