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Best of Spring Ball

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Spring Football Top Performers: Wide Receivers

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2017 Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Week two of Penn State spring practice is nearly complete, with the Nittany Lions steadily approaching the midpoint of the five-week spring season. With each passing practice, continue moving position by position with the Penn State staff for insight on a few Nittany Lion top performers. 

In the third release, catch up with Nittany Lion wide receivers coach Josh Gattis for a closer look at Penn State's intriguing group of wide receivers.

With standout Chris Godwin electing for forgo a final season of eligibility with the Nittany Lions to declare for the NFL Draft, Penn State will only reload, equipped with an already exciting group at a wide receiver position that's stacked with potential. 

As head coach James Franklin noted during his spring press conference, last year's ideal situation brought exciting depth, with consistency, confidence and anticipation all around from starters through the third team. 

With veterans in DaeSean Hamilton, DeAndre Thompkins and Saeed Blacknall returning, Penn State also saw flashes from returners Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles. Both Johnson and Charles played in all 14 games, with Charles' game changing 80-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter of the thrilling overtime win against Minnesota. 

"We're practicing like a different team right now, just to be able to carry the confidence from last year over to this year, guys are playing faster," Gattis said. "It's year two in our offensive system, it's year two in our defensive system under Coach Pry and guys are playing with so much more confidence, we look like a really, really competitive team, our depth across the board is even." 

Gattis also noted that Johnson has the potential to be making some key plays for the Nittany Lions come September, making him the top performer pick. 

"We've had a great start to spring practice, the guys are developing, but specifically I think Juwan Johnson is having an unbelievable spring camp," Gattis said. "He has really improved a lot, and when you talk about most improved players on the team, he's one of those guys who comes to mind."

Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

Five Takeaways from Spring Practice Media

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On the fifth day of Penn State Football spring practice, the Nittany Lions hosted their first media availability. Head coach James Franklin, safety Marcus Allen and running back Saquon Barkley all took time for a question and answer session following practice at the Lasch Football Building.

A Little More on The Captains -
Penn State named senior Jason Cabinda and juniors Trace McSorley and Nick Scott 2017 team captains following a vote from coaches and teammates. As Franklin noted, typically there's a pre-spring ball vote as well as a training camp vote, with the team this year opting to name captains the trio captains on March 22 with all three coming in with a high number of votes. That might not be all when it comes to captains though. 

"I think as you guys know, I would like, we didn't do it last year but I would like to have two on offense, two on defense and two on special teams, so that still gives us an opportunity between now and two weeks into camp for somebody else to kind of step up as well," Franklin said. "So we be in a situation where we have two on each side of the ball." 

Monroe Maturing -
With an opening at safety due to the graduation of Malik Golden, Ayron Monroe is among a group competing for the spot, and his coaches and teammates are taking notice.

"Ayron's been really good, he's so much more mature and so much more confident in what we do and how we do things," Franklin said.

Allen has also taken note, also taking on some added responsibility to help guide Monroe in a few areas outside the practice field. 

"I try to guide him on off the field things, just to be that guy inside the film room to get extra film, extra work and just have him under my wing," Allen said. "As far as his athleticism, it's crazy, he's very good, he's a freak."

Scott Doing His Thing -
Franklin also noted that in the safety battle, Scott has had just about as good of an offseason as anyone on the team. For Allen, Scott's success is a result of a commitment to the little things.

"He's always in there getting extra work, he's with me 24/7 even if I'm not in there, he's in there by himself," Allen said. "He's an athlete, he can run, he can jump out of the gym, he's very elusive as far as when he as the ball in his hands and Nick's just doing his thing right now."

Saquon Barkley Adding More Leadership Skills -
While already emerging as a leader, spring practice has only given Barkley more of an opportunity to refine leadership skills and work toward mentoring others.

"Coach JoeMo just kind of told us that the great teams have players that are able to coach other players are and players who are willing to be coached," Barkley said. "So I just try to take the knowledge that I have from the two years I have been playing and not only from myself, but kind guys who have experience and especially people coming from defense to offense or people who are going through their first spring ball and try to give them advice and try to teach them what to do on this play or the little things you can do to take a negative and make it a positive."

