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Spring Football: Post-Practice Press Conference (4/13/16)

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin updated the media following Penn State's 13th spring practice on Wednesday evening. A spring marked by good progress on both sides, the Nittany Lions will return to Beaver Stadium on Saturday to wrap up spring drills.

Hear from Coach Franklin and quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens following Wednesday's practice.





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Spring Football: McSorley, Stevens Growing Inside New Offense

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11863056.jpegSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The reps have been invaluable. The progress has been significant. And the process has been a pleasure.

That's how quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens would best sum up the last four weeks of spring practice at the helm of the Nittany Lion offense.

Splitting reps throughout spring drills, McSorley and Stevens are just grazing the surface in their time commanding the new offense, but both are very optimistic with how things have gone and where the offensive unit can go from here.

"It's been a very good spring," said McSorley. "I think the offense has done a really good job picking things up. I think we are ahead of where we thought we would have been through (12) practices. We have been able to move the ball against our defense, which has been among the best in the nation during the past couple years. It's going to be exciting in the fall."

The offense began laying the groundwork of installing a new scheme immediately after the TaxSlayer Bowl. It was new for everyone in the offensive meeting room, which benefitted the young duo of returning quarterbacks. The entire group spent the spring learning together as one collective unit, and the on-field results have improved with each passing practice.

"Things have really become more efficient for the offense since the start of spring practice," said Stevens. "The pace at which we are getting in and out of plays has been very effective and at a high standard has been a big area of improvement."

Tempo has been the theme of the spring for the offensive players. McSorley, a redshirt sophomore, and Stevens, a redshirt freshman, are the men who set the pace at which the offense operates. When a play is over, the unit gets to the line of scrimmage as quickly as possible before looking to the sideline for the next signal. There is no huddle for the quarterbacks to lead, and it's something both returning quarterbacks can't help but smile about.

"The no-huddle is awesome," Stevens said. "It puts the power in our hands."

"It falls on each guy to get where they need to be at a fast tempo and then look for the signal," said McSorley. "In a way, it almost takes a little bit off of the quarterback because each guy gets where they need to be and then looks at the signal to get ready for the snap. The tempo really gives you some momentum."

The swift pace at which the offense is operating lets the Lions dictate things when they have the ball. Penn State can be the aggressor, put a defense on its heels and make the opponent play faster than it may want to. McSorley and Stevens said that conditioning was a factor in the first three or four practices this spring, but the unit has taken a big step forward with the effectiveness of the tempo.

Additionally, the offense puts a premium on getting the skill players in space. The quarterbacks have plenty of options to find talent across the offense, and they are enjoying how many chances it gives the Lion athletes to make plays in the open field.

"I really like how the offense lets our athletes get in space and go one-on-one with a defender," said McSorley. "We have a lot of really good athletes on the outside and in the backfield, so letting those guys get out in space and make someone have to tackle, like Saquon (Barkley) one-on-one, more times than not a guy like him is going to make people miss."

McSorley and Stevens both lit up when asked about the weapons Penn State's offense will have at wide receiver in 2016. The wide receiver group is an impressive unit to watch on the practice field. It's a diverse group with size, speed, experience and some youth.

"I really like the variety of the group. We don't have one guy who you can lock in on," said McSorley. "Saeed (Blacknall) is really good down the field. Chris (Godwin) can do so many different things. DaeSean (Hamilton) is so precise with his routes and diagnosing the defense. Then you have the speed of (Brandon) Polk and DeAndre (Thompkins). We have Juwan (Johnson) and Irvin (Charles) coming in and making plays. We have so much size and speed that I think it's going to create problems for defenses."

McSorley spent 2015 as the primary backup behind Christian Hackenberg. He played in seven contests, including significant reps at the TaxSlayer Bowl. Stevens played a paramount role on the scout team during his redshirt season last fall. The move into the primary rotation on the offense has been an adjustment for the Indianapolis native, but it's one that he has relished.

"Getting the experience on the scout team was really important, but the number of meaningful reps I've had this spring has been great. Being able to compete and make the team better has been a lot of fun this spring," said Stevens.

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Joe Moorhead sets the tone for the unit every day. The Lions faced a steep learning curve this spring, but Coach Moorhead has put the group in a great spot to be successful on the field.

