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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, will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the offensive line.

The Offensive Line

Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost:

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.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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, will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the running backs.

The Running Backs

Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost:

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, will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the linebackers.

The Linebackers

Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost:

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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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."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Spring Football Position Breakdown - Defensive Line

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions held their seventh practice of the spring season on Wednesday afternoon. Throughout spring practice, will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the defensive line.

The Defensive Line

Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost:

Who's Back:
Torrence Brown (Jr./So.), Ryan Buchholz (So./Fr.), Kam Carter (So./Fr.), Colin Castagna (So./So.), Curtis Cothran (Sr./Jr.), Parker Cothren (Sr./Jr.), Kevin Givens (So./Fr.), Shareef Miller (So./Fr.), Ryan Monk (So./Fr.), Evan Schwan (Sr./Sr.), Garrett Sickels (Sr./Jr.), Antoine White (Jr./So.), Robert Windsor (So./Fr.)

The Breakdown:
11828537.jpegThe Penn State defensive line will have big shoes to fill in 2016. Replacing the production of Austin Johnson, Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel is no small task. The trio of future NFL prospects accounted for 45.5 of Penn State's 106 tackles for loss and 26 of the team's 46 sacks in 2015.

But coach Sean Spencer and a young group of talented Nittany Lions are up for the challenge and are already laying the groundwork for a productive 2016 season along the d-line.

Beginning on the outside, senior Evan Schwan, junior Garrett Sickels and sophomore Torrence Brown return as the most experienced defensive ends. Schwan is the lone senior on the defensive line and will be looked upon as a leader of the group in 2016. The Harrisburg product has appeared in 30 career games. In an increased role, Schwan made 21 tackles last season for the Nittany Lions and is primed for a much bigger impact in 2016.

Sickels played the best football of his Nittany Lion career at the end position opposite Nassib last season. The New Jersey native was quietly one of the more productive players on the Penn State defense last fall. A starter in 12 games, Sickels made 35 tackles, tallied 5.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks, in addition to recovering two fumbles and forcing one fumble. In total, he has appeared in 25 of Penn State's last 26 games and will bring a great deal of leadership and productivity to the defensive line again in 2016.

One of 17 redshirt freshmen to play in 2015, Brown is on the cusp of becoming a breakout player for the Nittany Lions. Brown tallied 11 total tackles, including 5.5 hits for a loss and 1.5 sacks in his first season on the game field for the Lion defense. Hailing from Alabama, Brown's productivity will likely increase as he spends more time on the field for the Lions at defensive end.

A trio of young players will add depth to the defensive end position in 2016. Sophomore Colin Castagna and freshmen Ryan Buchholz and Shareef Miller all made big strides during the winter and are primed to be key figures in the defensive end rotation in the fall.

Shifting to the interior of the defensive line, there is great opportunity for a host of young players to emerge as the primary playmakers at defensive tackle. With Johnson and Zettel graduated and prepping for the NFL Draft, the door is open for leaders to emerge this spring.

Redshirt junior Parker Cothren, redshirt junior Curtis Cothran, who is shifting inside from defensive end and redshirt sophomore Antoine White return as the most experienced players. At 6-4, 302 pounds, Cothren is poised to be at the heart of the Nittany Lion d-line. Appearing in all 26 games during the past two seasons, Cothren has made 24 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss and one sack in his time on the field. The junior is ready to take on a much bigger role for the Lion defense in 2016.

Cothran has found a home at defensive tackle after spending his first two seasons on campus at defensive end. He made a career-high 16 tackles and appeared in all 13 games last season. White played in 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2015, tallying 12 stops, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack in the first action of his career. Both Cothran and White will be counted on for leadership and production when the Lions take the field in September.

One of the bright spots during spring practice thus far has been the emergence of redshirt freshmen Kevin Givens, Ryan Monk and Robert Windsor. All three players made significant gains in the weight room. Keep an eye out for the trio of young talent as the Lions continue to evolve at the interior of the defensive line.

Pound for pound, the defensive line unit is likely the strongest on the team. Castagna led the squad in winter testing on the bench with a max out of 465 pounds. Givens (410) and Monk also benched more than 400 pounds. Castangna was second in the power clean at 365 pounds, while Windsor power cleaned 360. Givens set a team-high with a 635-pound squat, while White finished at 600 pounds.