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Competition at Running Back -
Having the ability to take time to fill more of a coach-like role, Barkley noted that all of the running backs are currently competing at a high level.

"Everyone is trying to show Coach Huff and show Coach Franklin that they can be that guy so everyone is pushing each other," Barkley said. "Mark [Allen] might rip off a 20-yard run and two or three plays later Andre [Robinson] and Miles [Sanders] and JT [Johnathan Thomas] and all those guys - the room is so competitive. The love that we have each other is just so impressive to see how we go from being brothers and best friends to when we're on the field, we're trying to make sure this guy doesn't get this extra rep or something like that."

From the group, Barkley noted he has seen Robinson take on a good feel for the inside zone with shifty speed from Allen and explosive play from Sanders, with Thomas working through the transition from defense to offense.

Spring Football Top Performers: Defensive line

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2017 Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Week two of Penn State spring practice is already underway with four of 14 practices already in the books. Throughout the next four weeks, go position by position with the Penn State staff highlighting top performers leading up to the annual Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium.

In the second release, catch up with Penn State run game coordinator and defensive line coach Sean Spencer for a closer look at the Nittany Lion defensive line.

No stranger to departures along the defensive line, Spencer will look to replace a pair of defensive ends with departures from senior Evan Schwan and Garrett Sickels, who opted for forgo his final year of eligibility to declare for the NFL Draft. That's not an unfamiliar scenario for the Nittany Lions, as jut as early as 2015, Penn State also saw as many as four defensive lineman NFL hopefuls leaving openings behind. For Spencer though, Penn State's task not rebuilding, but rather reloading.

Penn State has a variety of options when it comes to reloading too, and among top performers right now, Spencer first mentioned defensive end Shareef Miller.

"It started in winter workouts and he's becoming a leader in that room and running to the ball, doing things and working hard," Spencer said. "He's a big effort guy and he has always been that way since he's been here and he has really taken his game up to the next level."

One of 27 freshmen to appear in 2016, Miller played in 14 games, tallying 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks, including his first career in his collegiate debut against Kent State.

Spencer also noted that defensive end Shaka Toney has also shown a lot in the pass rush game, with defensive tackle Curtis Cothran coming in as pleasant surprise on the inside.

"Very, very natural pass rusher," Spencer said, referring to Toney. "Of course we like to get at the quarterbacks so having a guy like that who can be that explosive off the edge, I think is really helpful for us right now."

Cothran played in 10 games, making eight starts for the Nittany Lions in 2016, totaling 4.5 tackles for loss, highlighted by a career-high five tackles in the Big Ten Championship game, including a key stop on Wisconsin's first drive of the third quarter to force a field goal that the Badgers missed. The rest is history. 

Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

Spring Football Top Performers: Running Backs

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2017 Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With week one of Penn State spring practices complete, the Nittany Lions are well underway in spring game preparations. Throughout the next four weeks, go position by position with the Penn State staff highlighting top performers who are exceeding expectations.

In the first release, catch up with Penn State special teams coordinator and running backs coach Charles Huff for a closer look at the Nittany Lion running backs.

"The entire group is really doing a good job, coming out every day, playing fast working hard, pushing each other," Huff said. "Obviously there are some guys who have played so it makes it a little bit easier for them to do it again."

For Huff, he keyed in first, on Mark Allen, a veteran member of a deep running back unit that dazzled Nittany Lion fans with explosive quickness and bigtime plays all year long. With everyone returning, the level of competition in practice has only elevated with each passing practice.

"Whenever you can compete in practice, it makes the games a lot easier and right now we have that," Huff said. "We have a lot more depth, guys who have more experience, they've played a year, some guys played a lot, some guys played a little bit and some guys who have played a lot are talking to the younger guys and it makes practice a lot more competitive and it makes them feel like, I've got to come out here every day and be on my 'a' game to keep up and meet the expectation."

