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

By Audrey Snyder/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about 18 hours 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 2 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 5 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 5 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.


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

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

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