The Nittany Lion defensive line practices with great intensity every single day. That comes from Coach Spencer, who sets the bar high when it comes to effort and attitude. The young, yet talented corps of D-lineman is eager to learn. The group has high expectations for the 2016 season, but the defensive line knows it has work to do.

Quoting Coach Spencer:
"I think Garrett (Sickels) and Evan (Schwan) are the leaders of this group because they've played a lot of football. And quietly coming on is Torrence (Brown). Those three guys are doing a very nice job. I would say collectively, these guys are eager and ready. They are eager. They want to be great. But there is a price to pay to be great. We aren't there yet. It's a process to put in the work ethic to be like the guys who were before them. It's just a process, and these guys are eager."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Spring Football: Post-Practice Press Conference (3/30/16)

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin updated the media following Penn State's seventh of 15 spring practices on Wednesday evening. The Nittany Lions practiced outdoors for the fourth time on Wednesday during a session in full pads. The team will return to the field on Saturday to close out the week.

Hear from head coach James Franklin, offensive tackle Andrew Nelson and cornerback John Reid following Wednesday's practice.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Spring Football Position Breakdown - Tight Ends

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions held their sixth practice session of the spring season on Monday afternoon. Throughout spring practice, will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the tight ends.

The Tight Ends

Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost:

Who's Back:
Nick Bowers (So./Fr.), Danny Dalton (Fr./Fr.), Jonathan Holland (So./Fr.), Mike Gesicki (Jr./Jr.), Tom Pancoast (Sr./Jr.)

The Breakdown:
11823662.jpegUnder the direction of coach Ricky Rahne, the Nittany Lion tight end corps is eager to find more opportunities to make plays when the season commences in August. A hard-working, youthful group made big strides in the weight room during the winter. Now, the tight ends are primed to take a significant step forward on the field as the Lions build towards the 2016 season.

Coming off a season that included his first touchdown reception, Mike Gesicki headlines the group of returning tight ends. The New Jersey native has just scratched the surface of what type of impact player he can become in the Penn State offense. Gesicki has appeared in 25 games during his first two seasons on campus and has made 24 receptions for 239 yards since the start of his true freshman campaign.

A standout all-around athlete, Gesicki made big gains in his blocking ability during the 2015 season, and he is poised to be a focal point in the passing game for the Nittany Lions in the fall. The 2014 All-Freshman Team honoree notched a 33-yard touchdown reception against Army last fall. With continued progress and consistency, Gesicki will be an impact player for the Lions in 2016.

Junior Tom Pancoast is poised to earn more playing time for the Nittany Lions in the fall. The West Chester, Pa., product made his collegiate debut against Illinois last fall.

A pair of redshirt sophomores will enter the mix for playing time, as well. Nick Bowers and Jonathan Holland were very effective players on the scout team offense during 2015, and the duo is now ready to step into the rotation. Both Bowers and Holland were ranked among the nation's top 25 tight ends in the 2015 recruiting class.

Additionally, true freshman Danny Dalton has joined the unit on the field this spring after graduating from high school early and enrolling in classes at Penn State this spring. Rated as the top overall player in Massachusetts by all four major recruiting outlets - ESPN, Rivals, Scout and 247Sports, Dalton brings good size (6-4, 241) and athleticism to the group of tight ends.

Learning the intricacies of the new offense has been the name of the game for the tight ends this spring. Coach Rahne enjoys leading the group because of its work ethic, and he is excited about the unit's role in the offense. The tight ends are asked to do a number of different things for the team to be successful, and it's a unique, yet fun, challenge for the players to be a part of as the spring season wears on.

Quoting Coach Rahne:
"I really like this group. It is a young group, but they are all working really hard. I think one thing about it is we've got guys who can make some plays down the field, but we've got guys who can be really effective blocking in the run game. That gives our offense a great opportunity to put a defense in conflict. I'm excited to watch them the rest of the spring. They had a great winter period and were really locked in. I have enjoyed coaching all of them. Their role in the offense is a really cool deal because they have such a variety of things to do. They are equally involved in the run and in the pass and in pass protection. They've got to kind of know a little bit of everything. I think that is awesome. There is nothing repetitive each day at practice. Every day, they are learning something new and mastering a different skill. I think that makes it fun to play in an offense like this."

