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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, GoPSUsports.com will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the defensive line.



The Defensive Line

Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost:
13/6

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."



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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.





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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, GoPSUsports.com will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the tight ends.



The Tight Ends

Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost:
5/4

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 BTN.com 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, GoPSUsports.com will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the specialists.



The Specialists

Players Returning/Lost:
10/1

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 BTN.com 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."



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Spring Football Position Breakdown - Wide Receivers

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Spring Practice Central


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions held their fourth practice of the spring season on Wednesday. Throughout spring practice, GoPSUsports.com will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the wide receivers.



The Wide Receivers

Players Returning/Lost:
12/3

Who's Back:
Gordon Bentley (Sr./Jr.), Saeed Blacknall (Jr./Jr.), Irvin Charles (So./Fr.), Dan Chisena (So./Fr.), Gregg Garrity (Sr./Sr.), Chris Godwin (Jr./Jr.), DaeSean Hamilton (Sr./Jr.), Juwan Johnson (So./Fr.), Josh McPhearson (Sr./Jr.), Brandon Polk (So./So.), Tyler Shoop (So./Fr.), DeAndre Thompkins (Jr./So.)

The Breakdown:
Arguably the deepest unit on the Penn State depth chart in 2016 will be the receivers. Under the direction of coach Josh Gattis, the Nittany Lions will field a talented, diverse and athletic corps of wide outs when the season kicks off in September.

11810894.jpegThe unit boasts a great variety of skillsets and will be among the most challenging units to defend in the Big Ten because of its experience and depth. Any scouting report of the Lion receivers begins with the unit's top statistical leaders from last season in juniors Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton.

Godwin is coming off a stellar sophomore campaign where he became just the third Penn State wide receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season. A second team All-Big Ten selection in 2015, Godwin registered 69 catches for 1,101 yards and scored five touchdowns last fall. Thanks to a team-high 11 receptions of 30-plus yards, Godwin reached the 100-yard plateau in five games. With a superb blend of size, speed and strong hands, the Delaware product has made at least one reception in 25 of his 26 career games and is poised to be a focal point in the passing game again this fall.

Hamilton enters his third season on the field as the program's active leader in receptions. The Virginia native has registered 127 catches for 1,479 yards and scored eight touchdowns during the past two seasons. A crisp route runner, Hamilton is No. 7 on Penn State's all-time receptions list. Hamilton added 20 pounds of muscle to his frame during the offseason and will again be a consistent weapon for the Nittany Lions in the offense.

Fellow junior Saeed Blacknall is on the cusp of a breakout season following a superb winter in the weight room. Hailing from New Jersey, Blacknall was clocked as the team's second-fastest in the 40-yard dash during testing (4.39). The 6-foot-2 wide out has appeared in each of the past 26 games, including four starts, and has made 19 catches for 360 yards and has scored two touchdowns. With continued progress, Blacknall is primed for a much bigger role in the offense when the season begins.

Adding to the group's dynamic lineup is the duo of Brandon Polk and DeAndre Thompkins. Polk was clocked at 4.43 in the 40-yard dash this winter and has game-changing speed with the ball in his hands. The Ashburn, Va., product appeared in all 13 games as a true freshman, notching six receptions for 57 yards with a touchdown and rushing 18 times for 159 yards and a touchdown. Thompkins also appeared in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman, notching five receptions and a touchdown. Polk and Thompkins are potential impact players for the Nittany Lions in 2016.

New to the rotation in 2016 will be a pair of Lion receivers each standing taller than 6-4 and weighing more than 220 pounds. Irvin Charles and Juwan Johnson made big strides in their first fall on campus and turned heads with their efforts as key members of the scout team offense in 2015. Keep an eye on Charles and Johnson this spring as they work into the Nittany Lion receiving rotation.

Look for Gordon Bentley, Dan Chisena, Gregg Garrity, Josh McPhearson and Tyler Shoop to all provide depth to a unit that will play a host of guys each Saturday. With the increased tempo on the offensive side of the ball, the Nittany Lion receiving corps, from top to bottom, will be paramount to the team's success.