A centerpiece of the dynamic unit, Huff noted that All-American, Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Saquon Barkley has also continued to develop as a leader on the squad, looking toward his junior season come fall. 

Reach Arielle @ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

Spring Practice No. 1 in Pictures

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Football Spring practice No. 1 is in the books as the Nittany Lions officially opened the spring practice slate Wednesday. With 13 practices still remaining in the five-week spring schedule, take a look back at what you missed from yesterday's opener in pictures. 

Don't forget to visit Spring Practice Central 2017 for a variety of content options updated daily for all your Nittany Lion spring ball coverage needs. 

Back at it.

Nittany Lions Set for Spring Practice

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

Spring Press Conference: Full Video I Transcript
2017 Spring Football Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Spring football at Penn State has nearly arrived in Happy Valley. Just a day before the Big Ten Champion Nittany Lions officially kick off spring football practice, Penn State head coach James Franklin met with members of the media for a press conference to preview the upcoming spring season. 

Spring practice officially opens Wednesday, March 23, leading up the the annual Blue-White game Saturday, April 22, which is slated for a 3 p.m. start in Beaver Stadium.

Check out a few takeaways from the press conference.

Making Strides in Winter Training
Franklin led off his press conference noting that as an entire unit, the Nittany Lions were extremely productive in the winter training period, all led by assistant athletic director for performance enhancement, Dwight Galt and his staff. Franklin mentioned that a number of the Nittany Lion strength categories have seen an increase in performance numbers.

"I know Coach Galt went through a lot of this stuff with you guys the other day in the weight room, but it's been impressive," Franklin said. "I think we're one of the bigger, stronger, faster teams right now that I've ever been around, not just at Penn State but in my 23 years doing this."

Galt recently met with members of the media to recap the winter conditioning period and give updates on a few Nittany Lions who were making solid progress.

More from the Max Out Day media session HERE. 

Outside of the physical attributes of growing bigger, faster and stronger, Franklin also highlighted that part of the success of the morning workout all comes down to developing intangibles like grit and mental toughness.

"A lot of these kids were playing video games and when the video games started to beat them, they hit the reset button," Franklin said. "So teaching guys how to compete, I think is a big part of what we do, and that's what the morning workouts are all about. I'm proud of that. I think we got a lot of really good work done." 

What's Happening at Center
It's been a big discussion among the coaching staff and it's changed a few times, but Franklin noted that as the Nittany Lions look to fill the role held by graduating center Brian Gaia, the key is to get as many guys with starting experience on the field. 

Franklin detailed that Connor McGovern will fill the role moving forward with Zach Simpson also an option, as both have practice experience and could potentially slide in with an easier transition to ensure practice stays organized. McGovern, who played in all 13 games, made nine starts at right guard for the Nittany Lions. Redshirt Michal Menet and early enrollee Mike Miranda could also be options rotating in as well. Although too early to tell, Franklin noted that as the spring season gets underway he and the staff will have to see how things play out on the field before making any final decision.

"Typically your centers and guards need to be interchangeable and your tackles usually are just a different body type, you know, different type of athlete," Franklin said. "I think Coach Limegrover has done a really good job. We have been forced in our past to be interchangeable just based on numbers, where now we're doing it just to make sure that we can kind of get the best five on the field or the best two-deep, best ten in the two-deep situation." 

A Difficult Nittany Lion to Replace
Another impactful senior who will not return due to graduation is linebacker Brandon Bell, who's departure will open a large spot for the Nittany Lions when it comes to experience and play-making ability.
 

"He always kind of found a way to defeat the block, to get his hands on a ball and to make an interception," Franklin said of Bell. "He was a natural playmaker. That's why he was so successful for so many years here. And that production, you know, that production, that play making is always difficult to replace." 

Reflecting on the season, the next man up mentality certainly nothing new for the Nittany Lions and as Franklin noted, it often gave the staff a chance to build some depth at the position with different guys seeing live reps in game.

