By: Thomas Frank Carr
Reading too much into the Penn State depth chart this early in the season is a fool’s mission. It means very little for the scope of the season to come.
To say that it means nothing would be categorically untrue. Here are some tidbits from Tuesday’s press conference that are intriguing.
Mile Sanders buried on Depth Chart
Sanders was a highly touted tailback coming out of high school last year who showed promise as a kick returner in 2016. When he had a chance to see the field, he showed some speed and burst that led Nittany Lions fans to believe in the future after Saquon Barkley. However, Sanders is listed behind Mark Allen and Andre Robinson, who are tabbed as the co-backup to the bell-cow Barkley. There was hope that Sanders would use this offseason to prove he was the heir apparent to the Heisman contender leading the tailbacks this year.
Unfortunately an injury slowed him in the spring and he hasn’t been able to make up ground on the other two players ahead of him. This isn’t so say that he can’t make that happen over the course of the season, but it’s not a good sign for Sanders that he’s the 3rd man in a rotation that will see very few snaps with Barkley taking the lion’s share.
Tariq Castro-Fields has Impressed
The headliner of the 2017 freshman class has been Lamont Wade to this point. Maybe it’s time that we reassess that. Head Coach James Franklin and his staff have raved about Fields during training camp this summer. In fact Castro-Fields is listed as the primary backup to Christian Campbell at the boundary corner position.
While it may not mean as much at a position where the Nittany Lions rotate heavily, it does give the impression that the taller, rangier, Castro-Fields has done enough to see the field at corner at some point this season. Franklin did say that both he and Wade will play this year.
“We have three that we plan on burning their red shirts right from the beginning of the season. That could change as the season goes on, and those three, like I said, are Yetor (Gross-Matos) at defensive end and Lamont Wade and Castro-Fields at corner,” Franklin said at his Tuesday press conference.
Menet and the Vets along the O-line
A lot was expected of Michael Menet coming into this summer. The redshirt sophomore was expected to be the next in a growing line of young offensive linemen that played early at Penn State. However, Menet was not able to capture a starting job in part due to injury.
“He’s had kind of some bumps and bruises and nicks that haven’t been any major issues, but it’s been enough that he’s missed a significant amount of practice time during the spring and during the summer. He just needs the time and the reps to develop the fundamentals that he needs to play at this level consistently,” Franklin said.
The other part was due to the play of senior Brendan Mahon.
“Looking back and watching the tape, when he plays for us, he brings a physical component to our offensive line that we probably don’t have without him. He is a big, strong, physical offensive lineman who has got light enough feet that he could play tackle for us. Gives us more of a road-grader mentality at the guard position, and has some of the heaviest hands I’ve ever been around. I mean, when he punches you, it’s like getting hit with two cinder blocks, it really is. We’re excited about having him back,” Franklin said.
Weights and heights are usually inflated to start the year, but it is a good sign that Curtis Cothran has put on weight this offseason. He’s listed at 301, which is ideal for his 6-5 frame. With added size, Cothran is the most important and potentially game-wrecking defensive lineman that the Nittany Lions have in 2017.
Steven Gonzalez was able to hold on to his starting spot after the conclusion of the 2017 season. Gonzalez struggled at times last year, but has the size (6-4, 331) to be factor on the inside. He will have to play with much more confidence and aggression this year in order to raise his game.
James Franklin has consistently talked about depth as the biggest factor for the Nittany Lions in 2017, and boy is he not kidding. There are exactly zero players that are listed as the primary backup to more than one position. Last year’s depth chart was littered with, well a lack of depth. Koa Famer and Cam Brown were listed as the primary backups at two positions each, while receivers were cross trained at more than one position each.
That isn’t to say that this lineup is set in stone. Players will play in multiple positions according to the game plan each week. It’s just refreshing to see there are multiple options in case anything hits the fan.