Here are four Nittany Lions to keep a close eye on as the countdown to the season opener versus Akron on Sept. 2 hits exactly one month Wednesday.
Miles Sanders | Running back | No. 24
While the Pittsburgh native’s primary role as a true freshman centered around his kickoff return duties, Sanders boasted the best yards per carry clip (7.4) of any running back on the roster last fall. Despite only receiving 25 handoffs, the 5-foot-11 back racked up 184 rushing yards as he acclimated himself to the speed of the college game.
The top-ranked running back prospect in America from the 2016 recruiting class will again duke it out with Andre Robinson and Mark Allen for the primary backup job behind superstar Saquon Barkley. If Sanders shows signs of improving his pass-blocking, he could easily exit camp as the No. 2 guy.
Jonathan Holland | Tight end | No. 18
Already a freakish athlete, senior Mike Gesicki polished his blocking skills immensely last season, thanks in part to the time he spent hitting the sleds after practice. He can’t be on the field for every snap, though, so second-year offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead will undoubtedly focus on getting Holland and Nick Bowers plenty of reps with the first team.
Bowers is a year removed from suffering a season-ending knee injury, but Holland was a regular on special teams last fall and should be the first tight end off the bench this year. He posted a game-high eight catches for 62 yards in April’s Blue-White Game.
Shareef Miller | Defensive end | No. 48
Miller, a 6-foot-5, 255-pound Philly standout, recorded two sacks in last year’s season opener against Kent State before failing to notch another the rest of 2016. He saw action in all 14 contests, providing reliable depth for position coach Sean Spencer in relief of starters Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan.
Now, Miller seems like the clear choice to nab a starting spot opposite redshirt junior Torrence Brown. Veteran defensive tackle Curtis Cothran mentioned Miller as someone he thinks will play a large role this season before Lift for Life. “He’s definitely making great strides and he’s gonna [have]a big impact this year,” Cothran said.
Koa Farmer | Linebacker | No. 7
After bouncing back and forth between safety and linebacker his first two years on campus, Farmer settled in with Brent Pry’s bunch last season, starting the Rose Bowl in his home state of California. The Lake View Terrace product is listed at 6-foot-1, 231 pounds on the program’s latest roster, but the former kick returner hasn’t lost any of his top-end speed off the edge.
Farmer is likely to start at outside linebacker alongside junior Manny Bowen and defensive captain Jason Cabinda, giving the Nittany Lions one of the fastest linebacker units in college football. Farmer, who finished the 2016 campaign with three sacks, will be flashing his signature “Land Shark” celebration far more often this fall.