"Fortunately we do feel like we've got a pretty good two-deep, and within some areas even a three-deep on defense and with some exciting players coming in," Franklin said. 

With a starting point in mind, there's certainly no doubting the experience returners like Koa Farmer, Manny Bowen and Jason Cabinda bring to the field. An All-Big Ten Third team selection by the league's coaches, Cabinda brings both skill and leadership to the position with eight or more tackles in eight of nine games he played in 2016. 

Spring Objectives
Franklin outlined a few spring objectives, noting that this year he'll return to the basics, beginning with maximum effort from every member of the program 100 percent of the time. Stemming from the morning workings, maintaining a high level of competition is also an objective, along with the more technical aspect of offensive ball security and defensive ball disruption.
 

Discipline is also an objective, which encompasses broad areas of the program, but as Franklin pointed out, also spans the little things, like preparation, making it to class and arriving to appointments on time. 

"I believe that if we can do a better job in that area and have 10 percent less - what I would describe as drama, having to get on a guy about missing a class and calling his parents and spending time doing that, as coaches and players, if we can spend our time developing them as students and developing them as players and developing them as men and not babysitting, it's going to make all of us more efficient with our time, Franklin said.

Making Moves
A few Nittany Lions are set for position moves heading into the spring season. Franklin noted that Johnathan Thomas will make the move from linebacker to running back and Jarvis Miller will move from safety to linebacker. Josh McPhearson, who played in six games during the 2016 season, will also move from wide receiver to running back, ideally as a return specialist. 

"We are really hoping Josh can factor in and compete as a kick returner, as a punt returner," Franklin said. "He's a dynamic guy when he gets the ball in his hands so we're going to give him an opportunity there." 

Thomas played in five games during the 2016 season while Miller played in all 14 games seeing action primarily on special teams having moved to linebacker after the Minnesota game.

Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

2017 Max Out Day

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's Max Out Day in Happy Valley as Nittany Lion assistant athletic director for Performance Enhancement Dwight Galt met with members of the media to review the winter training session. Check out what you missed from the media session. 

Flip through the photo gallery to check out images from all the action, as Penn State wrapped up its winter training.

VIDEO: Penn State NFL Pro Day

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

2017 Pro Day Central (Results)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Lasch Football Building and Holuba Hall were bustling this afternoon as 11 Nittany Lions participated in Penn State's 2017 Pro Day. 

The annual event features both mental and physical testing, designed to give representatives from a variety of NFL teams a closer look at the Nittany Lions, all in anticipation for the 2017 NFL Draft slated for Thursday, April 27 through Saturday, April 29 in Philadelphia.

Today's itinerary kicked off with Wonderlic testing to start the morning. Other items for the day included meetings and interviews with scouts and NFL personnel as well as height, weight, hand and arm measurements.

On the physical side of things, testing included a 225-pound bench as well as broad and vertical jumps. Agility testing featured the 40-yard dash, shuttle and the L cone drill among individual workouts.

Catch up with a few of the Nittany Lions following their Pro Day performances for updates on the day as well as look at some preparation leading up to the highly anticipated day. 

Chris Godwin, wide receiver
Coming off a standout performance at the NFL Combine, Godwin noted that the success in Indianapolis provided some momentum headed into Pro Day. 

"It gave me a lot of confidence because there was that validation that I could really play with the best guys in the country," Godwin said, looking back on his combine experience.  "My numbers really stood up to all of theirs so it gave me a lot of confidence moving forward." 

Godwin also relied on teammates and coaches for mental and physical preparation, having declared for the draft just after the Rose Bowl. 

"They really helped me, whether it was on the field getting me ready to perform as far as routes or in the classroom just what to expect," Godwin said.


Evan Schwan, defensive end
After earning a spot in the starting lineup, Schwan completed his senior senior on a high note, earning All-Big Ten third team honors by the conference coaches and media. Immediately following the Rose Bowl, Schwan and Brian Gaia headed to Tampa, Florida to begin a grueling training session leading up to pro day. 