Quoting Coach Gattis:
"I'm excited about this young group. Considering that all of the guys who have been here and returning, we've got depth at the position. We've got guys that bring special skillsets. I think we've got a lot of leadership at the position given the amount of time a lot of guys have played in the past. I'm excited. I think we've got unlimited amount of potential. I think you are starting to see guys mature as football players, not just off the field but on the field as well. I'm excited about the direction we are headed in the future. And in this offense, I think it's going to allow our skill position players to get the ball in space and be the playmakers that they can be."

Spring Football: Post-Practice Press Conference (3/23/16)

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Spring Practice Central

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

Hear from head coach James Franklin, DaeSean Hamilton and Jason Cabinda following Wednesday's practice.







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Spring Football Position Breakdown - Safeties

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2016 Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions opened spring practice on March 18 and have been on the field a total of three times, including one session in full pads. Throughout spring practice, GoPSUsports.com will break down each position on the depth chart. First up is a look at the safeties.



The Safeties

Players Returning/Lost:
8/4

Who's Back:
Marcus Allen (Jr./Jr.), Troy Apke (Jr./Jr.), Joe Berg (Jr./So.), Koa Farmer (Jr./So.), Malik Golden (Gr./Sr.), Jarvis Miller (So./Fr.), Ayron Monroe (So./Fr.), John Petrishen (So./Fr.)

The Breakdown:
Under the direction of new coach Tim Banks, the safety positions are among the deepest on the Penn State depth chart. The unit will be without Jordan Lucas, who graduated and is training for the NFL Draft, but the unit is not short on experience or talent.

Banks joined the coaching staff in January as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach and has 20 years of coaching experience, including nine as a defensive coordinator. The Detroit native will inherit a talented corps of safeties.

11807738.jpegJunior Marcus Allen headlines the unit with 19 career starts and appearances in 25 of Penn State's last 26 games. Allen played extensively as a true freshman when Ryan Keiser missed the final seven games of the season due to injury, and he is now primed to be one of the leaders on defense.

An honorable mention All-Big Ten honoree in 2015, the Maryland native made a career-high 81 tackles last fall. He also notched 5.0 tackles for loss, forced two fumbles and recovered a fumble. Allen tallied a career-high 12 stops against Michigan.

Senior Malik Golden is the elder statesman of the safeties group. Golden graduated in December with a degree in telecommunications and is one of three players on the current roster with a degree in hand. A veteran of 33 game appearances, Golden played the best football of his career down the stretch in 2015.

The Connecticut product saw action in all 13 games last season and made four starts. In a starting role, Golden tallied back-to-back games of eight-plus tackles against Michigan and Michigan State during the final two weeks of the regular season. He made six stops in the bowl game against Georgia. Golden finished with 40 tackles in 2015.

Like Allen, Golden will be a leader on the defensive side of the ball and is positioned to be a key contributor for the Nittany Lions in the secondary.

Troy Apke finished his sophomore season on the cusp of being a breakout player for the Nittany Lions. The Mount Lebanon, Pa., product appeared in all 13 games last fall, including one start in the secondary against Army. Apke has played in 19 games during his first two seasons on campus and has been instrumental in providing depth in the secondary and on special teams. He finished third on the team with eight special teams tackles in 2016.

Pound for pound, head coach James Franklin called Koa Farmer one of the top all-around athletes on the team. The California native has found a home at the safety position and was among 17 redshirt freshmen to see action in 2015. Farmer played in 12 games last fall, returning 18 kicks for 405 yards. Farmer entered the spring as a prime candidate to contend for playing time in the secondary.

Names to keep an eye on as the 2016 season approaches are Jarvis Miller, Ayron Monroe and John Petrishen. All three redshirted last season and made big strides on the practice field as part of the scout team. Sophomore Joe Berg will also add depth to the unit after two seasons in the program.

Collectively, the unit is filled with great speed, length and athleticism. Apke (4.41) and Farmer (4.43) were among the top four fastest in the 40-yard dash when the team conducted testing prior to spring break. Monroe was fourth on the team in the pro agility (4.07), third in the vertical (36.5) and third in the broad jump (10-7).


