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Where will Koa Farmer help Penn State this season?

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 day ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Koa Farmer spent last year practicing at the field linebacker spot where he was available to add depth, but took a redshirt while learning the ropes at linebacker.


Linebacker Koa Farmer redshirted last season and is expected to contribute this year after changing positions again. (Audrey Snyder/Post-Gazette)

A high school running back who also played safety and returned punts and kicks, Farmer’s stint at linebacker is on hold for the time being. Penn State moved the 6-foot-1, 222-pound versatile athlete back to safety this camp, Franklin announced Wednesday.

“You’re talking about a guy who played tailback in high school and asking him to do those things, just wasn’t able to compete for the No. 2 job last year,” Franklin said Wednesday. “Right now at safety, we have four safeties we feel pretty good about and we need a fifth guy and is the fifth guy [freshman] Ayron Monroe and burn his redshirt and make him green an play him for Week 1 or is it Koa Farmer?”

Farmer could end up back at that field linebacker spot in a year or two and linebacker’s coach Brent Pry said at the team’s media day in August that Farmer has the skillset they want at that position. In the spring defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said that the hybrid outside linebacker, strong safety spot is one that is “tailor made” for Farmer.

Right now it’s the Sam position Brandon Bell holds down while walk-on turned scholarship player Von Walker is likely Bell’s backup, Franklin said. Behind them now and without Farmer possibly it’s freshman Manny Bowen. We’ll see when the team releases a depth chart which will likely come next Monday or Tuesday.

It’s the spot where the skillsets of the players are different than those at the Mike and the Will, using the Sam as a player who can play well in space and who has the speed and athleticism to keep up with opposing offenses. As Farmer continues evolving as a player and continues working closely with Shoop –who in addition to being the defensive coordinator also coaches the safeties – only time will tell if he moves back to that field linebacker spot.

“Koa’s different because his skillset is off the charts,” Pry said at media day on Aug. 6. “He’s fast, he’s explosive, really talented kid that probably coming out of high school was more of an offensive player than he was defensive and then to transition to linebacker there’s elements of it that come easy to him but when you get closer to the ball in there that’s very foreign to him.”

Farmer is a candidate at kick returner, a place where his speed could make an impact right away. Figuring out how he’ll help the defense is a good problem for Penn State to have because he has those unique abilities that give Shoop options. Shoop praised Farmer’s knack for the ball, particularly getting his hands on balls during limited work in the spring.

At safety ahead of Farmer there’s Marcus Allen on one side and Jordan Lucas on the other. Backing up Allen and Lucas likely are redshirt freshman Troy Apke and redshirt junior Malik Golden. That fifth safety for now would be Farmer, Franklin said, as opposed to burning Monroe’s redshirt. 

“He’s going to help us somewhere,” Pry said prior to Farmer’s switch this camp. “He will.”

Audrey Snyder: asnyder@post-gazette.com and Twitter @audsnyder4.


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Given the green light: James Franklin on the four freshmen who will play this season (video)

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 day ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- James Franklin highlighted freshmen John Reid, Brandon Polk, Juwan Johnson and Saquon Barkley as four players who are slated to play this season.

Franklin explained the team’s red, green and yellow redshirt categories, plus gave an update on the left tackle position following Wednesday’s practice.

 

Audrey Snyder: asnyder@post-gazette.com and Twitter @audsnyder4.


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Kicking 'still a concern' as Penn State emphasizes special teams improvement

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 days ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Sorting out Penn State’s specialists will continue to be a point of emphasis as the Sept. 5 season opener against Temple nears.

“I think it’s still a concern for us,” James Franklin said Wednesday following the team’s practice. “I think place kicking and punter is still a concern. We knew that going into the offseason.”

Penn State typically releases a depth chart by Tuesday afternoon of game week, though we’ve all grown accustomed to the “OR” listed after players’ names in the past so until the game there’s really no way of telling, right?

Franklin said that Joey Julius has an edge in the kicking competition against Tyler Davis, though the coach acknowledged it isn’t by much. Punter Daniel Pasquariello also is a bit ahead of Chris Gulla, who Franklin said came on strong within the last week. Consistency is key for all of them.

