By: Matt Bortner
Penn State and James Franklin unveiled their depth chart for the 2016 season at Franklin’s first weekly press conference today.
Coming out of the gates the offensive line looks like most expected it would. Maybe the only surprise is that Brendan Mahon will be manning the right tackle position and Andrew Nelson will line up on the right side. The line will round out with Brian Gaia at center, Derek Dowrey at right guard, and much talked about and praised redshirt freshman Ryan Bates. Backing up at right and left guard are touted true freshman Michael Menet and Connor McGovern. McGovern has been given the green light from James Franklin (ready to play right away) while Menet has been given the yellow light (player who will most likely contribute on the field by the end of the year)
“Obviously the earlier [they play] the better, but really if at any point we feel like those guys can help our team be successful, we’re willing to do it. “
It will be interesting to see if struggles continue this season at line, what Franklin will decide to do. The depth has begun to grow at the position but Franklin has decided to go with a line that is very reminiscent of last year with the exception of Bates. Experience seems to be the concern for him but if the line performs as last year, will Franklin begin to shake things up and bring in some of the young guns. Redshirt sophomore, Noah Beh specifically has been lauded coming out of camp but is not listed on the depth chart. True freshman Will Fries had an impressive camp as well.
The redshirt freshman figured to play a big role in at the tight end position this year. Franklin announced today that Bowers will miss the entire season, but would not go into any details. Bowers was a top 20 ranked tight end coming out of high school. That leaves Mike Gesicki atop of the depth chart with Tom Pancoast and Jonathon Holland backing up. A lot has been expected out of Gesicki but the junior has yet to tap into that potential. His biggest issue has been his inability to consistently catch passes, but has shown flashes of his athleticism and ability to highpoint the ball. Joe Moorhead’s offensive was favorable for tight ends at Fordham and could be a kick start for Gesicki and the other tight ends, although Pancoast and Holland combined collegiate experience is one game.
The biggest concern on the defensive side of the ball this year with the departures of Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson, and Anthony Zettel. Kevin Givens has been turning heads ever since spring ball, and he has ascended to the top of the defensive tackle depth chart with Parker Cothren. Givens, a redshirt freshman, showcased his physical abilities by lifting massive amounts of weight which has translated to the field.
“Kevin is pound-for-pound probably one of the strongest guys on our team, and on top of that, he’s got tremendous quickness and athleticism for that position.”
Because this unit is so young it is surprising to see that Curtis Cothran was left off the depth chart. The junior saw valuable playing time last year which included four tackles and two and a half sacks. JUCO transfer Robert Windsor has also received a lot of praise for his work at defensive tackle. Garret Sickels is the only returning starter.
Punter, Blake Gillikin is another true freshman that has been given the green light. Gillikin will begin the season as the starting punter, beating out returnees Chris Gull and Daniel Pasquariello. The punting game struggled last season, so the early emergence of Gillikin is a breath of fresh air.
Highly ranked recruit Alex Barbir was brought in to compete for the kicking job immediately. As he has, the role was ultimately given to redshirt junior Tyler Davis, who took over the job late in the season last year. Joey “Big Toe” Julius is second on the depth chart despite not participating in spring ball. As it was last year, I would expect Franklin will be willing to place any of the three kickers in the game depending on their performance.
If you can’t get enough of Saquon Barkley, you will enjoy this bit of news. Barkley was placed second on the depth chart as kick returner behind Nick Scott. Although Franklin has stressed that he will pick and choose his moments to use Barkley, and rightfully so.
“I think Saquon is probably the one guy, has been pretty strong, had a pretty strong voice all offseason that he wanted to be more involved on special teams and have a bigger role and bigger impact on the team”
It is obviously a risk reward situation but it compares to the model of Stanford, it is hard to keep a player like Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley of the field. Sure handed Gregg Garrity will field punts with DeAndre Thompkins backing him up.