Quoting Coach Banks:
"I'm super excited about my guys. I don't know that you will find a longer group. They are very athletic. And probably more importantly, they are very hungry right now. I think the leadership is coming along. We only have one senior - Malik Golden. I think he is really starting to grow into that role. Obviously, we've got Marcus Allen, who has played a lot of snaps these last two years. He's learning on the run about leadership and what we expect. Right now, it's been a lot lead by example, but as we continue to build this thing, it will be a lot more vocal."



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VIDEO: 2016 Spring Practice Preview with James Franklin

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Football returns to Happy Valley on Friday with the first of 15 spring practices. Leading up to the start spring drills, GoPSUsports.com talked with head coach James Franklin to preview what is ahead between now and the Blue-White Game on April 16 (2 p.m.).





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Nittany Lions Looking Ahead to Spring Practice

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11785398.jpeg

Spring Practice Transcript | VIDEO: Spring Practice Press Conference | Photo Gallery

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Football returns to Happy Valley on Friday afternoon when the Nittany Lions take the field for their first of 15 spring practices in 2016.

Head coach James Franklin previewed spring ball on Tuesday afternoon inside the Beaver Stadium media room, as the Nittany Lions gear up for the Blue-White Game (April 16, 2 p.m.).

Following a very productive winter conditioning period, the Lions are primed to take step forward during spring practice. Optimism is high for head coach James Franklin and the staff.

"Obviously this is a time of year that we all get excited about," said head coach James Franklin. "I know it's a great opportunity for you guys, as well, to kind of get to know the future Penn State football and what it's going to hold this year. Our guys have done a great job."

Franklin detailed a number of areas during Tuesday's spring practice press conference. Take a look below at a few highlights as the Nittany Lions get set to kick off spring practice.


Position Changes
There will be three Nittany Lions getting adjusted to new positions when the team takes the field on Friday. Headlining the list is redshirt sophomore Nick Scott. After two seasons in the offensive backfield, Scott approached Coach Franklin about moving to the secondary to best serve the team.

Scott was recruited by several teams out of high school as a defensive back, but opted to remain a running back when he decided to attend Penn State. But with the depth at running back, Scott is headed to the cornerback position.

"He's excited. He's taken a lot of initiative," said Franklin. "I see him getting together with John Reid and Jordan Smith and (Grant) Haley and those guys, and spending time with them and kind of working on the fundamentals and techniques. The corner position was something I thought was important, to start him there. We feel like safety is probably the position that we have a pretty good amount of depth right now. We have six or so guys that we feel really good about. And at corner, we want to continue to create the depth."

In addition to Scott, redshirt junior Curtis Cothran and redshirt freshman Kevin Givens will both be moving from defensive end to defensive tackle. Franklin cited the need for added depth in the interior of the defensive line as the primary reason for the moves.

Strength and Conditioning Gains
The improvements to the team's overall speed and strength were put on display during the annual winter testing week at the beginning of March. We highlighted some of the top performances from the testing (Testing Week Feature), but Coach Franklin went a step further on Monday and talked about the difference in body masses for a number of players on the team.

Among the highlights from the muscle gains during the winter were: Saquon Barkley, who lost five pounds of fat and gained 12 pounds of muscle; Irvin Charles, who lost two pounds of fat and gained 16 pounds of muscle; DaeSean Hamilton gained 20 pounds of muscle; Shareef Miller lost 14 pounds of fat and gained 20 pounds of muscle; Bendan Mahon lost 12 pounds of fat and gained 20 pounds of muscle.

Installing a New Offense
It will be a spring practice period of learning for the Nittany Lion offensive players. New offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead will be going through the paces of installing a new offense during the 15 allotted practices this spring. The Lions are looking forward to the challenge and excited about what is ahead.

"I think one of the things that helps is even last year, the last two years, we taught concepts, and Joe teaches concepts," said Coach Franklin. "So although everybody is focused on this being a new offense, and it is, it's not like Joe's coming in here and running plays that have never been run before in college football or the NFL."

Under NCAA rules, coaches and student-athletes are permitted to spend more time together in the meeting room during the offseason than in previous years. That time has been invaluable for the group this spring as the Lions learn the intricacies of a new offense.

