3 Takeaways From Penn State's Last Open Practice Before the Blue-White Game

By Matthew Filipovits on April 20, 2017 at 1:12p
Apr 16, 2016; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin walks on the field during the first quarter of the Blue White spring game at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

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1.) Who Has Impressed?

Spring ball always presents the opportunity to give younger, less experienced players some time in the limelight. Coach Franklin rattled off a list of who has impressed him so far this spring.

  • Tommy Stevens

“Tommy Stevens has really had a good spring. I’m very, very pleased with him and the progress he has made really every year since he’s been here. He’s playing at a really high level.”

Stevens, a redshirt sophomore-to-be has been praised for his athleticism during his time with the program and that athleticism was on full display in limited playing time in 2016, most notably when he bulldozed 2015 Jim Thorpe award winner Desmond King on a jet sweep that led him to the end zone.

  • Christian Campbell

“Christian Campbell’s another guy that we’re very, very pleased with. He had a great offseason. It’s the first time since he’s been here that he’s had a complete offseason.”

Heading into his senior campaign Christian Campbell has seen playing time since his freshman season in 2014 and should take on a much larger role in 2017 after the season ending injury to junior John Reid.

  • Jonathan Holland

“Holland is another guy...he’s improved dramatically. He’s about 255 pounds, he’s a guy that has the ability to block you, he’s made really good plays in the passing game which is somethings that’s come to natural to him since he’s been here. But he’s a guy I really think has factored in now.”

Entering his third year with the program, Holland appears to be on his way to establishing himself as the number two tight end on the depth chart, behind Mike Gesicki.

  • Koa Farmer

“Koa Farmer, as you guys know has really bounced around from safety to linebacker, back to safety, back to linebacker again. He’s got everybody really excited, he’s finally kind of found a home and comfortable”

Koa Farmer has been an enigma during his time with the Nittany Lions. As Franklin said he has bounced around all over the defensive side of the ball, but look for the redshirt junior to make a name for himself at the linebacker position this season.

  • Josh McPhearson

“Josh McPhearson has done a really good job for us. He’s a guy that’s worked hard, we’re excited about him as a possible punt returner and what he can do as a running back as well.”

Hype man extraordinaire Josh McPhearson garnered some praise for his work at practice in the past and it seems as if it will finally pay off for the senior in his final season as a Nittany Lion.

2.) Punters Are People Too

Penn State’s saving grace at punter rolled into town last season in the form of Blake Gillikin, who exceeded every expectation for his freshman season. Gillikin talked about what it’s like being a punter and what the average fan might not know about the position.

“A lot of time behind the scenes goes in. I’m in the weight room all the time with the snappers, especially holding, catching punts, drop drills, and stuff because everything about my job is consistency. If you can’t be consistent, you can’t really be successful as a punter.”

The golden-legged Gillikin also praised long snapper Kyle Vasey for his work throughout the spring. Gillikin is also in contention to replace Chris Gulla at holder, a battle he is currently waging with quarterback Billy Fessler. He also mentioned that he has gained about 20 pounds since arriving on campus last June, with the added muscle he hopes to improve his already stellar 42.8 yards per punt mark he set during his freshman campaign.

3.) The Right Direction

Running back Andre Robinson noted that he was right on track in terms of achieving his goals during spring practice.

“I think mentally I’m a lot ahead of where I was last year, just blitz recognition, knowing the offense, being able to pre-snap read a defense...from a mental standpoint that helps so much.”

Robinson also noted that the offensive unit as a whole has improved as compared to this time last year.

“I’d say last year everyone was kind of slow, hesitant, just learning the offense and now we’re just locked loaded and ready to go.”

As the team prepares to scrimmage at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, the running backs says that the team enjoys all of the buzz around Blue-White weekend.

“It’s awesome just to go out there in front of the best fans in the country, in front of 75,000 people and just have a practice….it’s one of my favorite weekends of the year, by far.”

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