Offseason Performers Primed To Take Next Step
For college football programs, roster turnover is an unavoidable reality. While player graduation and early declaration for the NFL Draft has the potential to decimate a team’s roster, it also paves the way for future talent to rise through the ranks and flourish. The Nittany Lions are experiencing their fair share of turnover headed into the upcoming season– especially along the team’s top-ranked defensive line — but don’t expect it to cause the coaching staff any sleepless nights.
The offseason is a time of growth, and a handful of young Lions spent the winter months doing just that. Five names in particular jump out based on body of work this offseason. They may not be household names yet, but keep your eyes fixed on these players as we near the start of the season.
DE Torrence Brown
Arguably the hardest hitter on Penn State’s defense, Brown used his offseason time wisely in the weight room. Up to nearly 260 pounds, the freakishly strong end seems primed to assume a major role in his third year in Happy Valley. Tasked with battling senior Evan Schwan for the starting weakside spot opposite Garrett Sickels, Brown has one characteristic playing in his favor as the season draws near.
Yeah, we weren’t kidding about Brown’s hitting prowess — just ask former Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock, who likely still feels the after-effects of this bone-crushing hit Brown laid on him late last year.
It’s no secret the Nittany Lions are looking for some help along the defensive interior; James Franklin addressed the gouging his program’s line took at Big Ten Media Days, but a more finely-tuned product of Torrence Brown should set the coach at ease in his quest to replace three NFL-drafted defensive linemen.
WR DaeSean Hamilton
For a player so entrenched as a key contributor, it might be tough to see how Hamilton could “break out” after already establishing himself in 2014. The then-redshirt freshman clicked early with quarterback Christian Hackenberg, resulting in a freshman-record 82 receptions that led the Big Ten. His production took a hit in 2015 after finishing with only 580 yards, but after an offseason of conditioning and bulking, something special could be on the horizon.
Hamilton is listed at 211 on the team’s official roster, but that figure hovered in the 215-220 range during spring ball. That excess weight may not be present as the summer progresses, but the strength remains. With an uncertain quarterback situation looming, the consistency Hamilton offers will play in his favor. Expect the redshirt junior to get the ball early and often in what could be a record breaking year for a prolific player merely scratching at his ceiling.
Hamilton is prepared to take punishment across the middle, and given his reliability in clutch situations — not to mention the threat he poses as a route runner — his touchdown total should continue to hike upwards.
RB Mark Allen
Penn State’s backfield figures to be exceptionally crowded this season, especially considering the arrival of highly-touted tailback Miles Sanders. The problem? There won’t necessarily be an abundance of playing time.
Don’t tell that to Mark Allen, though.
The diminutive redshirt sophomore might not have the flashiest stats given his light workload (27 carries for 98 yards, four catches for 44 yards, two total touchdowns), but given his Blue-White performance suggests otherwise. Allen came out firing on all cylinders during the April scrimmage, proving that he’s got something no other back on the roster possesses. He took full advantage of Saquon Barkley’s absence to vault him all the way up to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart — and it’s a spot he fully intends to keep. Barkley will receive the majority of Penn State’s carries, but Allen’s inspiring performance and subsequent summer showing could help carve him a significant role.
Think of him as a Darren Sproles-type of complement.
Expect Allen to make splashes in the passing game as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, but don’t overlook the impact he could have as a change-of-pace back in certain situations. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Sanders is redshirted — a back of his caliber might just be too good to keep on the sidelines — but that decision could ultimately be decided by Allen’s performance leading up to the season. If the staff deems him their ideal No. 2 back, he might just keep Sanders off the field.
Now, much of this is pure speculation, but the battle between the two backs vying for playing time behind a superstar has been fierce. Sanders will be given every opportunity to dethrone Allen from the No. 2 spot, meaning it’s Allen’s job to lose.
OG Ryan Bates
Bates, a four-star prospect out of Archbishop Wood, has experienced a meteoric rise to the top of the depth chart along Penn State’s rebuilding offensive line. It was the product of numerous trips to the nutrition bar, attention to detail, and some assistance from former Nittany Lion center/guard Angelo Mangiro, who took young Bates under his wing last season as he made the switch from tackle to guard.
Now, after impressing coaches so much he was removed from the scout team and added to the two-deep roster late last season, Bates is ready to claim a spot of his own. Considered a lock to win the starting left guard spot next to left tackle Andrew Nelson, Bates might be “Secret Weapon X” in Penn State’s new up-tempo ground attack. Weighing in at around 305, Bates is fully prepared to handle the rigors of the college game. He’s an excellent run blocker — something the Nittany Lions desperately missed last season as Barkley was typically left fending for himself in trying to find space. With a more complete foundation set up front, Bates could help propel Penn State’s running game to new heights next season.
He won’t be the one racking up the yards, but opposing coaches should start familiarizing themselves with No. 52.
DT Kevin Givens
If Ryan Bates’ swift ascension up the depth chart was surprising, Givens’ was even more remarkable. He didn’t receive much fanfare during his redshirt season, but emerged from the winter as the team’s offseason MVP. The Altoona native absolutely tore it up in the weight room, recording 635 on the squat rack and 410 while adding roughly 30 pounds to his 6-foot-1 frame. He proved the offseason chatter had some merit with a head-turning performance in the Blue-White game where he put his freakish strength on display.
Look for Givens to be tabbed as Anthony Zettel’s replacement along the interior of Penn State’s line — a spot he could favorably team up with fellow linemate Torrence Brown to form a dangerous pass-rushing tandem. Strength like his doesn’t grow on trees, and he has the potential to record some ridiculous numbers if he can put it all together when the games start to matter.
Givens’ hype is legitimate, and he’s prepared to play a major part in maintaining Penn State’s dominance on defense.