"I think the important part is how you package things, how you complement things and how you're able to take things that may seem complex and make them seem easy to other people," said Franklin. "And Joe's got a really good way of installing things and making it look like you're doing a lot of things when you're really not. Tempo helps with that. Formations help with that. Not a big motion team, but I think Joe's got a really good feel of his system and how one thing complements the next."

Saquon Barkley 2.0
Coming off a 1,000-yard true freshman season, sophomore Saquon Barkley dazzled during the winter conditioning period with the team's fastest time in the 40-yard dash (4.38) and pro agility (4.00), a power clean of 390 pounds and a squat of 600 pounds. Now, Barkley is looking to turn the physical gains into progress on the field.

"I think (the next step is) the knowledge (of the game)," said Franklin. "Physically, you look at his size and strength and speed numbers, they are good. They are as good as anywhere in the country, college or I would even say the NFL. His numbers are really good. He has the experience now. He's played some football. He's had some success. He's met some challenges. So that's the next step."

Barkley's game experience as a true freshman will pay big dividends for his future, but learning more about each aspect of being an elite running back will allow him to process things quicker and play at a much quicker pace on the field.

"How can we get the game to slow down for him so he can play aggressive and be decisive in his pass protection and things like that, anticipate when things are going to come," said Franklin. "And that's really when you become more aggressive. That's when you become more physical and that's when you actually play faster."

New Quarterbacks Ready to Compete
Redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley and redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens have lined up alongside one another throughout winter conditioning ready to compete for the starting quarterback job. Both fiercely competitive, Franklin said the duo would head into spring eager to take command of the offense. Add in early enrollee Jake Zembiec, and the Nittany Lions are primed for a competitive race for the starting quarterback spot.

While no timeline has been set for naming a new starter, Franklin is eager to see what type of progress the group makes on and off the field this spring.

"We want to make sure we're making the right decision, No. 1," Franklin said. "And if that becomes obvious very early on, great. If it needs to go to summer camp, we're willing to go to summer camp and if it needs to be the first game, you guys are waiting for us to announce the starter, that could be the case, as well.

 

"I think it wouldn't surprise if me that goes to camp, just as competitive as those two guys have been with each other. And you never know what's going to happen with a guy like Jake Zembiec, you just never know. It's hard to keep him part of the equation right now because we haven't seen him but you never know. It wouldn't surprise me if that goes to camp."

Position Battles to Watch
Coach Franklin highlighted a few positions he's excited to watch this spring as the Lions look to add depth and experience across the roster. Keep an eye at battles on the offensive line, at wide receiver, at defensive tackle and at middle linebacker.

While Nyeem Wartman-White will be limited this spring, the "Mike" linebacker spot will be a fun competition to track as Jason Cabinda and Wartman-White compete for the starting role.

"Cabinda has gotten a lot of work at Mike linebacker right now and he doesn't want to give that up," said Franklin. "So I think the battle between him and Nyeem is going to be really interesting whether it's part of this spring or whether it's fall camp. They both want to be the Mike linebacker and neither one of them want to give it up, which is great. Our 'Mike' and our 'Will' linebacker are two box backers. They are interchangeable in a lot of ways, so I think that's going to be interesting and going to be fun."

Experience Back on Special Teams
Franklin said it is no secret that the Nittany Lions need to improve in all phases of special teams heading into the 2016 season. The group returns a host of experience from the last two years, and the leader of the Nittany Lions is expecting the collective unit to make a jump forward with added depth this fall.

"We know that that's an area that we have to improve," said Franklin. "We need that to be an area that we are winning games, not an area that has had a major factor in us losing games," said Franklin. "I think we're going to have a more competitive two-deep this year, which I think is going to help there probably as much as anywhere. I think our kicking, the consistency in our kicking, is going to be really important. The height of our kicks, the hang time of our kicks, the kick location, the depth."


Penn State will practice on Friday and Saturday this week before picking up action in full pads on Monday. Stay tuned for extensive spring practice coverage on GoPSUsports.com.



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


 
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