Top Replacement Players For Penn State In 2015
Penn State experienced a relatively low turnover rate from 2014 to 2015, but certain positions lost crucial starters to graduation or the NFL Draft. Player turnover is a natural phase in the college football ecosystem – as unfortunate as it may be, it’s simply unavoidable. Some schools have it worse than others, especially those hailing from the SEC. Over the last two years, LSU has seen 17 underclassmen declare early for the NFL Draft, which ramps up the pressure on coaches when it comes to recruiting.
Luckily for James Franklin and his staff, the draft bug was relatively kind to his roster, making way for what should be a smooth transition. Let’s take a look at some of the new faces taking on larger roles for Penn State in 2015.
LT Paris Palmer
At 6-foot-7, 302 pounds, Paris Palmer has the physical makeup of a franchise caliber left tackle. His journey to the starting left tackle job was no cakewalk, however. Back in the winter when Palmer first arrived on campus, he was quoted by Franklin himself as resembling a power forward rather than a Division I offensive tackle — and at 283 pounds, Franklin’s assessment wasn’t that far off.
Throughout the offseason, Palmer worked tirelessly to bulk up in order to handle Big Ten defensive linemen, but with the season opener less than a week away, it appears that the hard work paid dividends. Now, Palmer looks the part, and seems poised to replace three year starter Donovan Smith, who was drafted 34th overall in May’s NFL Draft. If he lives up to the billing, Palmer should become a fixture along Penn State’s young offensive line, significantly bolstering a unit that allowed its franchise quarterback to be sacked a school-record 44 times.
There’s a reason such a high premium is placed on the left tackle position in the NFL, and the same logic applies to the college game. Paris Palmer will be facing some of the best defensive ends in the entire country this season, but if he can make a seamless transition from the junior college game, Christian Hackenberg should enjoy some additional time in the pocket during drop-backs — something seen as a luxury for any pocket passer.
RB Akeel Lynch
Let’s be honest here — it’s no secret that there’s a substantial amount of hype surrounding Akeel Lynch heading into 2015. The hype is not only real, it’s justifiable. After Zach Zwinak went down with an ankle injury in the first quarter against Ohio State, Lynch was cast into an elevated role. He’d played third fiddle to Zwinak and Belton his entire career, but flashed his potential during his brief time in the spotlight. Lynch totaled 678 yards on just 147 carries, and crossed the goalline four times while averaging 4.6 yards per attempt. He injected life into a stagnant rushing attack, and with Belton and Zwinak out of the picture, Penn State’s ground attack should see a drastic improvement in 2015.
It’s tough to label him a “replacement player,” seeing as he was the only noticeable fixture in an otherwise ineffective run game. But with the starting job locked down, there’s a good chance Lynch could rank among the leaders in Big Ten rushing. His initial burst when hitting the hole is undeniable, but he shifts into an entirely different gear after reaching the second level. This trait is evident in his 18-yard touchdown run against Eastern Michigan.
The play-call is a simple power-run up the B gap, with six men in the box and a safety shadowing over top. Both linebackers are sealed, allowing Lynch to switch gears as he works his way upfield. Once he reaches the secondary, any subsequent yardage is all a product of his ability to move the chains after contact. The safety comes in untouched, and the corner is still able to get his pads on the ball. Despite this, Lynch still charges forward, and wills himself to keep his legs moving and his knees off the ground.
The result is six points for the offense, and represents only a small sample size of the element Lynch brings to the table.
K Joey Julius
What list is complete without the kicker? Joey Julius has overwhelmingly large shoes to fill replacing Sam Ficken, but as trivial the kicking game may appear in the grand scheme, the position’s impact is more vital than many would be led to believe.
To frame it one way, Sam Ficken was responsible for 100 total points last season. Disregard game winners or last second kicks in this example, and just think about that number for a minute. 100 points. A good kicker provide a scoring cushion for a defense, and relieve an offense of the burdensome task of accumulating points to some extent. With this being said, Joey Julius needs to enter the regular season poised and confident. He’s got a large frame, but an even bigger leg, and has the ability to strike from NFL range. Accuracy is the overriding question mark surrounding Julius’ game, but if he can find his groove and develop into a reliable kicker, life after Ficken may not seem so bleak after all.
Keep an eye on these three players along with the rest of Penn State’s fresh faces on Saturday, when the team opens up the 2015 regular season against Temple.