Newcomers Flash Early At Penn State Spring Ball Practices
Penn State football’s spring practices are in full force, and with it comes a handful of structural changes and new looks at the ever-changing depth chart.
Spring ball also introduces recent recruits and transfers to Penn State’s new system, giving them opportunities to make a positive first impression on their new coaches. According to head coach James Franklin and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, a handful of newcomers have already started earning their stripes.
“I think we’ve got more guys in this class than we probably had that can play as freshmen,” Franklin said.
One player fitting that description is 2022 signee Zane Durant, a four-star defensive tackle from Orlando, Florida. Franklin previously discussed Durant’s playing potential in his press conference earlier in March and reiterated as much on Wednesday.
“Zane Durant is flashing at a position that’s usually hard to flash at as a freshman at defensive tackle,” Franklin said. “He’s just strong and explosive. He’s got great lateral movement.”
Though not a freshman, wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley is also expected to be seen on the gridiron right away next season. Yurcich says that’s the major draw of Tinsley’s experience entering the season.
Transferring after two seasons at Western Kentucky, Tinsley accumulated 130 receptions, 1,779 yards, and 18 touchdowns. He was also an enormous part of quarterback Bailey Zappe’s historic 2021 season, even catching Zappe’s record-breaking 61st touchdown of the year.
Despite detractors noting his production came against Conference USA opponents, Yurcich believes Tinsley is ready for his transition into the Big Ten.
“I don’t think there’s gonna be a moment where he’s wide eyed,” Yurcich continued. “He’s gonna be anticipating tough competition, and [he’ll] thrive in that type of setting.”
“He’s poised,” Franklin added. “He’s got really good ball skills. He knows how to run routes. I think it’s been really good for him from a testing perspective to be able to see the guy who he’s competing against – what they run, what they jump — [to see] where he may want to improve.”
Returning sixth-year senior Sean Clifford is expected to wind up throwing passes to Tinsley next season, but top quarterback recruits Drew Allar and Beau Pribula are making waves in the position battle. In their first couple practice showings as Nittany Lions, both Allar and Pribula have garnered praise from their play caller.
“They’re doing an excellent job,” Yurcich said. “They’re very far along because of how they were groomed in high school. They show good arm talent. They have good feet. They have good pocket awareness.”
“I think Beau and Drew were coached extremely well in high school, in different systems,” Yurcich added. “Our system’s different than their systems…[so] getting the verbiage down, being under center at times, and being able to direct protections…those are probably the biggest areas of growth right now.”
Two similarly touted signees, five-star running back Nick Singleton and four-star Kaytron Allen, are raising eyebrows and competitive attitudes alike.
“The two freshmen have been impressive,” Franklin said. “Kaytron is very football smart. I think his experience at IMG [Academy] has put him ahead in terms of just college level learning, experience, and understanding defensive protections.”
“Nick, as you guys have seen in some of the weightlifting sessions and some of the announcements on social media, he’s been pretty impressive,” Franklin continued. “[He’s] powerful, strong, and pass protections have been [noteworthy] so far.”
In his previous spring media availability, Franklin addressed issues with Penn State’s 2021 run game production, mentioning improvement as a point of emphasis for the coming year. Especially with the significant strides made by Singleton and Allen, the competition appears to be wide open.
“Those two guys are going to make it ultra-competitive in that room,” Yurcich said. “They’re very explosive. What’s impressive to me is that they came out of high school and, physically, they’re at a stage where they can do all things.”
“They can play on all downs, because of their physical strength and maturity,” Yurcich continued. “We just have to get them squared away mentally.”
Even through all the praise though, Franklin restated the emphasis of culture in his program, highlighting it as having equal importance to physical acumen.
“Some guys, I think, physically may be able to help us right now, but they’re behind mentally,” Franklin said. “They’re going to need this spring and this summer to give themselves a chance.”
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