"Coach Moorhead brings a ton of energy and juice to practices and the meeting room," said Stevens. "He pushes us to get better every single day. He's always expecting a championship standard, and it's really challenging us to be at our best."

The Lions will have a couple more opportunities to grow before showcasing the new offense in front of the fans on Saturday in Beaver Stadium.

"I look for the group to continue to get better each day," McSorley said. "We need to clean some things up that we aren't 100 percent certain on and just continue to grow. As an offense, we have a good grasp on the base playbook. At the spring game, we hope to give people a little taste of what is to come next year."

The quarterbacks are pleased with the progress, but the unit knows this is just the beginning of the process leading up to 2016. The first chapter will draw to a close on Saturday when spring drills commence.

"Ultimately, we are prepared and want to be confident in what we are doing. We are excited to finally get out there and compete in front of the fans on Saturday," said Stevens.



Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Spring Football Position Breakdown - Cornerbacks

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Spring Practice Central


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions practiced for the 12th during spring drills on Monday afternoon. Throughout spring practice, GoPSUsports.com will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the cornerbacks.



The Cornerbacks

Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost:
9/2

Who's Back:
Kyle Alston (Jr./Jr.), Christian Campbell (Jr./Jr.), Desi Davis (Jr./So.), Grant Haley (Jr./Jr.), Amani Oruwariye (Jr./So.), John Reid (So./So.), Troy Shorts (So./Fr.), Jordan Smith (Sr./Sr.), Garrett Taylor (So./Fr.)

The Breakdown:
11861635.jpegCoach Terry Smith and the Nittany Lion cornerbacks entered the spring with the mindset that they can do their part in helping the team by challenging more balls and forcing more turnovers in the back end of the defense. A group mixed with experience and youthful talent, the Lion corners have put together a very productive spring and will head into the summer with confidence.

The unquestioned leader of the cornerback room is junior Grant Haley. The 5-foot-9, 184-pound Georgia native played the best football of his career in the latter stages of 2015. Now, Haley is eager to lead the unit into 2016. He started in 11 games (missed first two due to injury) in 2015 and appeared in all 13 contests in 2014. Haley finished with 42 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, tied for the team-high in interceptions (2) and led the team with nine passes defended last fall. The junior has taken another step forward and will be among the top returnees on the defense.

Like Haley, John Reid played the best football of his season in the final few weeks of 2015. One of just four true freshmen to start a game, Reid appeared in all 13 contests during his first season on campus and started two games at corner. Named to ESPN.com's Big Ten All-Freshman team, Reid made 29 tackles and tied Haley for the team lead in interceptions with two. A student of the game, Reid made good strides in his first winter conditioning period and will play a key role on the defense and challenge for the starting spot alongside Haley.

Jordan Smith is one of just six seniors on the defensive side of the ball. The Washington, D.C., product is primed to play a role in the Nittany Lion secondary when the season kicks off in September. With 27 game appearances under his belt, Smith has made good progress this spring.

Junior Christian Campbell, sophomore Amani Oruwariye and redshirt freshman Garrett Taylor will all be among the group competing for a much bigger role on the defensive backfield in 2016. Campbell has played in 18 games during the last two seasons (missed five due to injury last fall). He made 16 tackles and broke up two passes in 2015. The Alabama native will be among the Lions competing for a starting assignment.

Oruwariye played in all 13 games last fall and was one of 17 redshirt freshman to see action in 2015. The Tampa, Fla., native made five tackles and defended a pass last season. Taylor made good progress on the scout team defense and is eager for an increased role when camp commences in August.

Sophomore Nick Scott, who transitioned into the secondary following the TaxSlayer Bowl will give the Lions another player with game experience in the defensive backfield. Scott has made a smooth transition into a new role for the Nittany Lions this spring.

Junior Kyle Alston, sophomore Desi Davis and redshirt freshman Troy Shorts will provide the cornerback group with increased depth for the 2016 season.

Collectively, the Lion cornerbacks are a talented group looking to have a bigger impact at the line of scrimmage in press coverage and get their hands on more balls. Coach Smith enjoys the group's attention to detail, and the corners are poised to be one of the team's strengths in 2016.


