Penn State Football Releases Depth Chart For Opening Weekend
Penn State football released its 2018 depth chart on Tuesday afternoon, officially answering several questions about the team’s starting lineup for its season-opening game against Appalachian State.
“Overall, I like where we’re at,” head coach James Franklin said. “I think we’re healthier than we’ve ever been, we’re fresher than we’ve ever been. We’re just at that point of camp and the start of the season where our guys are ready. Our guys are ready to play and run out into Beaver Stadium.”
Linebacker may have been the Nittany Lions’ biggest question entering this season, and redshirt junior Jan Johnson won the starting middle linebacker job during camp. He’ll be backed up by Ellis Brooks and true freshman Jesse Luketa in the heart of the team’s defense.
“Jan has been very steady,” Franklin said. “He’s very smart, very consistent, very physical, especially within the box. He’s one of the more intelligent players we have and has been very productive in the classroom. He’s earned everybody’s respect, and he’s earned that starting position. I think those linebacker positions will be a battle all season long, but Jan has earned the right to start on Saturday.”
Despite generating plenty of hype as a five-star recruit, Micah Parsons will not start at outside linebacker to start the season. Veterans Koa Farmer and Cam Brown will carry on the legacy of #LinebackerU and occupy the two outside linebacker positions in Brent Pry’s 4-3 defense on Saturday.
Although the younger Parsons, Luketa, and Brooks won’t start, Franklin said that Penn State fans will see “a lot” of those players this season. He added that there isn’t too much of a gap between the first and second-team linebackers, and many players will rotate and see time at the position.
Redshirt freshman KJ Hamler earned a starting role at wide receiver alongside veterans Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins. Listed at 5’9″ and 173 pounds, the receiver should give Trace McSorley a solid outlet as a shifty slot receiver. No. 1 will also return kickoffs — replacing Saquon Barkley at that position — and Thompkins will handle punt returning duties.
Franklin praised Hamler during his press conference for his explosiveness on the field and his leadership off the field. No. 1 earned a comparison to Marcus Allen for his enthusiasm off the field and during practices.
Justin Shorter was not listed on the first three-deep depth chart of the season due to an injury sustained in training camp. Although he said Shorter was “dinged up”, Franklin still plans on using the freshman, who reminds him a lot of Juwan Johnson, this season.
At tight end, Jonathan Holland and redshirt sophomore Danny Dalton are listed as the heirs apparent to Mike Gesicki’s throne after he was selected by the Miami Dolphins in the 2018 NFL Draft. Holland, a redshirt junior, is listed ahead of Dalton on the depth chart, but both figure to have big roles in Ricky Rahne’s offense.
Franklin said that Holland and Dalton have had great camps, but also noted that redshirt junior Nick Bowers showed “flashes” throughout camp. Additionally, true freshman Pat Friermuth will “factor in” at the position this season.
Yetur Gross-Matos and Shareef Miller were listed as the team’s two starting defensive ends. Miller’s starting position was never really in doubt, but Gross-Matos will start against Appalachian State with Shane Simmons sidelined due to an injury.
One of the most intriguing position battles of training camp came at kicker. The amount of competition for the starting job forced James Franklin to create two separate starting kicker positions for two freshmen: Jake Pinegar will handle field goals this weekend, and Rafael Checa will focus on kickoffs.
“This is the most competition we’ve had,” Franklin said of his kickers. “It’s not even close. Pinegar, Hilling, Tobin, and Checa could all kick in game situations, and as coaches, we have to manage that.”
Franklin said that he and his coaching staff have had extensive discussions about specific situations and when to kick a field goal, punt the ball away, or go for it in a fourth-and-manageable situation.
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As THON weekend approaches, a fundraising year like no other in THON history wraps up.
As former Onward State editor Steve Connelly wrote a year ago, “Dancer Relations captains, it’s almost time to head to the stage.”
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