Blue White Game Position Battles
With quarterback Christian Hackenberg and three members of the Penn State front seven heading to the NFL this spring, the hype surrounding this weekend’s Blue White game is exponentially heightened. The arrival of another highly touted recruiting class makes for some very interesting position battles that will play out Saturday afternoon.
Here are some of the names and positions to keep an eye on during Penn State’s Blue White spring game.
Any time there is a quarterback battle the attention is diverted solely in that direction. Christian Hackenberg set the bar high for Penn State quarterbacks moving forward and there are four guys who could take over the starting job.
The immediate favorite to win the job appears to be Trace McSorley. The redshirt sophomore showed poise and an ability to play in the clutch when he replaced Christian Hackenberg in the TaxSlayer Bowl earlier this year. He has the most playing experience at the college level and should be a better fit for James Franklin’s offense.
Second is true freshman Jake Zembiec, a four-star prospect out of the Aquinas Institute in New York. Like McSorley, Zembiec will give you the athleticism and mobility James Franklin desire in his offense. While he is a candidate to be redshirted, Zembiec has Penn State fans excited and looking towards the future.
Finally, Tommy Stevens and Billy Fessler will attempt to put their names on the map. While the two have an outside chance of earning the starting job, it will be intriguing to see each of their skill sets on the field Saturday afternoon.
There is little doubt that Saquon Barkley is the starter at running back for the foreseeable future. The arrival of five-star recruit Miles Sanders will force Barkley to only get better and continue his reign as Penn State’s most exciting player in recent memory.
We saw a good amount of depth from Penn State’s wide receivers last year. DaeSean Hamilton, Chris Godwin, and Saeed Blacknall will return as the starters and give whoever wins the quarterback battle an excellent selection of weapons. Redshirt freshmen Irvin Charles, Juwan Johnson, Tyler Shoop and Dan Chisena will all be fighting to prove themselves after sitting out last year.
Penn State tight ends have struggled in recent years to maintain relevancy as receivers and pass protectors. Luckily, there will be fresh blood entering the program to battle with Mike Gesicki and Brent Wilkerson. After turning down an offer from Alabama, true freshman Danny Dalton will certainly be garnering interest. He has excellent hands and enough size to reach up and high point above defensive backs.
Redshirt freshman Nick Bowers will also be fighting for a starting role, but expect Dalton to get a fighting chance.
The Penn State offense goes as their offensive line goes. If the line can’t be held together, the play of the quarterback will affect the entire depth chart. A starting job will be available at left guard, which could allow redshirt freshman Steven Gonzalez and Ryan Bates to step up.
True freshman Alex Gellerstedt, Michal Menet, and Connor McGovern can also fight for an opportunity to start, as they are the only offensive line recruits currently enrolled.
The defensive line battles will be the second most interesting competition featured in the spring game. The loss of Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson, and Anthony Zettel will certainly hurt the Nittany Lions dominant front seven and their ability to be a consistent pass rushing threat. Garrett Sickles will certainly get the first shot at a starting job, as he proved to be a valuable depth piece last season.
We could see someone such as Curtis Cothran take the next step and become a starter and be the pass rushing replacement to Carl Nassib
Similar to the wide receiver and running back positions, the linebackers are all but set this year. The welcomed return of Nyeem Wartman-White alongside Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell will once again bring a potent linebacking corps that will shut down opposing running backs and receivers.
Jake Cooper has showed some promise and the arrival of four-star outside linebacker Cameron Brown will hopefully continue the “Linebacker U” tradition.
Penn State’s cornerbacks are another solid group with the majority of their starters returning. Grant Haley, Nick Scott, and John Reid highlight the starters who shouldn’t have too much competition to worry about. One of the top cornerback recruits in the country, Zechariah McPhearson, could fight his way into the starting defensive back rotation, but he will have to fight off redshirt freshmen Garrett Taylor and Troy Shorts.
Marcus Allen and Malik Golden locked up their starting jobs last year. Since Penn State didn’t bring any recruits with a lot of experience at safety, expect James Franklin to heavily rely on Allen and Golden. Troy Apke, Joe Berg, and Koa Farmer have spent the majority of their years at Penn State on the bench, but a solid spring game could push them up the depth chart.
Joey Julius earned fame with his large frame and accuracy early in his Penn State career. After some inconsistencies, Tyler Davis saw time as the starter and finished the season on the field. Jordan Wombacker and Nick Boumerhi are both redshirt freshman who could push “Big Toe Joe” to the bench.
George Stockburger is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org