Five Takeaways From Penn State Football’s Blue-White Depth Chart
Penn State football released its first depth chart of 2020 on Saturday morning. Although the team’s spring football practices were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s still quite a bit to unpack from the depth chart.
Jordan Stout is listed at the top of the depth chart for quite literally every role he can have on special teams, and there are a handful of new starters on both sides of the ball. On this specific chart, the Nittany Lions return 14 full-time starters. However, a handful of other players on top of their respective positions — including wide receiver Daniel George, safety Jaquan Brisker, and defensive tackle PJ Mustipher — got plenty of meaningful snaps last season as backups.
With all that in mind, here are five takeaways from the depth chart.
Compete In Everything You Do
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it’s important to note the disclaimer at the bottom of Penn State’s first depth chart of the year.
Typically, Penn State’s depth charts feature “OR” designations to list players who will more or less split snaps at a given position. There are none of those to speak of on this depth chart because, in the team’s words, “it would be too numerous to list due to competition at many, if not all, positions.”
One of Penn State’s core values is competing in every single facet of life, and the team has made the sheer quantity of competition for snaps across the roster abundantly clear with this note.
While All-American linebacker Micah Parsons, for example, *probably* won’t be unseated from his starting spot, James Franklin is once again sending a strong message to his team. Nothing should be taken for granted by his players, and they’ll truly have to earn every snap this year.
Micah Parsons Returning Kicks…?
Editor’s Note: Penn State football released an updated depth chart in which Micah Parsons is now the first name listed under the “off returner” position category.
James Franklin once said that Micah Parsons is in his ear about “a thousand things.” The question that prompted Franklin to respond in that way was about the possibility of Parsons returning kicks, which is a real possibility on the evidence of this depth chart.
With KJ Hamler off to the NFL, the All-American linebacker is listed on top of Penn State’s first depth chart at the kickoff returner position. Parsons was regularly listed as a reserve returner last season. Though he didn’t get a chance to take a kick back in game action last year, Parsons would regularly warm up with the kick returners prior to games. He’s also made his desire to be involved in this facet of the game very clear.
“I’m just going to keep getting better with Ja’Juan [Seider], how to fit in the scheme, and one day, if something happens, get in the game and get my kick returns. Live the dream,” Parsons said last fall.
Elsewhere, Jahan Dotson is the first-choice punt returner for the time being after operating as Hamler’s backup there last season. This is obviously nowhere near as surprising or exciting as Parsons being the current first-choice kick returner.
Jordan Stout: Jack Of All Trades
Editor’s Note: Jordan Stout is no longer listed as the first field goal kicker on Penn State football’s updated depth chart. He did, however, maintain his spots at punter, holder, and kickoff specialist.
Special teams has to be the biggest winner of Penn State’s Blue-White depth chart. On top of Parsons’ listing as the top kick returner, Jordan Stout is the first name at quite literally every kicking position available.
Stout retained his place as the Nittany Lions’ kickoff specialist, and it isn’t too surprising to see him assume Blake Gillikin’s spot at punter. One surprise, however, is seeing Stout’s name ahead of Jake Pinegar as the team’s field goal specialist.
The Virginia Tech transfer was used as a big-kick specialist last year while Pinegar assumed the vast majority of placekicking duties. Stout nailed field goals from long range against both Idaho and Pitt, but it’s hard to imagine him taking on the full-time field goal responsibilities.
Pinegar was reliable in his role, which was being in charge of all kicks from 49 yards or fewer. He went 11-for-12 on his field goal tries — a clear improvement from his 16-for-24 mark last year — and 56-for-58 on extra points.
Unless he completely falls apart, Pinegar *should* still be a key piece on special teams for the Nittany Lions, which is why it’s so strange to see Stout listed ahead of him right now. The order may not mean a ton given the team’s clear disclaimer about “OR” designations, but it’s definitely still worth noting.
Elsewhere, Stout is also listed as Penn State’s No. 1 kick holder for the time being. The Nittany Lions typically deploy their punter as their holder, so this isn’t too surprising to see, but again, Stout is on top of the kickoff specialist pile right now.
Linebacker U Reboot
After examining the chaos that is Penn State’s special teams, it was nice to see a familiar face at the starting outside linebacker position. Micah Parsons is back on top of the depth chart in his usual spot, but he’s currently joined by a pair of new first-choice players at the position.
Ellis Brooks is the first name listed at middle linebacker, which was left vacant by Jan Johnson’s departure from the team. Rising sophomore and former five-star recruit Brandon Smith tops the second outside linebacker position for Brent Pry’s unit after impressing as a backup last season.
Smith didn’t get as many snaps later in the season as Jesse Luketa took on the primary backup role behind Cam Brown. Luketa has shifted back over to the middle linebacker position as the second player listed.
Penn State’s depth at linebacker doesn’t have the most experience, so it’s fair to expect Parsons to serve as a workhorse once again. He became the first Penn State defender to top the 100-tackle mark since Marcus Allen last season, and him leading the team in tackles yet again is a fairly safe bet.
Answering The Wide Receiver Question
It’s safe to say that wide receiver will be Penn State’s biggest question mark next season thanks to the departures of KJ Hamler and Justin Shorter.
Hamler, Shorter, and Jahan Dotson were the three starting wideouts on opening day for Penn State. Rising redshirt sophomore Daniel George assumed Shorter’s starting role late last season, and Dotson is back as the unit’s expected leader. Right now, however, redshirt freshman TJ Jones is the first name listed at Penn State’s third wide receiver position.
Jones was a late arrival in the Nittany Lions’ recruiting class of 2019, as he announced his commitment to the program on national signing day. James Franklin and his coaching staff were clearly high on Jones at the time of his commitment, and that feeling is apparently still there after he redshirted the 2019 season.
“We kind of fell in love with him late in the process,” Franklin said of the wideout last year. “Obviously, [running backs] coach [Ja’Juan] Seider’s connection there came on a visit. We got to know him really well. He had a bunch of offers from all over the country, and he’s another prospect that we think has a lot of upside.”
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