Quoting Coach Smith:
"The corners have a business-like approach to everything. These guys understand where our deficiencies were in the fall and where we need to improve this spring to be a better football team on the back end of the defense. These guys are studying a lot more film. They are working on technique more. Grant Haley is the leader of the room. He is a junior, and he is the elder spokesman of the group. He's the guy that holds it all together. The young guys look to him."

Spring Football - Scott Relishing Opportunity at New Home

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Like the thousands of Penn State fans across the country, Nick Scott marveled at the dazzling performances Saquon Barkley manufactured as a true freshman.


Working out alongside Barkley in the backfield, Scott debuted as a redshirt freshman in 2015, impacting the team on offense and serving as an ace on special teams.

One of 17 redshirt freshmen to see playing time last fall, Scott appeared in all 13 games and tallied 133 rushing yards on 30 carries and scored one touchdown. The Fairfax, Va., native also had four receptions for 43 yards. He averaged 23.8 yards on 13 kickoff returns and made eight tackles on the team's coverage units.

For his prowess, Scott was named the recipient of the John Bruno Memorial Award, which is handed out to the team's most outstanding special teams player.

Clearly, Scott illustrated his athletic ability on the field when given the opportunity to play. Head coach James Franklin frequently talked about how Scott's attitude on special teams set the tone for the Nittany Lions.

Like any student-athlete, though, Scott wanted to impact the team in the best way possible. Scott was recruited as a running back out of Fairfax High School and rushed for 1,582 yards en route to all-state honors as a senior. He served as a key member of the offensive scout team in 2014 before taking the game field for the first time last fall.

That said, it could not have been easy for Scott to initiate a conversation with Coach Franklin after the TaxSlayer Bowl about switching positions. It was something that Scott and some of the coaches had talked about briefly during his first two seasons on campus, but the redshirt sophomore was serious about a change to the defensive backfield leading up to 2016.

"Watching Saquon Barkley and seeing just how special of a player he was, and knowing that I am a competitor and do what is best for the team, I wanted to go to Coach Franklin to help any way I could," Scott said.

Immediately after the decision finalized, Scott knew he had plenty of work to do. He called several of his teammates from the secondary.

"I said, 'Listen, I've got to make up some ground,'" said Scott. "I hadn't played defense since high school. And even then, I was more of an offensive guy. But I knew that I could play."

Junior safety Marcus Allen was among the first teammates Scott talked to on the phone.

"The first day I let Marcus (Allen) know, I think it was the day after I made the switch, he took me under his wing," said Scott. "He said, 'Ok, you switched. We are going to Holuba tomorrow. Bring your cleats.'"

Scott worked out with Allen and redshirt freshman Jarvis Miller on day one to learn some of the basics and acquire background information on the defensive scheme. Scott said Allen's leadership was a big boost to helping him get started with the transition.

"I always felt that I was athletic enough to play defense, but the thing I really wanted to emphasize during winter conditioning was my footwork," said Scott. "That's something that feels completely different when you move to defense. You have to make a lot of cuts and get your hips in the right spot. I understood that I had some work to do."

Knowing it would be a big adjustment, Scott approached the change like he does everything - with a positive attitude. You won't find a guy who has a smile on his face more than Scott. He has an infectious personality, and he loves being around his teammates and truly enjoys every facet of being a student-athlete.

"I love playing defense," said Scott. "I'm a guy who has never been shy on special teams, and I love being on the defense. The coaches were great during the process because they just told me to fly around and have fun. Once you understand the scheme, you can go out and play and have fun. Their advice was to work hard and do my best to perfect the tasks I'm given."

When it came time to head onto the field for the first time on March 18 to begin spring practice, Scott donned a dark blue jersey with his fellow defenders for the first time in his career. It was a different feel for a guy who had been accustomed to the offense's white.

"It was a little weird putting that blue jersey on during the first day of spring practice," said Scott. "I think I almost ran with the offense (laughter)."

With each passing day, the Virginia product looks more and more like a guy who is a natural in the secondary. And Scott knows things will continue to grow from here.

"I think I'm definitely getting more comfortable every single day as I learn more about the system and understanding what my role is on the defense," said Scott. "I'm having a lot of fun. I think the last (week) of practices have been the most fun I've had because I'm getting comfortable. I was able to play at a good speed."

The evolution in the defensive backfield will continue long after the Blue-White Game on April 16, but Scott is committed to the process.

