Countdown To Blue-White: Players With Most To Gain
Saturday’s spring scrimmage will be geared more toward checking in on Penn State’s depth at a few key positions than anything. The known commodities like Saquon Barkley and Jason Cabinda likely won’t see the field much, if at all.
Here are two offensive and two defensive players who would benefit from a strong showing this weekend in Beaver Stadium.
Jarvis Miller | Linebacker | Suffield, Conn.
Miller transitioned from safety to linebacker following the Minnesota game last season, and Brent Pry made the move official this spring. The redshirt sophomore was one of the first Nittany Lions to join the 2015 recruiting class, immediately pouncing on his offer at Junior Day in 2014.
While he was growing up, Miller mastered the art of Kenpo Jiu Jitsu, even coming in second place out of 700 entrants at a competition in Ireland his freshman year of high school. The Nittany Lions have a starting linebacker trio penciled in with Cabinda, Manny Bowen, and Koa Farmer, but Miller is in the mix to line up alongside Cam Brown and Brandon Smith on the two-deep.
Troy Apke | Safety | Mt. Lebanon, Pa.
Apke’s inclusion on the list centers more on opportunity than experience, as the senior speedster finally has a chance to win the starting job at strong safety after filling a situational role his first few years on campus. Ayron Monroe and special teams captain Nick Scott are also in prime position to nab the open spot opposite Marcus Allen, so Apke will need to sell safeties coach Tim Banks on why he’s the better candidate.
There’s a good chance this position battle lingers into training camp, but a solid showing this Saturday would go a long way in helping Apke’s case. He’s certainly one of the veterans on Pry’s defense, having played in 33 games to this point in his career.
Brandon Polk | Receiver | Ashburn, Va.
Polk surprised many when he was the first receiver from a talented 2015 recruiting crop (that included Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles) to see the field. Despite his smaller frame, Polk made three starts as a true freshman, showcasing exactly why James Franklin covets speed.
Polk, who was high school teammates with Trace McSorley at Briar Woods, didn’t get the chance to catch more than two passes last fall before going down with a season-ending injury. Now back in the shuffle, Polk will need to distinguish himself from a crowded receiving corps. One way he could go about doing that is on the kickoff return unit, where he averaged 20.9 yards per attempt in 2015. Perhaps he’ll turn enough heads to carve out a bigger role for himself in the slot as a junior.
Jon Holland | Tight end | Brandywine, Md.
Penn State’s coaching staff gave Holland the rare option to play either offense or defense when he arrived in State College from The Bullis School. The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder chose tight end over defensive end, and the decision appears to have paid off. Holland played in 12 games as a redshirt freshman last season, almost entirely on special teams, but has an excellent chance to win the backup job behind Mike Gesicki.
Holland will compete with classmate Nick Bowers, who’s coming off a season-ending knee injury, and redshirt freshman Danny Dalton for the few reps when Gesicki needs a breather. The athletic Holland definitely poses a threat in the passing game, which could boost his stock on third-and-long situations in the eyes of position coach Ricky Rahne.
The annual Blue-White Game is scheduled for a 3 p.m. start this Saturday. Keep a close eye on Miller, Apke, Polk, and Holland as they hope to impress coaches and fans alike with their development this spring.