Senior Send-off: A Look at Penn State’s Final Spring Practice (And What It Means for the Future)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For the final time, Penn State seniors had the chance to watch its football team from the comfort of Beaver Stadium as students on a clear Friday night in Happy Valley.
Friday’s event, an addendum to last Saturday’s Blue-White substitute in which only first-year students were allowed to attend, initially limited admittance to seniors with at least one in-person class. Following criticism, this decision was quickly changed by the university to accommodate all seniors, and then on Wednesday, Penn State made the announcement that seating would be available for the general public.
Despite the bumpy road in determining who could and who couldn’t drop by Beaver Stadium on Friday, Penn State’s final spring practice was silky smooth, as a crowd of a couple thousand experienced Penn State football in person for the first time in over a year.
Much like last Saturday’s practice, Friday featured a handful of positional drills and later a scrimmage rather than a full-on game in the spirit of Blue-White. This scrimmage began at approximately 7:33 p.m., and although the scoreboard did not keep track of points over the next hour and 20 minutes of gameplay, the Nittany Lions certainly found the end zone a number of times, much to the enjoyment of the spectators.
The scoring began with a 64-yard touchdown haul by Jahan Dotson on third play of scrimmage, most of the yardage coming after the initial catch. Dotson, a junior and member of the All-Big Ten third team in 2020, opted to return to Happy Valley for the 2021 season instead of declaring for the NFL draft.
There’s not much to wonder about how big of a role Dotson will have on the offense in 2021 (the answer: very big), but Penn State does have some answering to do at the running back position. Friday’s practice saw carries from four different backs—Keyvone Lee, Devyn Ford, Tank Smith and Baylor transfer John Lovett—with Caziah Holmes and Noah Cain also returning to the roster. It’s a loaded room for a position that Penn State struggled to find consistency with last season.
Lovett and Lee garnered most of the attention, the former showing his speed on a couple carries early in the scrimmage before posting a short touchdown run later on. Lovett was not active at last Saturday’s practice for health reasons.
“[Lovett] is a veteran guy, he’s been around, he’s played a lot of football, and he’s very respected at the place he came from,” Franklin said. “He can run, he’s got the ability to make people miss, and he’s got that extra gear that we need for a guy that can be a home-run threat for us.”
Lee, meanwhile, also found the end zone on a drive set up by a long catch up the middle from the freshman back. Lee led all Nittany Lions in rushing in 2020 with 438 yards and four touchdowns on 89 carries.
“Keyvone Lee is just so much more confident going into his second year,” Franklin said.
Elsewhere on the offense, recent wide receiver convert Marquis Wilson earned a couple targets throughout the evening. Wilson announced last week his intentions to shift from his 2020 cornerback position to a receiving role.
Of course, there’s also the quarterback position. Barring a late transfer, Penn State seems set to roll with Sean Clifford under center (figuratively, of course—all of his snaps as Penn State's starter have been in the shotgun) for another season, and in limited reps, Clifford looked solid, making accurate throws and netting a rushing score from 2 yards out.
The bigger question is at QB2. With Will Levis departed for Kentucky, the Nittany Lions have a hole to fill at backup quarterback. As such, all three Nittany Lion bench signal callers saw action on Friday night with redshirt freshman Ta’Quan Roberson seeing the bulk of the playing time.
It was a mixed day for Roberson, who displayed athleticism with his legs on some plays but also tossed a number of overthrows, including an interception in the pre-practice warmups. The same can be said for current third-string and fourth-string options Christian Veilleux and Mason Stahl, who each threw a number of pretty passes but didn’t do too much to wow the audience.
For Franklin, finding a comfortable No. 2 option at QB is just a matter of time and experience.
“I don’t think you’re ever comfortable at the [backup] quarterback position until those guys have gotten game reps,” Franklin said. “Obviously the practice reps are critical, but having guys that don’t have game reps at significant moments, you’re never completely comfortable.”
While the on-field product was the main course for those in attendance, Penn State’s final spring practice also offered a number of guest stars in between plays, including former Nittany Lions wideout and current Denver Bronco KJ Hamler, basketball big man John Harrar, and upcoming NFL draft entrant Micah Parsons.
In the postgame press conference, Franklin noted how both he and defensive coordinator Brent Pry will be attending the draft to support Parsons, a likely first-round selection.
“The thing that really jumps out with Micah is how well he is able to retain information,” Franklin said. “Some of the messages and conversations I’ve had with Micah over the years have been really impressive, thoughtful conversations.”
Franklin also cited Parsons’ drive to compete as a reason why the former All-American should earn a high landing spot in this year’s draft.
As for the team, there’s still plenty to figure out for the Nittany Lions heading into the offseason with training camp set to begin in July. Franklin noted how he and his players will “try to get a little time with [their] families” before they get back to work.
But barring any further changes from the university or the team, this signals the end of the in-person Penn State football fan experience until the fall and the final go-around for the university’s seniors. Friday’s practice may not have been an “unforgettable experience” like an October White Out would have been, but it was a good send-off for a group of soon-to-be alumni and an exciting indication of an eventual return to normalcy for a stadium famous for being filled with 107,000 screaming fans.
DJ Bauer is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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Senior / Broadcast Journalism