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A Way-Too-Early Look At Penn State’s Offense In 2019

The 2019 college football season is still more than eight months away. You know what that means — it’s time to see how James Franklin’s roster is beginning to take shape.

A sizable group of Penn State players have entered the NCAA transfer portal and intend to leave the program, so their departures should open up a spot or two for the 18 commits that Penn State signed during the early signing period.

It’s probably way too early to start trying to figure out what the 2019 Nittany Lion offense will look like…but that’s exactly what we’re going to do anyway.

Quarterback

  • Tommy Stevens, redshirt senior
  • Sean Clifford, redshirt sophomore
  • Will Levis, redshirt freshman
  • Michael Johnson Jr./Taquan Roberson, freshmen

For the first time in three seasons, Penn State will have a new signal caller under center. The man expected to win that job is fifth-year senior Tommy Stevens, but Sean Clifford might have something to say about that.

Clifford was impressive in limited playing time last season, completing his first five passing attempts at the college level. It’s also worth noting that since Trace McSorley never missed a start the last three seasons, Stevens has not taken many more snaps at the quarterback position than Clifford.

It’s certainly Stevens’ job to lose, but don’t count out Clifford just yet.

Running Back

  • Ricky Slade, sophomore
  • Journey Brown, redshirt sophomore
  • Noah Cain, freshman
  • Devyn Ford, freshman

Ricky Slade returns as the definite favorite to take over for NFL-bound Miles Sanders. Slade served as the primary backup for most of the season. While he had some trouble with fumbles early in the year, he also showed his ability to effectively run the football. On the year, Slade totaled 257 yards on 45 carries and scored 6 rushing touchdowns.

Journey Brown seems to be the favorite to serve as Slade’s primary backup, considering he’s the only other running back on the roster with any reps at the college level. That said, Penn State did sign a talented running back duo in this recruiting class.

Noah Cain, a four-star IMG Academy product, enrolled early and is already on campus, which will allow him to get a full offseason in with the team. This should give him a leg up on fellow four-star back Devyn Ford, who won’t join the team until this summer.

Wide Receiver

  • KJ Hamler, redshirt sophomore
  • Jahan Dotson, sophomore
  • Justin Shorter, redshirt freshman
  • Cam Sullivan-Brown, redshirt sophomore
  • Mac Hippenhammer, redshirt sophomore
  • Daniel George, redshirt freshman

The Nittany Lions lost a ton of experience at the wide receiver position this offseason. DeAndre Thompkins graduated, while Brandon Polk and Juwan Johnson entered their names into the NCAA transfer portal.

Even so, the Nittany Lions should be just fine at wideout next season. KJ Hamler led the team in receiving yards last season and will be expected to shoulder the load as the team’s number one target in 2019.

Further down the depth chart is a who’s who of former highly rated recruits looking to make an impact at the college level. Jahan Dotson was impressive in 2018, taking on more and more snaps as the season wore on. Justin Shorter is a former five-star recruit who saw a lot of time in the Citrus Bowl, and Daniel George was a four-star recruit who redshirted during his first season.

It will be interesting to see who separates himself from this group and earns the right to start opposite Hamler (and likely Dotson) next fall.

Tight End

  • Pat Freiermuth, sophomore
  • Nick Bowers, redshirt senior
  • Zack Kuntz, redshirt freshman
  • Jonathan Holland, redshirt senior

Freiermuth led Penn State in receiving touchdowns as a freshman and became McSorley’s safety blanket as the season progressed. There isn’t much debate as to who will be the starting tight end next season.

Who will get the reps behind Freiermuth is a bit less clear. Nick Bowers and Jonathan Holland are both fifth-year seniors who bring experience to the table, but redshirt freshman Zack Kuntz is an intriguing option for Ricky Rahne’s offense.

The former four-star recruit Kuntz is listed at 6’7″ and is known for being a pass catcher. He likely won’t be taking snaps away from Freiermuth, but he could provide another option in the red zone.

Offensive Line

  • Will Fries, redshirt junior; Steven Gonzalez, redshirt senior; Michal Menet, redshirt junior; Mike Miranda, redshirt junior; Rasheed Walker, redshirt freshman
  • Juice Scruggs, redshirt freshman
  • Des Holmes, redshirt sophomore
  • Bryce Effner, redshirt freshman

The left side of the Nittany Lions’ offensive line remains untouched from last season. Will Fries, Steven Gonzalez, and Michal Menet all return and should retain their starting positions from last season.

The right side of the line is where the questions start to pop up. With Connor McGovern and Ryan Bates both leaving early for the NFL, James Franklin now has two open spots on his offensive line.

Rasheed Walker seems to be the odds-on favorite to take over Bates’ vacated spot at right tackle. Mike Miranda should be the guy at right guard. Des Holmes, Juice Scruggs, and Bryce Effner will all probably get an opportunity there, too, at some point.

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About the Author

Matthew Fox

Matt is a Senior from Lansdale Pennsylvania majoring in Broadcast Journalism. He loves sports, and is still patiently waiting for the Philadelphia Flyers to win a Stanley Cup. If you would ever like to reach out to Matt you can email him at [email protected]

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