Both Julius and Davis kicked off with Koa Farmer back deep to return during the final 10 minutes of practice that was open to the media. With the whole team in helmets and shorts, running backs Nick Scott and Saquon Barkley were behind Farmer and are also kick return options, Franklin said.

“The returners, it’s just different,” Franklin said, adding that the team practiced in Beaver Stadium Tuesday night because he wanted it to experience playing under the lights prior to being in their for a night game. “Last year we went with a situation where reliable guys, guys that were going to be safe in terms of fielding the punts and making great decisions.

“This year we’re in a position where we feel confident with those guys fielding the balls and communicating and also have the ability to make some plays.”

Among the punt returners Franklin mentioned are running back Mark Allen, receiver DeAndre Thompkins and receiver Brandon Polk. Franklin said the team will emphasize special teams during the rest of the practices leading up to the opener. How soon they settle on returners sounds just like the specialists and any other position where if one player is struggling another will be given an opportunity.

“It might be a situation where we rotate those guys every kick until somebody separates themselves from the pack,” Franklin said of his returners. “All of them are catching the ball really well right now, but we’ve only done so many reps of live special teams so seeing what those guys are going to do in live situations with lights on it may take us a couple weeks to figure that out.”

When the team did go live on special teams a couple weeks ago it was Farmer who returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown. For now it would seem like that’s a pretty nice clip for his highlights, though the entire body of work always has to be taken into account.

At 5-foot-9, 163 pounds Polk’s speed turned heads during camp so much so that Franklin mentioned the receiver among the four players who are in the “green category” for freshmen. Penn State breaks their freshmen down into red, yellow and green, with the greens being the ones who are going to see the field this season. Polk’s work on special teams could be part of the reason he’s in that green category.

I made my redshirt predictions on Monday and based off what Franklin Wednesday cornerback John Reid, receiver Juwan Johnson and running back Saquon Barkley join Polk in the green category. For now those are the four freshmen that Franklin said are slated to play this season though there are 12-14 players who he said are in the yellow,  or maybe, category.

Audrey Snyder: asnyder@post-gazette.com and Twitter @audsnyder4.


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Seeing red: Which Penn State freshmen could see the field this season?

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 days ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA. – James Franklin and the Penn State staff break their freshmen down into three categories—red, yellow and green-- when determining redshirt priorities.

All it takes is one injury to a player in front of them for a red to go to yellow or yellow to green and thus burning the redshirt possibility. Last season it happened with safety Troy Apke who was needed to step in on special teams after an injury to Ryan Keiser forced Marcus Allen into Keiser’s starting role, creating a void on special teams that Apke stepped in to help fill.

Penn State used eight true freshman scholarship players last season. Franklin told the Big Ten Network Friday during their stop in Happy Valley that he plans to have these redshirt conversations with the scholarship freshmen soon.

While depth issues can pop up at any point in the season for a variety of reasons, here’s my look at this freshman class and who I think could step in right away, as well as where the others stack up.

Green (likely to see the field this season)

CB John Reid

The St. Joe’s Prep standout is making a smooth transition to college ball where defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said Friday on the Big Ten Network that Reid is in competition for that third or fourth corner spot. Penn State plays a lot of DBs and last year we saw two true freshmen corners in Grant Haley and Christian Campbell step in and grow more comfortable as the season progressed. Reid’s maturity and focus were praised by teammates and coaches as soon as he arrived and it looks like No. 29 will see the field sooner rather than later.

RB Saquon Barkley


Running backs Saquon Barkley, Mark Allen and Andre Robinson pose during their position photo in Beaver Stadium. (Audrey Snyder/Post-Gazette)

The 5-11, 215-pound Whitehall product ran with the second and third-team offense during camp and opened plenty of eyes while doing so. I remember a little more than a year ago when I watched Barkley play out in Beaverton, Ore. at The Opening where on a field with some of the best players in the country it didn’t take long for him to stand out. His thick legs will help him churn for extra yards and while pass protection is always problematic for any young back, we’ll see how Barkley works his way into the mix, possibly as the third or maybe even the second back who has plenty of upside for the coming years.

Yellow (maybe see the field this year)

WRs Juwan Johnson & Irvin Charles

A big body in the passing game is a welcome sight for Penn State where both Johnson and Charles, listed at 6-4, 213 lbs., have earned the nickname “twin towers” from teammates.