"I just want to show my teammates and the coaches that no matter where I'm at, I'm going to play hard and give 100 percent. Obviously, I want to have a lot of fun and just compete," said Scott.

To best serve the team, Scott gave up an opportunity to be a running back at Penn State. But if he had the chance to make the decision again, he wouldn't hesitate to do what's best for the team.

"I think the guys on the team would agree with me when I say that I always want to put the team first," said Scott. "I'm at the place I want to be - Penn State. So to me, it didn't matter what I was doing as long as I'm part of the program I love."


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Spring Football: Offensive Line Growing in New Scheme

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11849801.jpegSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - You won't find a group more motivated to be successful than the Nittany Lion offensive line.


The past is ancient history, and the unit is looking ahead with great confidence following a strong start to 2016 that began in the weight room over the winter.

"The winter conditioning period was very productive for our group," senior Brian Gaia said. "Each guy had a specific goal, whether it was getting bigger, maintaining weight or getting more flexible. And I think we all grew significantly both physically and mentally."

It has been a period of change for the men in the trenches. In addition to learning a new offensive scheme, the Lions are working through their first spring practice period under the direction of coach Matt Limegrover. The first taste of things this spring has left the unit wanting more.

"Across the board, this offense just fits our offensive line very well, and I've seen a lot of guys take a big step forward this spring," said junior Andrew Nelson. "I love this offense in general. I think you can talk to anyone and they will tell you that they are enjoying it. We've had good success this spring."

It has been a period marked by installation on the field. The Nittany Lions have taken the new scheme in stride, and it has resulted in a high number of explosive plays this spring. Sure, there is an adjustment to learning new terminology, but the Lions have been locked in on the task at hand.

"There are a lot of new wrinkles going in, so obviously there is going to be an adjustment," said Nelson. "But offensively, I think guys are doing a really good job being focused and locked in with all of the new stuff going in."

Gaia and Nelson are two of the offensive line's biggest leaders. Gaia has more game experience than anyone on the roster (37 appearances), and Nelson has evolved into a consistent voice for the unit.

Gaia is in the process of adapting to a new home on the line. The Pasadena, Md., product started his career as a defensive tackle. He moved to guard before the 2014 season, and now he is meshing with the rest of the unit at the center position. Being the voice during pre-snap situations, Gaia knows the importance of leadership for the unit.

"At my position now, I feel that way," said Gaia. "I dictate when we get set and when the play starts. Being a senior and in the spot that I'm playing, I feel like leadership is something that is on my shoulders."

The most striking difference for the offense this spring is the tempo at which the group practices. The Lions are moving to the line at a swift pace and without going into a huddle. The speed lets the offensive players set the tone.

"I think the tempo of how the offense is operating really helps us," said Gaia. "We will be used to working at that pace, and the defense will face a challenge. We can dictate how quickly things move."

The players love operating at a faster pace. It can put a defense on its heels, and the strength and conditioning gains from the winter period are paying huge dividends for the line already this spring. With five practices left in spring drills, intensity is high as the unit continues to learn the intricacies of a new offense and grow as a collective group.

"The competition between the group makes everyone better," said Gaia. "We've had a number of different combinations on the offensive line, so all of us have played together at some point. That helps with the chemistry building."

With the groundwork being laid for 2016, confidence is a huge factor in the offensive line's evolution. There are four starters from the TaxSlayer Bowl back and a host of groomed, young talent ready to take the next step into the rotation. Optimism is very high for a group that is ready to take a step forward.

"The offense has come out this spring with a different mindset," said Nelson. "We have an extremely positive attitude of what we can accomplish, and I think that starts with Coach (Joe) Moorhead."



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Spring Football Position Breakdown - Offensive Line

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Spring Practice Central


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions practiced for the 10th during spring drills on Wednesday afternoon. Throughout spring practice, GoPSUsports.com will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the offensive line.