Spring Football Position Breakdown - Specialists

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions held their fifth practice of the spring season on Friday. Throughout spring practice, will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the specialists.

The Specialists

Players Returning/Lost:

Who's Back:
Nick Boumerhi (So./Fr.), Nick Cox (So./Fr.), Tyler Davis (Sr./Jr.), Chris Gulla (Sr./Jr.), Joey Julius (Jr./So.), Zach Ladonis (Sr./Jr.), Daniel Pasquariello (Jr./Jr.), Kyle Vasey (Jr./So.), Jordan Wombacker (So./Fr.), Tyler Yazujian (Gr./Sr.)

The Breakdown:
11823533.jpegThe unit of Penn State specialists returns 10 players from the 2015 season, including each of the starters from the TaxSlayer Bowl. Headlining the group is the unit's leader in senior Tyler Yazujian. The 2015 CoSIDA Academic All-American has handled all of the team's snapping duties since the 2014 season.

Yazujian has been a model of consistency on kick and punt snapping and will head into the fall as the team's top long snapper. Additionally, the Royersford, Pa., native transformed his body in the weight room over the winter. Adding size to his frame and now a step faster, Yazujian will play an integral role on the punt coverage team in 2016.

The punting duties were split between Chris Gulla and Daniel Pasquariello in 2015. The duo is back for 2016, and both have taken a step forward during the winter. Now a junior, Gulla averaged 37.7 yards per punt on 23 attempts last season. He had eight punts downed inside the 20-yard line and three attempts of more than 50 yards. He appeared in 12 games and started in four. Gulla is also the team's primary holder on all placekicking attempts.

Pasquariello appeared in 11 games and started nine contests for the Nittany Lions at punter. The Melbourne, Australia, native became more consistent as his second season in America wore on. Pasquariello finished with a 39.9-yard average on 58 attempts. He had 12 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line and nine boots of 50-plus yards. He finished with a career-best 60-yard punt against Michigan. Both Gulla and Pasquariello will again compete for the starting assignment at punter.

Junior Tyler Davis finished the 2015 season with great consistency at placekicker. The former soccer player at Bradley University finished a perfect 8-for-8 on field goal attempts and 11-for-11 on extra points. Davis appeared in seven games and started in five contests. The Illinois native connected on a career-high three field goal attempts against Michigan.

Sophomore Joey Julius was one of 17 redshirt freshmen to see the field for the Nittany Lions in 2015. Selected to the All-Freshman team, Julius appeared in 11 games and led the Big Ten with a .833 field goal percentage. The Hummelstown, Pa., product finished 10-for-12 on field goal attempts with a long of 40 yards. He also averaged 62.0 yards per kickoff for the Nittany Lions.

Redshirt freshmen Nick Boumerhi and Jordan Wombacker will add depth the specialist unit at both punter and kicker, while Nick Cox, Zach Ladonis and Kyle Vasey will increase the team's depth at the snapper spot.

Consistency is the key for the specialists in 2016. Special teams coordinator Charles Huff wants to see the unit's gains in the weight room during winter conditioning lead to more consistency on the game field in all phases of the special teams unit come September when the season begins.

Quoting Coach Huff:
"With the specialists, they have done a great job this year of addressing the issues that they had. And they've gone out and tried to correct those. A perfect example of that is a guy like (Tyler) Yazujian who went out and completely changed his body during the winter. And a guy like (Chris) Gulla who went out and corrected some of the fundamental issues that he had so that he could better produce. These things are starting to show. They all did a great job over the winter working on their craft. I'm really looking forward to the benefits of their hard work."

Spring Football: Depth, Talent Fill Versatile Nittany Lion Receiving Corps

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godwin_blog_Spring.jpgSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With a room filled with talent, the Nittany Lion receivers could easily let individual competition for playing time get in the way of the development of the collective group.

But that's not how they see it.

