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Five Takeaways From Penn State Football’s First Depth Chart Of The 2020 Season

Penn State football unveiled its first depth chart of the 2020 season Tuesday afternoon.

With the Nittany Lions’ first game of the season set to kick off this Saturday against Indiana, they’ll turn to plenty of new names to help get the 2020 campaign off on the right foot.

Here are five key takeaways from Tuesday’s depth chart:

Journey Brown’s Absence

During his Tuesday press conference, James Franklin emphasized Brown could “potentially” miss the 2020 season. The team confirmed Monday night that the star running back is currently being treated for an undisclosed health condition discovered during the offseason.

While the redshirt junior’s status isn’t final, the Nittany Lions will officially be without him against the Hoosiers this weekend. Brown was a force to close out Penn State’s 2019 campaign, as he put up at least 100 rushing yards in four of the team’s last five contests.

Expectations were high thanks to that dominant finish, but Noah Cain has proven that he is a capable rusher in his own right. Cain scored a freshman-record eight touchdowns in 2019 and averaged an impressive 5.3 yards per carry.

Behind Cain are Devyn Ford, Caziah Holmes, and Keyvone Lee. Ford had a nice freshman campaign in 2019, while former four-star recruits Holmes and Lee both have lofty expectations surrounding them. To the excitement of plenty of fans, Holmes made a highlight play in practice last week.

While Brown’s status remains unclear, the team won’t be without his presence no matter what happens this season. His teammates consistently reiterated his leadership is key in the locker room.

“Journey’s gonna be with us. He’s going to the games…we’re not losing the man. Journey’s gonna be a part of my life forever,” Franklin said Tuesday.

Parker Washington Is Ready To Make A Splash

Parker Washington was one of many talented wide receivers to join Penn State’s recruiting Class of 2020. Now, the former four-star recruit out of Texas is the lone true freshman listed as a starter on the depth chart.

The hype around Washington is palpable among the Nittany Lions, and dominating in practice has certainly helped.

Franklin explained Tuesday that Washington is “a smart young man” who simply understands the offense and can “connect the dots” with ease. The head coach added Washington has made so many one-handed catches in practice that the team isn’t even impressed anymore when it happens.

“He’s got elite ball skills and body control,” Franklin said. “He’s done it so many times, it’s almost the expectation for him now to make those kinds of catches.”

Washington joins a group of young wide receivers who are tasked with the tall order of making up for the loss of KJ Hamler. Junior Jahan Dotson and redshirt junior Cam Sullivan-Brown were named starters alongside him.

Joey Porter Jr. To Step Up After Redshirt Year

Franklin said Porter Jr. was extremely frustrated after redshirting during his first season in Happy Valley in 2019.

“Last year when Joey redshirted, he wasn’t happy about it,” Franklin said. “He thought he was ready. Now looking back, I was having a conversation with him the other day and he said ‘yeah I wasn’t ready.'”

The cornerback appeared in just four games for the Nittany Lions last season, while freshman Keaton Ellis and Marquis Wilson played in more impactful roles. Porter Jr., however, was listed as the starter on Tuesday’s depth chart opposite Tariq Castro-Fields.

Ellis was slated behind Porter Jr., while Wilson slots in behind senior veteran Castro-Fields. Porter Jr. made three total tackles last year compared to Ellis’ 18 tackles and three forced fumbles, but the Nittany Lions clearly feel confident in Porter Jr. in an increased role.

“Not only is he ready now, he’s really playing at a high level with a lot of confidence,” Franklin said. “That’s a great example where everybody’s journey is a little different.”

‘Linebacker U’ Is In Good Hands

There weren’t many surprises at linebacker on Tuesday’s depth chart, and for good reason. Jesse Luketa, Ellis Brooks, and Brandon Smith are all trusted players on Brent Pry’s unit, and the trio will be asked to step up as first-year starters.

Luketa and Smith are slated to start at the outside spots, while Brooks will man the middle. Even with former starters Micah Parsons, Cam Brown, and Jan Johnson gone, there’s still confidence that this unit will lead the defense with ease.

“I think the group, you guys are gonna be very impressed with,” Franklin said. “I know we lost guys, and don’t get me wrong we’re not undervaluing those guys…But again, we’ve done a great job at that position from a development and recruiting standpoint.

“I look at Jesse Luketa as a returning starter in my mind, in terms of the number of plays and experience that he got. I look at Lance Dixon and Ellis Brooks in a similar way, and Brandon Smith,” Franklin added.

Franklin also mentioned Charlie Katshir and Curtis Jacobs as value adds on the depth chart, both of whom were listed as top backups on Tuesday.

Updated Special Teams Roles

With KJ Hamler off to the NFL and Journey Brown’s status unclear, Penn State has some new faces at its return positions.

Lamont Wade and Devyn Ford were at the top of the lists to take kickoffs back, while Jahan Dotson was named starting punt returner. While none of those players have a ton of experience as return men, Dotson did have a 30-yard punt return against Maryland in 2019.

Ford is also a logical choice to return kicks, as he’s gotten plenty of speed and currently stands as Cain’s backup. Wade, on the other hand, pushed special teams coordinator Joe Lorig to involve in him in some way as a return man, and clearly, the athletic safety’s pleas were successful.

All of the specialist roles remain the same this year, although Jordan Stout just got a little busier. The Virginia Tech transfer is set to take over for four-year starter Blake Gillikin, along with his role as kickoff man, long-range field goal specialist, and holder.

While he doesn’t have any in-game experience in Happy Valley, Stout has worked as a punter throughout his career as a specialist.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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