Kalen King, New Defensive Talents Shine At ‘Blue-White Practice’
With Penn State football’s Blue-White practice at Beaver Stadium wrapped up Saturday afternoon, it now has just three spring practices remaining.
There was a long list of players and position groups to look out for entering Saturday and as spring ball wraps up. No group stood out like some of the new defensive stars did Saturday, however. Sitting at the top of that list was undoubtedly true freshman Kalen King.
The former four-star recruit out of Michigan, who James Franklin described this week as “probably the most advanced freshman” he’s seen at Penn State, finished the afternoon with two interceptions.
King’s first pick came off of an errant pass from Ta’Quan Roberson, and he managed to go untouched the other way for the first touchdown of the afternoon.
“He is physically ready. He’s a guy that’s come in and is already physically developed from a weight standpoint and a strength standpoint,” Franklin said. “On top of that, he’s got ball skills…I know this sounds strange and it sounds funny, but some guys like him, the ball just likes them.
“He’s gotten a couple interceptions where you just throw it to him…The ball just likes him.”
It was clear the ball liked King plenty Saturday afternoon. After his first pick, he made some noise once again by grabbing a contested deep ball in the end zone against Parker Washington. Plays such as that one put King’s instinct on full display. Just ask Sean Clifford about that one, the quarterback who was on the other end of the freshman’s second big play of the day.
“Kalen’s been making plays throughout the whole spring. He’s very instinctual,” Clifford said. “He’s taken huge steps. A lot of guys have a lot of confidence in him.”
Outside of the young star, the Nittany Lions also racked up some new talent at the defensive back position with Johnny Dixon. Dixon transferred to Penn State in December after playing two productive seasons at South Carolina.
The third-year corner has stood out throughout spring ball to his coaches, including defensive coordinator Brent Pry.
Pry noted that Dixon brings a ton of depth to a group that already boasts experienced stars in Keaton Ellis, Joey Porter Jr., and of course Tariq-Castro Fields.
“Dixon’s a playmaker…I’m excited that he’s here,” Pry said. “I think he’s only gonna get better as he learns our system. He’s got a ton of versatility, so he’s gonna play a lot of football for us.”
Dixon didn’t shine on the stat sheet as much as King, but the defensive back has quietly carved a role for himself during these past few weeks of spring ball practices.
Outside of the secondary, Penn State’s defensive line has no shortage of fresh talent. Arnold Ebiketie, who spent four seasons at Temple and put up 42 total tackles and four sacks as a redshirt junior in 2020, was a force up front for the Nittany Lions throughout Saturday’s practice.
Ebiketie made several key stops on the day, as he even led the charge on a big 4th and 2 stuff. Roberson and the offense were lined up just outside of the red zone and tried to keep the drive going with a run up the middle, but “AK” was there to stop any sort of forward progress.
“Sometimes when you step outside and sign a guy that transferred, you just wonder why it didn’t work out at [the other school]. But these guys have been great additions,” Pry said. “AK is very athletic. He’s got great takeoff and rush ability. He’s got some things that remind me of Shaka [Toney] a little bit, some other guys we’ve had.”
Penn State already has some key returning talent on the defense this season, namely players such as PJ Mustipher and Jaquan Brisker, but depth from recruiting and the transfer portal isn’t something to scoff at. If Saturday’s practice was any indication, many of these new talents will play key roles for the Nittany Lions this fall.
Fresh players at a multitude of positions will be key for Pry and the rest of his defense. For a group that had some extremely ugly moments throughout the 2020 campaign, some new prospective stars will help the unit plan for a bounce-back season in these coming months.
“We gotta continue to build our identity as a defense,” Pry said. Part of that right now is accountability. We weren’t very accountable last fall. Guys were too often not playing in the framework of the defense. That’s on me, and that’s on the guys. We’re all taking ownership…All summer long that’s gonna be a point of emphasis.”
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