The Offensive Line

Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost:
20/4

Who's Back:
Ryan Bates (So./Fr.), Noah Beh (Jr./So.), Brendan Brosnan (Jr./So.), Adam De Boef (Jr./So.), Tom Devenney (Sr./Jr.), Derek Dowrey (Gr./Sr.), Brian Gaia (Gr./Sr.), Evan Galimberti (Sr./Jr.), Alex Gellerstedt (Fr./Fr.), Steven Gonzalez (So./Fr.), Sterling Jenkins (So./Fr.), Wendy Laurent (Gr./Sr.), Brendan Mahon (Sr./Jr.), Connor McGovern (Fr./Fr.), Andrew Nelson (Sr./Jr.), Paris Palmer (Sr./Jr.), Zach Simpson (So./Fr.), Chance Sorrell (Jr./So.), Charlie Shuman (Jr./So.), Chasz Wright (Jr./So.)

The Breakdown:
11846704.jpegOne group that entered spring practice eager grow is the Nittany Lion offensive line. The Nittany Lions return four starters from the TaxSlayer Bowl and are now under the direction of coach Matt Limegrover. Experience is a big piece to an offensive line's success, and the Lions are much more seasoned up front than they were at this point last season.

Headlining the list of returnees is the most experienced player on the field for the Nittany Lions. Graduate senior Brian Gaia has appeared in 37 career games for the Blue and White, including 25 starts during the past two seasons. The Maryland native started his Nittany Lion career on the defensive line before shifting to guard prior to 2014. He was the only offensive lineman to start every game in 2015, and now Gaia is the leader of the unit after shifting to center during the offseason.

Redshirt junior Andrew Nelson is another guy who has been an anchor for the offensive line during the past two seasons. The Hershey product started eight games last fall (missed four due to injury) and all 13 games of his redshirt freshman campaign in 2014. Nelson had a superb offseason and is a consistent performer at tackle. An All-Freshman Team selection two seasons ago, Nelson has started games at both tackle positions and will again be a staple in the starting lineup when the season begins in August.

Fellow redshirt junior Brendan Mahon is another Nittany Lion with significant game experience on the o-line heading into 2016. The Randolph, N.J., native has started 20 times and appeared in 25 contests during the past two seasons. Mahon has spent the vast majority of his time on the game field at the left guard position.

Senior Derek Dowrey is alongside Gaia as one of the most experience players on the roster. Dowrey has played in 33 career games, including six starts. The Virginia product moved from defensive line to the offensive trenches before spring practice began in 2014. After graduating with a degree in journalism in December, Dowrey is again positioned to be a contributor on the line in 2016.

The fourth returning starter from the bowl game back for 2016 is one of the team's most improved players from the end of the season. Paris Palmer transformed his body during winter conditioning and added significant size to his frame and increased his overall core strength. After transferring from Lackawanna College, the 6-foot-7, 302-pound tackle appeared in 13 games and started 11 contests last season.

Senior Wendy Laurent is another very experienced piece on the offensive line for the Lions. The Hamilton, N.J., native has played in 22 games and started eight games. Laurent has experience at all three interior positions along the offensive line.

In addition to the corps of players with significant game experience, the unit has a host of talent looking to break into the rotation once camp commences in August. The battles for playing time along the offensive line will be very competitive. The list of names at the interior positions includes the likes of Ryan Bates, Steven Gonzalez, Chasz Wright, Adam De Boef, Tom Devenney, Evan Galimberti and Zach Simpson. At the tackle positions, keep an eye on Noah Beh, Brendan Brosnan, Sterling Jenkins, Chance Sorrell and Charlie Shuman as they compete for playing time.

Additionally, the offensive line includes two early enrollees who are on campus going through the paces of their first spring practice period. Connor McGovern and Alex Gellerstedt joined the roster in January after decorated scholastic careers.

With more depth and experience, coinciding with a new offensive scheme, the Nittany Lions and Coach Limegrover know that the group can take a significant step forward in 2016. The Lions have approached spring ball with a great attitude and will carry some confidence into the final weeks of spring practice and into the start of fall camp.


Quoting Coach Limegrover:
"One thing that has really impressed me since I've been here is that there is a real hunger amongst my group. There is a nice mix of younger guys and older guys, but they share the same passion for improving. It showed during our offseason workouts, and it's transferring onto the field here this spring. When you have a group of guys who are willing to work and put it all on the line, they are pretty easy to coach. With being a new offense and a lot of new installation, my hope is that come April 16 my guys have a good idea of fundamentally what we are trying to accomplish as an offense and a foundation of what needs to continue to be built upon when we get back together in August."

