A Look At Penn State’s Post Blue-White Offensive Depth Chart
With the Blue-White game in the rear view mirror, it’s time to start looking forward to next season’s roster.
A handful of contributors on both sides of the ball are moving on, so James Franklin and his staff will need to make some tough decisions before next season kicks off against Idaho (Idaho, Idaho…).
Here’s a glimpse at how Penn State’s offense could shake out at the start of next season.
- Tommy Stevens, redshirt senior
- Sean Clifford, redshirt sophomore
- Will Levis, redshirt freshman
The biggest remaining question for Franklin’s 2019 Nittany Lions is simple: Who will replace Trace McSorley at quarterback?
Both Tommy Stevens and Sean Clifford have impressed during limited reps in recent years, but the debate is nowhere near settled. Clifford took the vast majority of first-team snaps throughout the spring as Stevens dealt with a nagging lower-body injury. Franklin is understandably not ready to name a week one starter yet, but he’s suggested it might take a “true competition” at the position for the clear-cut choice to emerge.
Stevens probably holds the inside track right now thanks to his experience, but that’s not to say Clifford doesn’t have a legitimate shot at winning the job once training camp gets underway.
Will Levis had a nice showing at the Blue-White game, and he’s the clear favorite for the third-string role. Barring unforeseen circumstances, expect incoming freshmen Ta’Quan Roberson and Michael Johnson Jr. to redshirt this year.
- Ricky Slade, sophomore
- Journey Brown, redshirt sophomore
- Noah Cain, freshman
After spending last season as Miles Sanders’ primary backup, Ricky Slade should serve as the starting running back next year. Slade had some trouble with fumbles early in the year, but he also showcased his straightline speed and explosiveness, running for 257 yards and scoring six touchdowns on 45 carries.
Journey Brown and freshman Noah Cain should receive plenty of action as well. Running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider has said he wants to develop more of a rotation out of the backfield this season instead of handing one player a bulk of the reps.
Cain impressed in his first showing in Beaver Stadium. The freshman from IMG Academy rushed for 45 yards and added a pair of scores, one for each team. At the very least, Cain will help provide depth to the corps of running backs, but he could emerge as a star for the Nittany Lions.
Incoming freshman Devyn Ford might also fight his way into the conversation for snaps this season. Ford will naturally not be as far along as Cain in terms of development because he didn’t enroll early, but he’s talented enough to be considered the fifth-best running back in the recruiting class of 2019.
- 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 are going to be young, but talented at the wide receiver spot next season.
KJ Hamler led the team in receiving yards last season and will be expected to shoulder the load as the team’s top target in 2019. Further down the depth chart is a who’s who of former highly-rated recruits hoping to make an impact at the college level. Jahan Dotson was impressive in 2018, and he got more and more snaps as the season wore on. He should start alongside Hamler and former five-star recruit Justin Shorter.
Shorter saw the field quite a bit during the Citrus Bowl, and he seems to have bulked up during the offseason to become a big target at 6’4″ and 230 pounds. New receivers coach Gerad Parker should be chomping at the bit to turn some of Shorter’s mouth-watering potential into touchdowns next season.
Daniel George was a four-star recruit who redshirted during his first season, and receivers like Mac Hippenhammer and Cam Sullivan-Brown also provide Franklin with intriguing, athletic options on the outside.
Two other players to watch at the wide receiver position are graduate transfers George Campbell and Weston Carr. Campbell was a five-star recruit out of high school whose career at Florida State fizzled out due to injury, and Carr was a Division II All-American during his time at Azusa Pacific in California.
- Pat Freiermuth, sophomore
- Nick Bowers, redshirt senior
- Zack Kuntz, redshirt freshman
- Jonathan Holland, redshirt senior
Pat Freiermuth led Penn State in receiving touchdowns as a freshman and became Trace McSorley’s safety blanket as the season progressed. He should retain his starting tight end spot next season.
Franklin said Freiermuth and Nick Bowers could create a “two-headed monster” at the position in the spring, but he hasn’t really used packages with multiple tight ends in the past. Whether that is about to change remains to be seen, but either way, Penn State will be able to rotate quite effectively in 2019.
Redshirt freshman Zack Kuntz is an intriguing option for Ricky Rahne’s offense. The four-star recruit out of high school is listed at 6’7″ and is known for catching passes, but he likely won’t take too many snaps away from Freiermuth.
Jonathan Holland was the Nittany Lions’ week one starter at tight end last season, but he ultimately lost his spot to Freiermuth. He made just seven catches for 114 yards in 2018, so his contribution moving forward is questionable at best.
- Tackle: Rasheed Walker, redshirt freshman (left); Will Fries, redshirt junior (right)
- Guard: Steven Gonzalez, redshirt senior (left); Mike Miranda, redshirt junior (right)
- Center: Michal Menet, redshirt junior
Connor McGovern’s and Ryan Bates’ decisions to leave Penn State early in favor of the NFL Draft create a couple of question marks on the offensive line, but the group is also deeper than it’s ever been.
It might seem like we’ve been saying that about the offensive linemen for years, but the competition for snaps up front will be as crowded as ever entering the 2019 season. Steven Gonzalez and Michal Menet should retain their starting roles at left guard and center, respectively, but the other three spots are much less clear.
CJ Thorpe’s return to the offensive side of the ball creates some competition for the second guard spot on the team. Thorpe, who came to Penn State as an offensive lineman, should compete primarily with Mike Miranda for the starting role at right guard. For the sake of this argument, we’ll say Miranda retains his starting job based on his experience, but that’s not really a guarantee.
At tackle, Will Fries and redshirt freshman Rasheed Walker should start on the right and left, respectively. Fries started at left tackle when Ryan Bates couldn’t play due to injury, but he was deployed at right tackle at the Blue-White game. Walker spent a lot of the spring at his preferred left tackle spot, so Fries’ versatility allows the Nittany Lions to use Walker where he’s comfortable.
Guys like Des Holmes, Juice Scruggs, and Bryce Effner will all probably get an opportunity up front at some point, as well.
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About the Author
At 91 overall, Saquon Barkley is the highest-rated former Nittany Lion in this year’s edition of the popular “Madden NFL” video game.
Parsons and Gross-Matos were named to the Bednarik Award’s watch list, and Hamler earned a spot on the Maxwell Award preseason list.
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