Thomas Frank Carr
The Blue White game is just a practice. Yet it’s the first taste of the 2018 Penn State Nittany Lions that many fans will get. Here are the five things to watch for during the annual spring game at Beaver Stadium.
5.The Backup’s Backup
Redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Clifford has gotten a heavy dose of the workload this spring due to Tommy Stevens suffering an injury. It’’s definitely the problem of the ‘have’s’ to be concerned about your third string quarterback when most ‘have not’s’ are still looking for one good option.
Yet there is a case to be made (and James Franklin has made it), that he wants three quality options at quarterback in case anything happens to Trace McSorley or Stevens. The latter figures to be a big part of the game plan this year in the ‘Lion’ position now that he is one of the top returning athletes on the offensive side of the ball. If Clifford can progress to the point that offensive coordinator Ricky Rhane feels comfortable with him, the team will feel more secure in using both of their quarterbacks in creative ways this fall. That being said, this is the third year that McSorley has been at the reigns of Joe Moorhead’s offense. Anything can happen, but it’s clear that he’s a tough leader who won’t come off the field unless something serious happens. The likelihood of seeing Clifford at any point this year is low, but it’s nice to have the option.
4. The Battle Inside
Penn State has three incredibly exciting interior linemen who are essentially battling for one spot. Redshirt freshman Mike Miranda and C.J. Thorpe, along with redshirt sophomore Michael Menet have all been competing this spring for the right guard position, vacated by graduating Brendan Mahon.
As of now Menet seems to have the leg up as the player with the most game time and seniority. Head coach James Franklin is pleased with his progress this spring,
Michael is probably one of the guys that has improved the most in terms of fundamentals and technique. In high school he was just such a better athlete than anyone else. I’m really pleased with him. He’s legitimately fighting for a starting job and playing with the ones.”
But he’s being pushed by the younger, talented players including Thorpe, who Franklin says has a nastiness to him,
“CJ, in the run game is probably our best guy. In the run game he plays with an attitude, he plays with a chip, he tires to finish people. He’s everything you want in the run game, but he’s behind in the passing game. He’s a guy we’re really excited about, I want that mentality to spread.”
That tenacity is something Franklin has been looking for in his offensive linemen for several years. If Thorpe can improve his pass blocking, he could see time in a rotational spot at right guard with Menet.
3. Kicking Competition
Penn State does not have a starting kicker right now with the graduation of Tyler Davis this spring. Walk-on Carson Landis is currently in the driver’s seat but has not distinguished himself so far this spring. The only other specialist on the roster is junior punter Blake Gillikin. Franklin has said multiple times this spring that he does not want to use Gillikin as his starting kicker and wants him to focus on punting. Gillikin will likely fill the role of kick off specialist vacated by Davis though. If Landis does not take the job this summer and during camp, freshman kicker Jake Pinegar is the only other option and he will not be here until fall camp.
This may be a dicey situation come the fall.
2. Parson’s Progression
It’s not surprising to find the talented freshman Micah Parsons on this list. It will be the first time that Penn State fans will get the chance to see Parsons play. After starting at middle linebacker, Parsons has switched to strong side linebacker to ease him into the world of playing off the ball.
Despite that, Franklin has said that there are ‘too many to list’ when it comes to candidates to fill the starting middle linebacker spot vacated by Jason Cabinda. Parsons still has plenty of time to digest the playbook and gain a comfort level with his teammates and position before meaningful game action. According to Franklin it’s a battle that won’t be decided until much later.
“Right now I wouldn’t say that we know what the answer is. I think we’ll be confident by the time camp ends, but I don’t think it will be at the beginning of camp. I think we’ll be pretty far into camp before we decide.”
1. Have Fun!
In the end, it’s the Blue White game. There isn’t a score that matters and even veteran beat writers have a hard time keeping track of who is playing, not playing or which number 17 made what play. Enjoy the day with family and friends. The weather is supposed to be beautiful on Saturday and with the stunted spring that we’ve had in the northeast, it will probably be the first time that many of us have been outside for an extended period of time. So enjoy the fact that for at least a day, football is back in Happy Valley.