Spring Football: Post-Practice Press Conference (4/6/16)

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin updated the media following Penn State's 10th of 15 spring practices on Wednesday evening. A spring marked by good progress on both sides, the Nittany Lions will return to the field on Saturday to close out the week.

Hear from head coach James Franklin, running back Saquon Barkley and safety Marcus Allen following Wednesday's practice.







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Spring Football Position Breakdown - Running Backs

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Spring Practice Central


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions practiced for the ninth time of the spring season on Monday. Throughout spring practice, GoPSUsports.com will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the running backs.



The Running Backs

Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost:
5/3

Who's Back:
Mark Allen (Jr./So.), Saquon Barkley (So./So.), Irvine Paye (Sr./Jr.), Andre Robinson (So./Fr.), Johnathan Thomas (Jr./So.)

The Breakdown:
11842871.jpegOn the heels of an electrifying freshman season, Saquon Barkley headlines a corps of young Penn State running backs for 2016. Coach Charles Huff's unit is marked by its youthful talent and has made a significant impact on the Nittany Lion offense this spring. The group is primed to be at the forefront of the attack when the season begins in September.

Barkley raised eyebrows of onlookers nearly every time he touched the ball during a stellar freshman campaign. The Coplay, Pa., product set Penn State's freshman season record with 1,076 rushing yards. Named a Freshman All-American, Barkley appeared in 11 games (missed two due to injury) and reached 100 yards five times. Barkley had 34 rushes of 10 or more yards and a Big Ten-high 16 carries of 20-plus yards.

The All-Big Ten honoree tallied 310 yards in back-to-back games against Buffalo and Rutgers, which marked the highest total by a true freshman in more than 30 seasons. Barkley became the first to rush for 100 yards in a quarter during two-straight games since Larry Johnson accomplished the feat in 2002. A powerful back with outstanding footwork, Barkley dazzled during winter conditioning where he topped the team in 40-yard dash timing (4.38), agility (4.00) and power clean max (390). Barkley was also one of just three Nittany Lions to squat 600 pounds.

One of 17 redshirt freshmen to see the field in 2015, Mark Allen emerged as an impact player for the Nittany Lions. Allen appeared in eight games and started one on offense and on special teams. He rushed for 110 yards, tallied 44 yards receiving and scored two touchdowns. Allen's strength is his quickness and play-making ability in the open field. The Maryland product set the second fastest time in the agility test this winter, and he is primed for a significant role on offense with continued progress.

After a very productive season on the scout team offense, redshirt freshman Andre Robinson is poised to join the running back rotation in 2016. The 5-9, 213-pound back provides the Nittany Lions with another weapon capable of big plays in the backfield.

Redshirt sophomore Johnathan Thomas appeared in three games as a redshirt freshman last fall. Like Robinson, Thomas will be another player capable of providing the Nittany Lion backfield with the tools to be an impact player. Thomas finished with 11 carries for 42 yards in 2015.

Redshirt junior Irvine Paye joined the team as a walk-on during spring practice.

Expectations amongst the running backs is very high. The unit holds itself to a very high standard. Despite being a very young corps of players, leadership comes from Mark Allen and Saquon Barkley. With a new-look offense and a year of game experience under its belt, look for the veterans in the running back room to take another significant step forward in 2016.


Quoting Coach Huff:
"I'm really excited about the expectation the group brings to the room every day. I'm very excited about our young guys, like Andre Robinson who is finally getting his chance after redshirting last year. The competition is fierce, but also friendly. Each one of them believes that they are capable of being the starting running back. But all of them understand that as a group, we all need to be the most productive and hard-working group. Mark Allen is kind of the leader by age. But Saquon (Barkley) and Andre do a good job of pushing him with the expectations of our program. They all kind of raise the bar together. Saquon knows he has a lot of expectations on him, but he's handled it really well. I'm really excited about where they have come from on the first day of winter to where they are now. I'm looking forward to a good year from all of them."

Spring Football Position Breakdown - Linebackers

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Spring Practice Central


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions practiced for the eighth time of the spring season on Saturday morning. Throughout spring practice, GoPSUsports.com will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the linebackers.



