Spring goes smoothly

Here is the column I wrote about Penn State’s spring practice that ran in Friday’s paper.

PennState’s spring practice went as well as could be expected.

The Nittany Lions, who end the spring with Saturday’s Blue-White game, saw several players answer question marks, were able to let some talented newcomers get in quality work thanks to the presence of known quantities and were able to experiment with a couple players at new positions.

No, a starting quarterback won’t be named and Bill O’Brien already said he wouldn’t do that going into spring practice. The arrival of Christian Hackenberg, the nation’s top quarterback, in June is a big reason why, but both Steven Bench and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson did well for themselves over the past month.

Another big plus is nobody went down with a major injury (offensive tackle Garry Gilliam missed most of the spring with a calf strain) while others (tight end Kyle Carter, linebacker Ben Kline and safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong) were held out while they recovered from offseason surgeries. True freshman tight end Adam Breneman saw some work, but precautions were taken as he returns to the field following a knee injury that wiped out his senior year of high school.

Penn State had several holes to fill along the offensive line with the departures of center Matt Stankiewitch and tackle Mike Farrell. Seniors Adam Gress, who saw time at tackle last year, and Ty Howle, who played guard last season but came to PSU as a center, both had good springs and seemed to lock down starting jobs.

Gilliam would have challenged Gress, but the converted tight end went down early in the spring and to Gress’ credit he took advantage of the opportunity. Howle never had much competition — sophomore Angelo Mangiro battled a hamstring all spring and redshirt freshman Wendy Laurent is still a year away from being ready — but Howle has taken command of the huddle and gotten himself stronger.

The Nittany Lions’ depth at linebacker is a bit scary and missing Kline didn’t help, but Mike Hull and Glenn Carson make those concerns a little less worrisome. Having redshirt freshmen Nyeem Wartman and Gary Wooten, who both have the talent to succeed, around for their first springs was big, but expect to hear incoming freshman Brandon Bell’s name this fall.

Walk-ons Jesse Della Valle and Ryan Keiser both saw extended time in the secondary, but former wide receivers Malik Golden and Trevor Williams both made the transition to defense and could stick. Spring practice is the time to experiment and with plenty of depth at wideout getting Golden and Williams snaps in the secondary was smart. Sophomore corner Jordan Lucas has also had a good spring while battling sophomore DaQuan Davis for the starting job opposite junior Adrian Amos.

While junior running back Zack Zwinak has the starting job locked down, his presence allowed the Nittany Lions to get a closer look at redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch. While he’s not quite as big as Zwinak, Lynch still packs a punch and has the speed to get around the edge. He’ll be a player to watch Saturday and this fall.

Even without Carter this spring, depth isn’t a concern at tight end. One name to watch is Brent Wilkerson, a redshirt freshman who gives Penn State another talented target to work the middle of the field.

A couple other names to watch Saturday will be senior Eric Shrive and junior Alex Kenney. Shrive, a five-star offensive tackle from Scranton, sounds like the first man up at guard and tackle, while Kenney, a State College native, is still looking to translate all of his speed and ability to the field.


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