Penn State needed to and used two true freshmen receivers last year in Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin. This receiving corps is still young, but has no shortage of talent. Johnson and Charles add a different dimension to the passing game and create mismatches for opposing DBs. How good are their routes and how quickly they pick up the offense will be key. Maybe Penn State uses one of them? We’ll see.

WR Brandon Polk


Freshman wide receiver Brandon Polk waits for the team photo inside Beaver Stadium. (Audrey Snyder/Post-Gazette)

When WR DeAndre Thompkins arrived last year he said he was around 160 pounds and needed the reshirt year to grow into his role. Polk is listed at 5-9, 163 lbs. which has me leaning toward him taking a redshirt this season, but he could be able to find a small role within this offense or more likely help out on special teams. We saw him run an end around at practice this summer and Franklin said it was clear that Polk has speed. He tracked down linebacker Jason Cabinda and tackled him during the team’s first scrimmage, a detail that the 245-pound linebacker could only laugh at.

Saf. Ayron Monroe

True freshman Marcus Allen is a lock as the starter and fellow sophomore Troy Apke, who was limited earlier this summer where he appeared with his wrist in a cast but has practiced, could be in line as his backup. Monroe could be third in the pecking order or maybe challenge for the backup spot, giving Penn State a lot of young depth at free safety.

Red (not likely to burn their redshirt this season)

DE Ryan Buchholz

If all goes well in front of him Penn State should have no reason to use the former Great Valley standout this year. Buchholz likely has Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan in front of him, while Carl Nassib, Curtis Cothran and Torrence Brown are on the other side. It’s the first year as penciled in full-time starters for Sickels and Nassib, who missed part of camp with what was reported as an undisclosed injury. For what it’s worth I did see Nassib, No. 95, running around in the background of drills during the Big Ten Network’s footage during practice at the end of last week, so that should be a positive sign for Penn State.

C Ryan Bates

Giving the offensive linemen a year to grow into their roles is a positive when there are enough people in front of them to do so. That should be the case for Bates who likely will have a job at center to work for in the coming years. He stayed after practice last week to work with third-strong QB Tommy Stevens, also a freshman.

CB Garrett Taylor

With all the praise about John Reid let’s not forget that Taylor is also a 4-star cornerback. With a plethora of young options backing up Grant Haley – including redshirt freshmen Daquan Worley and Amani Oruwariye—saving Taylor for down the road seems likely.

OT Sterling Jenkins


Penn State offensive linemen Chasz Wright, Paris Palmer and Sterling Jenkins wait for the offensive line's group photo in Beaver Stadium. (Audrey Snyder/Post-Gazette)

Jenkins arrived in January and while his 6-foot-8, 329-pound build make him hard to miss on the practice field, Penn State’s depth at left tackle will be tested this season. Jenkins repped at left tackle with the third team at one point during camp and if Palmer holds on to the starting job at left tackle, his top backup should injury arise would likely be right tackle Andrew Nelson who can also play left. Nelson did so last season when then left tackle Donovan Smith was injured. There’s redshirt freshman Chance Sorrell who adds depth at left tackle too, helping give Jenkins plenty of time to learn this season.

DT Kamonte Carter

At 6-4, 271 Carter is the lightest scholarship tackle. Give him a year with strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt, watch from the talent in front of him—which includes standout senior Anthony Zettel – and Carter can be a contributor in years to come.

RB Andre Robinson

Behind running back Akeel Lynch Penn State doesn’t have a back that’s taken a carry in a college game. Redshirt freshmen Mark Allen, Nick Scott and Johnathan Thomas are in the mix along with freshman Saquon Barkley, likely giving Robinson a chance to be part of a deep running backs corps in the coming years.

LB Manny Bowen

Bowen is in line at the SAM linebacker spot where he has starter Brandon Bell and then likely reserves Von Walker and Koa Farmer ahead of him. Depth at middle linebacker is an area Penn State has to get sorted out, but at the SAM they should be okay. Unless Bowen would have an impact on special teams or there would be a few injuries, he’d give Penn State more depth in the future.

G Steven Gonzalez

Like all offensive linemen it takes time for them to develop and Penn State has other, older options it can turn to at guard. Plus, Penn State likes to cross train their linemen to play numerous spots so using the year to work on that, while adjusting to college football, will give Gonzalez a full plate.

LB Jake Cooper

Whoever backs up starting middle linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White is anyone’s guess. Gary Wooten and Ben Kline are both options, which would likely keep Cooper down on the depth chart this year. But, should injury concerns with Kline and Wartman-White impact this position at some point this season, Jason Cabinda could possibly slide inside and call the defense and if that would happen and then PSU could fill his spot at the WILL with someone like redshirt freshman Troy Reeder. There are a lot of moving parts at linebacker, but staying healthy could be a challenge for this group. 

DE Shareef Miller

When Carl Nassib was limited in camp Curtis Cothran stepped in as his backup. Redshirt freshman Torrence Brown would then likely be next in line with Miller then in the mix after that. That’s a pretty deep rotation to crack.

TEs Jonathan Holland & TE Nick Bowers


Freshman cornerback Garrett Taylor and freshman tight end Jonathan Holland wait for the team photo inside Beaver Stadium. (Audrey Snyder/Post-Gazette)

Holland, at 6-4, 240 lbs. is a big target who also played defensive end in high school. Bowers, listed at 6-4, 255 lbs, is the other freshman tight end. Penn State has scholarship players Mike Gesicki, Kyle Carter, Adam Breneman and Brent Wilkerson to use, making for a deep group that has a good mix of youth with Breneman, a redshirt sophomore, and Gesicki a sophomore. Unless there’s special teams value for either Holland or Bowers, they wouldn’t seem likely to have an impact on the offense this season.

QB Tommy Stevens

Like Trace McSorley did last season and all QBs who have the luxury of doing so, there’s no need to burn Stevens’ redshirt this season. Give him time to learn from Christian Hackenberg and to Stevens’ benefit he enrolled in January and already has one spring and now this camp also under his belt.

DE Kevin Givens

Just like freshman Ryan Buchholz, with Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan ahead of them it’s no easy task to see the field this year. Buchholz has better size (6-6, 254), while Givens is listed at 6-1, 238 lbs. He’ll need time to grow into the position, making this year the right time to start that transition.

Saf. John Petrishen

With Marcus Allen at the top of the pecking order at free safety and with Troy Apke and Ayron Monroe likely behind him, Petrishen would seem in line to take a redshirt.

Saf. Jarvis Miller

Penn State moved Jordan Lucas to strong safety this offseason and while Lucas should be able to move around to help create different looks, redshirt junior Malik Golden appeared as next in line to see the field after Lucas. Miller would likely be at the bottom of the depth chart there this season. Golden was injured and unable to play in the final five games last season though, which is worth keeping in mind as the Lions round out the depth chart.

DT Robert Windsor

Franklin highlighted Windsor’s efforts during camp and while Penn State has depth at both tackle spots, at 6-4, 289 Windsor isn’t undersized. Penn State likes to keep their linemen fresh with lots of rotations, but with Austin Johnson and Parker Cothren ahead of him Windsor could be saved until next year.

Audrey Snyder: asnyder@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @audsnyder4


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Sorting out Penn State's depth at cornerback

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 week ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State cornerback’s coach Terry Smith has no shortage of young defensive backs. 

Four-star freshmen John Reid and Garrett Taylor are competing for an opportunity to see the field, along with redshirt freshmen Amani Oruwariye and Daquan Worley. Add sophomore Christian Campbell, the team’s projected third cornerback, along with penciled in starters in senior Trevor Williams and sophomore Grant Haley and figuring out what the pecking order is will continue to unfold during camp. 

I outlined Reid’s path to Penn State on Tuesday and Wednesday wrote about the team’s nickel and dime defense as part of my notebook. There are also items in the notebook on RB Akeel Lynch and those behind him, wide receivers Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles and a few others. Also, my practice observations from Wednesday’s 10-minute period that was open to the media can be found here as well.

Smith was the assistant coach made available this week and shed light on the battle for the third, fourth and fifth cornerback spot in the video below.   

 

Audrey Snyder: asnyder@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @audsnyder4


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