The Linebackers

Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost:
10/6

Who's Back:
Brandon Bell (Sr./Sr.), Manny Bowen (So./So.), Jason Cabinda (Jr./Jr.), Jake Cooper (So./So.), Frank Di Leo (So./Fr.), Jan Johnson (So./Fr.), Brandon Smith (Sr./Jr.), Jason Vranic (Jr./Jr.), Von Walker (Sr./Sr.), Nyeem Wartman-White (Gr./Sr.)

The Breakdown:
11842445.jpegWhen it comes to game experience, the top three linebackers on the Penn State defense make up one of the most veteran groups on the depth chart. Defensive coordinator and unit coach Brent Pry will again lead a group led by two seniors and a host young talent ready to take the next step in 2016.

The senior duo of Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman-White have a combined seven years of experience in the Penn State program and return as two the team's leaders heading into the fall. Bell played the best football of his Nittany Lion career in 2015, finishing with a career-high 65 tackles and ranked third on the team with 12.5 tackles for loss.

The New Jersey native started in 11 games (missed two due to injury) and finished No. 6 in the Big Ten with three forced fumbles. Bell is an athletic linebacker who makes a big impact in the open field. On the heels of a standout junior campaign, Bell is primed for a strong season when things kickoff in September.

Returning to the field after suffering a season-ending injury in the second quarter of the 2015 opener will be Wartman-White. A staple in the starting lineup prior to his injury at Temple, the Philadelphia native is eager to get back on the field as a leader of the defense.

Wartman-White made 75 stops as a junior in 2014 and has appeared in 27 career games at linebacker for the Nittany Lions. A tenacious competitor, the graduate heads into 2016 looking to pick up right where he left off at the end of training camp in 2015.

With Wartman-White out mid-way through the second quarter at Temple, Jason Cabinda was thrust into the spotlight. The junior became the voice of the defense as a young, inexperienced sophomore, but Cabinda took the opportunity in stride. He evolved into a tremendous vocal leader for the Lion defense and led the team with 100 tackles.

Cabinda took a significant step forward in the offseason and is eager to continue evolving as on of the top defensive players on the roster. The New Jersey native tallied three 10-plus tackle efforts in 2015 during starts in every game. The honorable mention All-Big Ten representative also played in nine games as a true freshman.

Senior Von Walker will provide added depth and leadership to the Nittany Lion defense. A special teams ace, Walker has 35 games of experience under his belt and will provide a veteran voice in the defensive huddle. He tied for fifth on the team in special teams tackles and will play a big role in keeping the linebacker unit fresh in 2016.

Limited spring practice reps for Bell and Wartman-White opened the door for a pair of sophomores to acquire a great deal of first-team reps this spring. Jake Cooper and Manny Bowen each played as true freshmen in 2015. Now, the duo is positioned to take another step forward. Cooper appeared in 12 games and started for the first time at the TaxSlayer Bowl. One of four true freshmen to start a game, Cooper made 14 tackles and had 2.5 tackles for loss.

Bowen appeared in all 13 games as a true freshman. The New Jersey native led the team in special teams tackles with 13. An athletic linebacker with good instincts in space, Bowen, like Cooper, will play a significant role on the Nittany Lion defense for many years to come.

Junior Brandon Smith and redshirt freshman Jan Johnson return to the group, while junior college transfer Jason Vranic and walk-on Frank Di Leo join the group this spring and will add depth to the corps.

Experience will headline the Nittany Lion linebackers in 2016, but Coach Pry wants to create a deep unit. Expectations are always high at the linebacker position, and the Lions are eager to have three very experienced players at the forefront of the group in the fall.


Quoting Coach Pry:
"When you look at the three guys who are returning starters, you have a ton of experience. I think you'd be hard pressed to look around the country and find guys with the experience Nyeem (Wartman-White), Jason (Cabinda) and Brandon (Bell) have. We expect great leadership from them. And the expectations are high for those guys. Those three guys and the leadership they bring sets the tone for our group."

Spring Football: Defensive Line Embracing Opportunity to Grow

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Eager.

That is the word Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer used to describe his group of players as the Nittany Lions work towards the 2016 season.

It will be a new-look group of "Wild Dogs", as Spencer affectionately calls his position group, when the season commences on Sept. 3. With change comes great opportunity for a young, talented corps of players making up the rotation of the Nittany Lion defensive line.