As the group likes to say, iron sharpens iron.

When the pieces inside the collective unit push one another, it raises the level of everyone.

That's what is going to separate the current crop of wide outs from previous units.

"We all just push each other day on the practice field," junior Saeed Blacknall said. "You often see guys saying to one another that, 'hey, you should work on this.' We try to help one another grow because you know that when each individual grows, it's helping the team."

That type of mindset doesn't just happen overnight. It's a culmination of the rapport that Lion receivers have built on and off the field, and they are guys who genuinely want to see one another succeed.

"I think the relationship we have with one another is an area that makes us unique. We are all great friends," said junior Chris Godwin. "The fact that we are so close allows us to push one another to new limits. I think that's really going to show throughout the year."

Working towards one common goal is what drives the unit. The players in coach Josh Gattis' position room know what type of potential they have as individuals and as a unit. Expectations are high, but that's what drives the receivers to be the best.

"We are competing against ourselves. Coach (Joe) Moorhead always tells us that we aren't competing against the defense. We are competing against ourselves to make everyone better," said junior DaeSean Hamilton. "We focus on getting each other better. We work on getting better every single day. We are all in this together, and we are all seeking the same goal. We can't be separate people. We are working to get everyone better."

The versatility of the Lion wide receivers will be a big strength for the group in 2016. The unit is filled with variety. There is size. There is speed. There is quickness. The Lions possess a group of wide outs with distinguishing characteristics amongst the individuals on the field, giving the young quarterbacks plenty of options when it comes to finding playmakers.

"We've got tall guys. We got short and fast guys. We've got guys in the middle who are still big and strong," said Hamilton. "We have a lot of variation between the guys who have been here and the guys who are just getting their feet wet. All the different aspects that the unit can bring to the field makes us unique."

"Everyone brings something different to the table," said Blacknall. "With so many different varieties in terms of skillsets, it's something you don't really see a lot of other places. It makes it fun for us."

Blacknall, Godwin and Hamilton return as the unit's three most experienced players. They are the leaders in a group filled with young talent. All three had a superb winter in the weight room and have transformed their body types.

Blacknall ran the team's second-fastest time in the 40-yard dash, Godwin is among an elite group of what Director of Performance Enhancement Dwight Galt calls "tier three" athletes and Hamilton added 20 pounds of muscle to his frame.

With the increased mass, Hamilton is eager to transition to a spot on the inside of the offense. With his blend of size and speed, the team's active leader in receptions is going to present problems for bigger defensive players.

"Learning how to run routes inside against linebackers and safeties is an adjustment I've been working on," said Hamilton. "It's a favorable mismatch for the offense when you have an inside guy with good strength and speed lined up against a bigger guy who might not be as quick as a cornerback."

The spring practice period has been one of transition for the receivers. The Lions are working through the paces with a pair of young quarterbacks - Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens - who are stepping into the role of taking primary reps for the first time. So far, things have been going well as the two groups build on-field chemistry with one another.

"It's been fun to watch them learn," said Hamilton. "We are all learning the new offense together, and they work extremely hard at it. That growing experience is coming along with all the quarterbacks and the other receivers in a way that is helping everyone learn."

The fact that both units are in the process of learning a new offensive scheme and tempo together makes the transition easier. Through the first two weeks of spring ball, the early reviews from the wide outs is nothing but positive about the potential playmaking ability in the new Nittany Lion offense.

The scheme puts an emphasis on tempo and getting the ball into the hands of the weapons in space, something the receivers are keen to be a part of.

"It's fast-paced, and that's the first thing that comes to mind," said Godwin. "I think it's really fun. I think it's going to create a lot of pressure for opposing defenses. It's something that is completely different than what teams have seen from us. And having so many guys who can rotate in will certainly help us in the long run."

"The concepts within the offense are everything a receiver could ask for," said Blacknall. "It puts guys in positions to make plays in space. And we love that."

The sky is the limit for the Nittany Lion receivers, and the unit is moving forward in spring ball with great confidence in how the group can evolve from here.

"When there are other great players around you, it pushes you to become the best player that you can be," said Godwin. "We are all pushing one another. And that's exciting to watch."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony