Odds and ends: Thoughts on Penn State's TEs, the plan for the freshmen and more

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about 2 hours ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The return of the regular season means the return of routines and that was in full swing Tuesday as defensive tackle Austin Johnson and safety Marcus Allen fielded questions on conference calls and James Franklin held his first weekly news conference of the season.

Purdue's Ricardo Allen, left, tries to stop Penn State's Adam Breneman as he runs down the field with the ball during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey)

Following Franklin’s availability quarterback Christian Hackenberg and linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White met with the media for the first time since the team held media day Aug. 6. Here is my notebook from Tuesday with lots of items in it. Also, here are my three keys to the season as well as a story about cost of attendance stipends (Hint: It includes what LaVar Arrington’s go-to Wendy’s meal was when he was in college).

We’ll go through more player conference calls Wednesday and catch the final 10 minutes of practice in the evening.

For now, here are some extra thoughts as Wednesday gets rolling.

What to make of Adam Breneman’s availability and Kyle Carter’s spot on the depth chart?

Breneman, a redshirt sophomore, said earlier this summer he felt better than ever and he was practicing with the team even up until last Wednesday when he was spotted running on the side with strength coach Dwight Galt.

With Breneman left off Penn State’s Week 1 depth chart and his history of injuries, it’s unclear what’s next. Franklin didn’t go into great detail when asked why Breneman wasn’t on the depth chart, but Franklin did say the redshirt sophomore who missed last season with a knee injury has “some challenges that he needs to overcome on the football field.”

There was no timetable given and when asked if Breneman will be available later this year.

“I can’t speak on that. I’m not sure,” Franklin said.

Breneman was a key piece of Penn State’s 2013 recruiting class along with Christian Hackenberg and I remember asking Franklin about Breneman in the middle of last season and the coach being upbeat about all the possibilities a healthy Breneman would give the offense. We’ve seen the offense operate with (2013) and without (2014) Breneman and while I think Mike Gesicki, the listed starter who turned heads since he arrived on campus last summer is in for a breakout year, Breneman’s availability—whatever it is or isn’t-- is certainly a concern.

I also found it interesting that redshirt junior Brent Wilkerson was listed on the depth chart ahead of fifth-year senior Kyle Carter. This isn’t a slight to Wilkerson, rather just interesting when looking at the way things have gone for Carter the past few years.

Carter, who dealt with his own share of injuries throughout his Penn State career, was second on the team in receptions back in 2012. While the tight ends where heavily emphasized in Bill O’Brien’s offense, Carter’s production since he burst on the scene that year has decreased.

Here are the numbers:

2012 (through nine games): 36 catches, 453 yards, 2 TDs

2013 (through 12 games): 18 catches, 222 yards, 1TD

2014: (through 13 games): 16 catches, 153 yards, 1TD

“Hopefully we stay injury free and don't need to either, you know, have to burn a red shirt or something like that, but we feel good about the three that we have,” Franklin said of the tight ends. “There's no doubt that you'd love to have Adam available for this week and you'd love to have his play-making abilities, as well as his maturity.”

Plan for the freshmen

Penn State plans on using four freshmen off the bat this season with receivers Juwan Johnson and Brandon Polk, plus cornerback John Reid and running back Saquon Barkley. That much we knew.

How much they play this season, especially Saturday against Temple, remains to be seen. For now Barkley is fourth on the depth chart at running back and is listed second on kick returns (behind Koa Farmer). Johnson is third behind receivers Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall. Reid is listed as CB Grant Haley’s backup. Polk is listed behind receiver DeAndre Thompkins and Polk is also listed third behind Mark Allen and Thompkins on punt returns.

Easing the freshmen into their roles is the plan and by the fourth game Franklin said he expects these players to then take the next step.

“What you're really hoping for with these young players is that not that they're, you know, 100 percent ready to play against Temple, that they have a role against Temple, but by game five, these guys aren't freshmen anymore,” Franklin said.

We heard plenty about Barkley during camp and Mark Allen—or ‘Little Mark Allen’ as good friend and teammate Marcus Allen said on his conference call when I asked him about the 5-foot-6, 181-pound back-- is Akeel Lynch’s top backup. What type of role Barkley has this year will be determined as the season progresses, which is always the case with any true freshman who sees the field. Once they get their footing and the game slows down a bit for them—ideally by the time conference play starts— then the players in the yellow or maybe category can step up if they are given the green light and begin their acclimation process.