Gone are three of the defense's most productive players from 2015. All-American Carl Nassib, the nation's leader for tackles by a defensive tackle in Austin Johnson and two-time All-Big Ten honoree Anthony Zettel will be playing in the NFL come September.

The trio accounted for nearly half of the team's tackles for loss (45.5 of 106.0) and more than half of the sack total (26.0 of 46.0) last fall. Additionally, the group commanded the position room and set the tone for how the defensive line needed to work each time it stepped onto the field.

The mindset for 2016 has not changed, though, and the group's tenacious attitude has skipped a beat. The unit just has some new faces leading the tightly-knit pack.

"The atmosphere in the room is different because we don't have those three guys anymore," said junior Garrett Sickels. "They set the standard. Now, it's on me, Evan (Schwan), Curtis (Cothran), Parker (Cothren) and Antoine (White) to really set the standard. I think the camaraderie we have as a unit is something that stands out. The older guys are very close. And we've really taken the young guys and brought them along. We are a really close unit."

The rapport each member of the group has with one another is something that stands out when you see it go to work on the practice field. The defensive linemen genuinely enjoy going to battle alongside one another each time they step up to the line.

"There isn't really one person in the group who has had a lot more playing time than another," said redshirt sophomore Antoine White. "We are all similar age. We are all on the same page. We know what the standards are. We know what Coach Spencer expects from us. And I think our communication has been great this spring. The chemistry stands out."

That type of chemistry often lends itself to production on the field. While the group of defensive linemen for 2016 may be relatively new in the eyes of the fans, it is an experienced unit that is anticipating an expanded role.

"It's funny because a lot of people were saying the same thing about the defensive line a couple years ago," said Sickels. "It's the same thing this year. We have guys who have played a lot, but in a little different role. We have Torrence (Brown). We have Curtis (Cothran). We have Antoine (White). Now, these guys are in a bigger role and really contribute. Now, it comes down to developing the young guys for depth."

Sickels has the most game experience of the bunch, having played in 25 of the last 26 games and starting 12 contests at end last season. He made 35 tackles, tallied 5.0 tackles for loss and made 3.0 sacks as a true sophomore in 2015. The New Jersey product worked on his first step and got a step quicker during the winter conditioning period.

"I've never been a big vocal guy. I've always been the type of guy who works on all of the little things and tries to lead by example," said Sickels. "I feel like we have a good group of guys who really set the pace for practice and show the others how to perform at practice every day."

Alongside Sickels, Evan Schwan is a face to watch in 2016 as a leader of the unit. The lone senior in the group has appeared in 30 career games, and he is ready to embrace an opportunity to be an impact player. The list goes on with Torrence Brown on the cusp of breaking out after making 5.5 tackles for loss in limited snaps last fall.

The combination of juniors Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran, along with White, will make up the leaders at the tackle positions. White, who lost 13 pounds of fat and gained 12 pounds of muscle over the winter, tried to be a sponge during his time working with Johnson and Zettel, but now, he's ready to take another step forward.

"I think the biggest things I learned from those guys were patience and how to evaluate film," said White. "They spent a lot of time looking at film so that they could let the game come to them and not try to do too much out of their element. They played with such confidence. And that's something they left behind the rest of us in the room."

Cothren is primed to be a focal point at the heart of the defense with his blend of size and speed. His fellow defensive linemen appreciate how much the 6-4, 302-pound tackle can do for the rest of the defense.

"Parker is a guy who doesn't say much, but when he gets on the field, he comes of the ball ready to strike," said Sickels. "He gets a lot of push. He's going to play a big role on this defense and help everyone out around him. He will make our defense a lot stronger."

The defensive line is reaping the benefits of the swift practice pace being set forth by the offense. The unit enjoys the challenge, and it knows the remainder of spring practice is a time to get better.

"The offense is playing at a much different pace, and I think that is challenging the defense and our tempo," said White. "That's really helping us grow as a unit."

The sky is the limit for the Nittany Lion defensive line. The unit has a great deal of growth in front of it, and the Lions are hungry to improve.

"It's definitely a time when you see things a lot differently in an increased role," said White. "It's something a lot of us are really enjoying. I'm learning from the guys around me. The guys around me are learning a lot, as well. I just feel like we are in a great room right now."




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