"Training with some NFL vets was really cool, kind of getting their opinion on everything, what to do, what not to do, preparing for the next level," Schwan said. "It was a lot of hard work. A lot of days waking up really early, trying to get to bed as early as possible, trying to get as much sleep, a lot of hard work and some of the hardest workouts I've ever done and I feel like that paid off today."


Brian Gaia, offensive line
Along with training with Schwan, Brian Gaia also relied on the support of the Nittany Lion coaching staff for Pro Day preparations.

"I think I hit my numbers, got what I wanted to and everything," Gaia said. "I think coach Limegrover and all the other coaches do a really good job making sure we have the football stuff down and then the running stuff we learn as we go."


Brandon Bell, linebacker
Brandon Bell also hit the Sunshine State for his Pro Day preparation, channeling months of hard work into just single day of work.

"I feel like it went well, I definitely accomplished what I wanted to, I put in a lot of work from the last few months into one day so it felt good," Bell said.


Garrett Sickels, defensive end

Also coming off an appearance at the NFL Combine, Sickels utilized pro day as an opportunity to regroup from the experience, capitalizing on a second look. Along with Godwin, Sickels opted to forgo his final year of eligibility with Penn State to enter the NFL Draft.

"During the Combine I just felt I wasn't myself and didn't perform the way I wanted to," Sickels said. "Leading up to today I just needed to relax and do everything I was taught, and I was able to do that."




Malik Golden, safety
Concluding his final season in the Blue and White, Golden took things from each position coach throughout his time as Nittany Lion in preparation for his Pro Day debut. 

"It was a lot of nerves, I didn't really sleep that well last night, but I'm happy with the results," Golden said. "You always feel like you can do better but I'm proud of where I stand right now."


Nyeem Wartman-White, linebacker
After an injury sidelined Wartman-White for the remaining 11 games of the season, Wartman-White said that the best part of pro day might simply be participating.

"I was supposed to do the drills 55 to 75 percent and I think I did them around there, maybe higher," Wartman-White said.


Tyler Yazujian, long snapper
Earning back-to-back CoSIDA Academic All-America honors in his final two seasons for the Nittany Lions, Yazujian completed his career as Penn State's long snapper from 2014 through 2016 before making his pro day debut.

"Today went well," Yazujian said. "It was exciting to see all the seniors out here putting in all the work they've been doing the past couple months and putting on a show."

For Yazujian, Pro Day preparations meant getting leaner, stronger and faster along in addition to his usual snapping responsibilities.

"I was happy with my athletic tests," Yazujian said. "I showed I could move a little bit for a snapper. And then I snapped pretty well, so I'm pretty happy overall with today."

Staff Challenges Nittany Lions to Dodgeball Tournament

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As winter workouts are winding down before spring break, the Nittany Lion coaching staff decided to switch things up this morning, as head coach James Franklin issued a different kind of challenge to the team. 

"We have goals of where we want to go, Big Ten championships, national championships, but we are going to end this the right way and the way you're going to do it is you're going to compete, and the hardest thing you're going to do is you're going to compete against my team," Franklin said to a huddled up group Thursday morning.

Franklin's challenge? A dodgeball tournament.

Just as quickly as the challenge was issued, it was accepted, with the entire staff bursting through the doors at Holuba Hall running out to the sounds of loud cheers from the stunned group of Nittany Lions. 

"Players versus coaches, he has his team and we got our team," Saeed Blacknall said, swapping out his practice cleats for some more dodgeball appropriate footwear.

Geared up for competition, the team and staff members trekked across University Drive from Holuba to the Bryce Jordan Center, setting up inside the practice gymnasium.

With the Nittany Lions in normal practice attire, the staff took a little bit of a different approach, decked out in some vintage men's lacrosse jerseys.

A line of brightly colored dodgeballs in red, green, yellow and blue served as the only barrier separating the players from the staff, but for only a moment as both sides went racing toward each other at the sound of the first whistle. The sidelines quickly began filling with unlucky participants who soon joined in cheering on the remaining members of their squad.

The winner?

It looks that might still be out for debate.

 

 Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

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