Talking smack

Austin Johnson said the players like to talk trash to one another to fire each other up during practices. So who are some of the trash talkers and who does it well?

Jordan Lucas talks. Geno [Lewis] hands down likes to talk a lot,” Johnson said. “DaeSean [Hamilton]. Some of the guys on the outside and I mean I talk to the linebackers sometimes here and there so I mean the front seven we just pretty much talk smack to each other here and there. It’s a lot of the guys on the outside like Jordan, Geno, DaeSean, Grant [Haley], John Reid, all those guys. It’s a very competitive atmosphere.”

Reid has only been on campus since late June, but from everything we’ve heard about the guy he likes to compete so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that he’s talking and by the sounds of it is backing it up too.

“He is very good at that corner spot,” Johnson said. “He talks to everybody about what he sees. … People might think, ‘Oh he’s a little small and stuff like that,’ but thery’re not going to say that once the ball is snapped.”

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter @audsnyder4.

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Life in the trenches: Austin Johnson praises team's depth at defensive tackle

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 day ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Defensive tackle Austin Johnson said it doesn’t matter if he maybe flies under the radar as teammate Anthony Zettel picks up the accolades.

Penn State defensive tackle Austin Johnson waits for the next drill at practice during the spring of 2015. (Audrey Snyder/Post-Gazette)

At 6-4, 323 pounds it’s hard for Johnson to go unnoticed as he takes on double teams, helping free up Zettel to make big plays. Johnson’s effectiveness is often measured by details that sometimes go unnoticed because of what the other players around him are allowed to do because of him taking on two players while continuing to maximize his matchups when the double teams shift to Zettel like they sometimes do.

It’s all in a day’s work in the life of a nose tackle like Johnson.

“Depending on the team it changes throughout the course of the game,” Johnson said of the double teams Tuesday morning on a conference call. “It’s something that I have to deal with. I’ve been taking on double teams for a long time so it’s about time to start getting out of them and make plays.”

Zettel and James Franklin both said this summer that the each player wouldn’t be as successful without the other, but those behind Zettel and Johnson also help make this tackle rotation deep. Parker Cothren, a redshirt sophomore, and Tarow Barney, a senior who joined the team prior to last season, serve as the top backups for Johnson and Zettel. Both saw time last year and will certainly be in the mix this season because Penn State likes to rotate defensive linemen to keep them fresh.

Johnson said he’s certain there won’t be a drop off when the second wave of defensive tackles comes on to spell the starters.

“They’re going to be really good as well,” Johnson said. “When we rotate we’re not going to miss a beat on the field either so it’s going to be hard for teams to kind of say that, ‘Oh, their second d-line is in, the other guys are in so we’re going to try to run the ball.’ That’s not going to happen because they’re just as good as us two. They’re very similar to me and Anthony so it’s going to be hard for other teams to think they can make plays when we rotate.”

Johnson, who is from Galloway, N.J., said the proximity to Lincoln Financial Field for the Lions’ season opener against Temple on Saturday will allow him to have 8-10 friends and family members on hand.

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter @audsnyder4.

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Penn State picks up 20th verbal pledge in 2016 class

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3 days ago

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State’s 2016 recruiting class picked up a verbal pledge from safety Andrew Pryts Saturday night, the 20th player in the class to do so.

Pryts, a Rivals 3-star safety whose father was a linebacker for Penn State from 1978-81, made the announcement on Twitter, choosing Penn State over scholarship offers from Ohio State, Stanford, Notre Dame, Michigan and Alabama, among others.

The addition of Pryts also means another of Pennsylvania’s top prospects is choosing to stay in state and head to Happy Valley. Between offensive lineman Michal Menet, running back Miles Sanders, defensive tackle Karamo Dioubate, center Connor McGovern, defensive end Shaka Toney and Pryts, Penn State has a strong portion of the upper echelon of their class coming from the Keystone state.

With Pryts in the class Penn State’s 2016 group is ranked No. 8 by Rivals, No. 4 by 247Sports and No. 4 by Scout.

Here are Pryts’ highlights from his junior season at Hermatage’s Hickory High School: 

Audrey Snyder: and Twitter @audsnyder4.

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Where will Koa Farmer help Penn State this season?

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 6 days 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: 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 6 days 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: and Twitter @audsnyder4.

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