By: Thomas Frank Carr
Clearly none of us are worried about who will win the Blue White Game. That’s not to say there isn’t quite a bit to see and learn from the annual spring game on Saturday. Here are the position battles and players that you should keep an eye out for on Saturday.
Wide Receiver: This is by far the most talked about position coming into the spring. The biggest question is who will replace Chris Godwin. Luckily for the Nittany Lions there are a bevy of options.
Safety: Of the position battles, this is one has flown under the radar for most of the spring. As of now it looks likely that senior Troy Apke will fill that role to start after the departure of Malik Golden. However, the defense really struggled when Golden left the field in 2016, which he rarely did. Redshirt sophomore Aryon Monroe ha a lot of talent, but has yet to show any consistency and hasn’t made a name for himself yet. Senior team captain Nick Scott will also figure into the rotation. Finding a new starter to lean on at this position could quietly be a serious issue of Monroe never takes the next step and Apke continues to play with inconsistency.
Defensive End: To me this is really a non-story. Yes both starters Garrett Sickles and Evan Schwan are gone, but with the amount of rotation that the Nittany Lions imploy at this position, it’s not exactly a huge blow. Schwan was a solid player, but was only a one year starter. Sickles was a talented pass rusher, but the players behind him could be special.
The steady starter that I assume will get the nod is Torrence Brown, who got plenty of starting time last year with Sickles missing two starts. Brown plays with good phsyciality and as long as he can defend the edge better in 2017, he should be a reliable starter before the Nittany Lions get out their fastball pitchers. Sophomore Ryan Buchholz is the biggest end, with NFL Size at 6’6” 270, but plays with great quickness and power. Brown and Buchholz should figure to be early down run stuffers who can also provide pass rushing threats to the outside.
The young players that fans should be excited about this year are defensive end Shareef Miller (48) and Shane Simmons (34). Simmons is a bit undersized at about 240, but both are incredibly explosive pass rushers that have been all over the field during practice this spring. With four rushers that bring different skills to the table, the Nittany Lions shouldn’t have a drop off in production in 2016.
Players to Watch:
Not Saquon Barkley, Jason Cabinda, Trace McSorley, Marcus Allen, Grant Haley, or many other seniors:
Don’t get your hopes up, James Franklin made it clear early in the spring that we won’t see much of the key players for the 2017 season. The last thing that anyone wants is a bad injury during a practice game. McSorley will probably get a few snaps but will be heavily whistled the moment anyone gets close.
CB Lamont Wade: I’ve never understood why anyone would swing a dead cat around, let alone touch one, but you can’t swing a dead cat around on the internet without coming across a story about Lamont Wade. Fans and media have been going gaga over the 5’9” 190 pound freshman. There’s good reason too. He’s college ready with a great pedigree and has looked good in the limited about of time the media has been able to watch. He’ll be wearing number 38 on Saturday and will likely be on the 2nd team but with the injury to John Reid, he may see time with the first team.
WR Juwan Johnson: The name that is on the lips of players and coaches alike so far is Juwan Johnson. Johnson has had an impressive spring and according to him, he’s been focusing on the right things this offseason,
“Before I would catch the ball often but not as much as I do now. I would work on my strength and studying film on things that I shouldn’t have been studying film on. Now it’s more of an evaluation of myself. Even if I’m working on my footwork or my strength, I’m catching the ball because that’s what receivers do.”
Johnson admitted that drops have been a problem for him since high school, even if he didn’t want to admit it at first,
“There were a lot of reviews, even in high school that said I had inconsistent hands. I would always waiver and say “nah that’s not me” but honestly it was true. I would drop open passes but I would make incredible catches. I’ve tried to work on that this offseason and catch everything that’s in my reach.”
If the light has finally come on for Johnson, watch out. He’s got the size, strength and speed to be a force for the Nittany Lions.
LB Cam Brown:
Brown showed a very natural feel for the linebacker position last year in his time on the field. The problems was that at 6’5” 205, there were wide receivers that were bigger than him. Reports are that he’s put on 10-15 lbs of muscle. He’s listed at 215, but James Franklin said he’s closer to 225. We’ll see if that’s the case.
We’ll have more players to watch coming up later in the week.