UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - More than five practices into its training camp schedule, Penn State Football takes to the field Thursday another day closer to completing its second week back in action.
Ahead of the 2017 season, continue checking in at each position for a closer look at who's back and who's new to the Nittany Lion roster.
- Saeed Blacknall (Sr./Sr.) - Brandon Polk (Jr./So.
- Isaac Lutz (So./Fr.) - Colton Maxwell (So./Fr.)
- Juwan Johnson (Jr./So.) - DaeSean Hamilton (GS/Sr.)
- Josh McPhearson (RS-Sr./Sr.) - Dae'Lun Darien (So./Fr.)
- Tyler Shoop (Jr./So.) - Cody Hodgens (GS/Sr.)
- DeAndre Thompkins (Sr./Jr.) - Irvin Charles (Jr./So.)
- Christopher Welde (Jr./Jr.)
- Mac Hippenhammer, (Fr./Fr., 5-11/175, Fort Wayne, Ind./R. Nelson Snider), Alex Hoenstine, (Fr./Fr., 6-1/175, East Freedom, Pa./Central), KJ Hamler, (Fr./Fr., 5-9/170, Pontiac, Mich./IMG Academy, Fla.), Cam Sullivan-Brown, (Fr./Fr., 6-0/182, Bowie, Md./Saint Vincent Pallotti), Justin Weller, (Fr./Fr., 6-0/187, Sinking Spring, Pa./Wilson).
- Gordon Bentley, Gregg Garrity, Chris Godwin.
What To Watch For:
Penn State enters the 2017 looking to replace 2,000-yard receiver Chris Godwin, who departed for NFL as a third-round draft pick headed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While Godwin's unique skill-set will be missed, the Nittany Lions have plenty of promising options returning. As head coach James Franklin noted in Chicago at Big Ten Media Days, the Nittany Lions won't look to rely on a single individual to replace Godwin's gritty work ethic and game-changing grabs.
Even beyond Penn State's media day last week, there's certainly buzz surrounding returning veteran DaeSean Hamilton, who currently sits tied for fourth on Penn State's all-time receptions list with 161 catches for 1,985 yards. Adding nearly 15 pounds to his frame in the offseason, both teammates and coaches have praised his dedication to preparation.
"I think Hamilton right now is having as good of a camp, with all of those things, that I've seen before," Franklin said. "There are bigger guys, there are stronger guys, there are faster guys, but he is as polished and as productive as a wideout as I've been around in a camp setting. I think he's going to have a huge year for us."
Hamilton highlighted the 2016 season with his fifth career 100-yard game in Penn State's thrilling Big Ten Championship Game win against Wisconsin, totaling 118 yards on eight catches, which ranks second in Big Ten Championship game history.
Outside of Hamilton, Penn State has more experienced returners in Saeed Blacknall and DeAndre Thompkins. While Hamilton was responsible for nine passing plays of 20-yards or more last year, Thompkins and Blacknall were right behind with seven and six, respectively. Blacknall was also spectacular in the Big Ten Championship Game, hauling in a 40-yard touchdown in addition to a career-long 70-yard grab and score in the second half. Thompkins started in seven games last year, registering 440 yards on 27 catches.
Coming off a stellar spring season, Penn State's Juwan Johnson was the talk of spring ball, having played in all 14 games in 2016, mostly on special teams. Following the Blue-White Game, Tommy Stevens only echoed the spring ball message that Johnson was among the top performers.
"It's just another example of a guy that came to work every day prepared, like he was a starter and he's getting his opportunity to shine," Stevens said following Blue-White. "He's showing that he can play at the highest level and he's doing a great job - and lucky for me, he's one of my best friends and he's an even better person than he is a football player so I'm glad to have that guy on my team."
Penn State also has experience in Irvin Charles, played in all 14 games last year on both offense and special teams. Charles, who sent the Beaver Stadium crowd into a frenzy with a game-changing 80-yard touchdown grab from Trace McSorley in his first career reception against Minnesota, owns both Penn State's longest passing play of the season and the longest passing touchdown of the year in 2016.
The Nittany Lions could also see contributions from Brandon Polk, who played in the first three games of the year before an injury cut his season short. As one of four true freshmen to start in 2015, Polk played in 13 games, making three starts. Both Thompkins and Polk bring serious speed to the room, with Thompkins leading the wideouts with a 4.34 time in the 40-yard dash, which is tied for second on the team.Among the newcomers, Penn State added Hamler and Hippenhammer in its 2017 signing class. Hamler was a two-year letterwinner at Orchard Lake St. Mary's in Michigan, also alma mater of Nittany Lion great Allen Robinson, before spending 2016 at IMG Academy in Florida. Hippenhammer helped Snider High School to a league championship and an ISHAA regional title, finishing his high school senior season with 620 receiving yards, 350 rushing yards, 1,720 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns.