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Five Takeaways From Penn State’s First Depth Chart Of The 2018 Season

Penn State football unveiled its first depth chart of the 2018 season Tuesday afternoon, officially answering several questions and settling position battles that have lasted all offseason.

Some players earned starting roles, while others didn’t feature due to injury. Here are five of our biggest takeaways from the list of players:

Starting Slot Receiver KJ Hamler

Wide receiver wasn’t necessarily the most open position battle of training camp, but redshirt freshman KJ Hamler played his way into a starting role for James Franklin’s team.

He’ll┬ástart alongside DeAndre Thompkins and Juwan Johnson — two players who figure to be key targets for Trace McSorley. Hamler beat out Brandon Polk, who has moved back outside, to the slot receiver position and has earned praise for his leadership and enthusiasm with his teammates.

“KJ is awesome,” offensive lineman Will Fries said. “He brings a ton of energy. He makes those big plays and really gets the sideline going,
the whole offense moving. He’s just an upbeat guy and brings a ton of energy to practice.”

Coach James Franklin even compared Hamler’s enthusiastic personality to that of Marcus Allen. In addition to his starting role in the slot, the 5’9″ wideout will return kickoffs for the Nittany Lions this season.

Yetur Gross-Matos Given Opportunity

Shane Simmons was not listed on James Franklin’s first three-deep depth chart of the season because he “got dinged up a bit” during training camp. Franklin expects Simmons to return and contribute, but for now, Yetur Gross-Matos will start on Shareef Miller’s opposite flank on the line.

Gross-Matos appeared in all 13 of the Nittany Lions’ games last season, but played more of a reserve role for the team. He recorded two sacks and 16 tackles in limited minutes last year, but after a strong camp, he’ll likely see plenty more game action, especially with the retirement of Ryan Buchholz.

No. 99 beat out Shaka Toney to the second starting defensive end spot; Toney made 17 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season in nine appearances. Regardless of who starts, Franklin certainly won’t be afraid to rotate players and give guys like Gross-Matos and Toney opportunities on the defensive front.

Jan Johnson: Starting Middle Linebacker And… Third-String Holder?

Graduate senior Jan Johnson won the starting job at middle linebacker left vacant by Jason Cabinda, but that isn’t only time his name appears on the depth chart.

The Mohnton, PA, native will not only carry on the torch of #LinebackerU, but he was also strangely listed as the team’s third-string kick holder. He’s behind Blake Gillikin and Michael Shuster at the position.

We’re not exactly sure why Johnson is here, but barring unforeseen circumstances, the senior won’t be tasked with holding kicks any time soon. Maybe James Franklin used a random number generator to fill that spot and his No. 36 popped up?

Run, Ricky, Run

True freshman Ricky Slade finds himself on the first depth chart of the season multiple times, though none in any starting capacity.

The former five-star recruit is ahead of veteran Journey Brown on the running back depth chart, coming in at the third string spot behind starter Miles Sanders and backup Mark Allen. He’s also listed as the third-string return man on kickoffs behind Brown and KJ Hamler.

James Franklin said Slade is one of seven freshmen with a “green light” to feature in games this season. It may not be in the most regular role (yet), but another five-star tailback prospect will hit the field for the Nittany Lions this season.

Micah Parsons Impresses

You could probably have made five-star prospect Micah Parsons’ recruitment into a reality TV show, but now that the dust has settled on that saga, No. 11 has officially arrived on Penn State’s depth chart.

The defensive end-turned-linebacker will begin the year as Koa Farmer’s backup at the outside linebacker position. He played his way into an important role on Brent Pry’s defense as a true freshman, impressing some of his teammates during training camp.

“Micah is one of those freak athletes, just a guy with natural-born talent,” senior cornerback Amani Oruwariye said. “When you put that together with all the fundamentals and stuff like that, he’s just going to be a great player. I think he’s a guy that you could put in a lot of different types of blitzes and stuff and he’s going to make a play. He’s a guy that has a nose for the football. I’m excited for him.”

Veteran Cam Brown will start at the other outside linebacker position, but expect to see Parsons with plenty of quality playing time for the Nittany Lions this season.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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