Akron Snap Counts: First Look at the Improved Depth in 2017

By Dan Smith on September 4, 2017 at 3:20 pm
Sep 2, 2017; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions players sign their alma mater following the competition of the game at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Akron 52-0. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
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Welcome back to the Snap Counts series, which I am doing for the third straight year, the second one here at Roar Lions Roar. For those who are new: I re-watch every game and track who is on the field for Penn State on every offensive and defensive snap, as well as some notes on special teams.

Early in the season, the curiosities will be focused on how young players are breaking into the rotation. With players like Chris Godwin, Garrett Sickels, and Brandon Bell no longer around, how does the coaching staff deploy its reserves and new recruits? Additionally, we will see how early James Franklin goes to the second units during blowout games (Akron being the first case study on this).

Later in the year, these posts will be more focused on how the coaching staff deals with the injuries that will inevitably occur. But for now, let's enjoy an almost completely healthy and deep football team by seeing just how many options Franklin has at his disposal.

A couple of notes about how these are calculated and displayed:

  • I count all plays that are snapped and played to the whistle, including ones that get called back for a penalty. So a running play that is negated by a hold counts. A dead ball false start does not, however.
  • These are displayed in order of playing time amassed, not the actual depth chart. So a "First Team" player may actually be a reserve player who saw a lot of action due to injury or an abundance of playing time late in a blowout. In these week's edition, there are a number of examples of this on the defensive side of the ball.

Offense (67 plays)

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team / Reserves
QB Trace McSorley (55) Tommy Stevens (12)  
RB Saquon Barkley (44) Miles Sanders (13) Andre Robinson (7) / Tommy Stevens (3)
WR-X Juwan Johnson (56) Irvin Charles (6)  
WR-Z DeAndre Thompkins (42) Saeed Blacknall (30)  
WR-H DaeSean Hamilton (41) Brandon Polk (26)  
TE Mike Gesicki (51) Tom Pancoast (10) Jon Holland (6)
LT Ryan Bates (54) Will Fries (13)  
LG Steven Gonzalez (67)    
C Connor McGovern (54) Zach Simpson (13)  
RG Brendan Mahon (54) Michal Menet (13)  
RT Chasz Wright (59) Alex Gellerstedt (8)  
  •  New Receiver Rotations: Last season, Godwin and Hamilton were very solidified in their roles, with Godwin on the outside and Hamilton in the slot. Blacknall and Thompkins split time in the other outside receiver spot as both dealt with some injuries. Thompkins also ended up spelling Hamilton in the slot after Polk was lost for the season with an injury after playing just three games. Johnson and Charles saw a limited amount of time in the rotation, but made little impact as redshirt freshmen.

The first thing to note is that Johnson may very well have ascended to the number one receiver spot on this team, taking over Godwin's role. That syncs up with all reports we heard from coaches and observers during the offseason workouts.

As expected, Blacknall is the first receiver off the bench, and will play more than Charles if Saturday was any indication. Thompkins slid over to the X position at times, putting him on the field with Blacknall at the same time.

  • Offensive Line Shuffling With right tackle Andrew Nelson still dealing with the knee injury that cost him the second half of the 2016 season, Wright starts at right tackle. He has spent time at both tackle and guard during his career; his size is ideal for tackle but his speed is more in the guard mold. For now, he stays at tackle across from Bates.

On the inside, Gonzalez keeps his role as left guard that he jumped into after Paris Palmer's injury against Indiana forced Bates to tackle. McGovern slides to center, the position he was initially recruited to play. Mahon moves from tackle back to guard, his position from 2015.

  • Second Unit Offensive Line: Gonzalez played the entire game, but we caught a glimpse of the second unit. Fries and Gellerstedt are playing the left and right tackle positions. Menet is at right guard. Walk-on Simpson is at center.
  • Running Back Tommy Stevens: We saw this most notably last season against Iowa, but Joe Moorhead isn't afraid to play Tommy Stevens at running back. Stevens has now run for a touchdown, caught a pass, and thrown a completed pass from the running back position.

Defense (65 plays)

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team / Reserves
DE Torrence Brown (25) Shane Simmons (19) Shaka Toney (13) / Daniel Joseph (9)
3DT Kevin Givens (22) Curtis Cothran (20) Ellison Jordan (11) / Antonio Shelton (10) / Ryan Buchholz (2)
1DT Tyrell Chavis (21) Parker Cothren (19) Robert Windsor (13) / Ryan Monk (8) / Immanuel Iyke (3)
DE Ryan Buchholz (26) Yetur Gross-Matos (19) Colin Castagna (13) / Shareef Miller (5)
SLB Koa Farmer (28) Jarvis Miller (25)  
MLB Jason Cabinda (32) Brandon Smith (19) Jake Cooper (14)
WLB Cam Brown (26) Manny Bowen (24) Jan Johnson (8) / Jason Vranic (6)
CB Christian Campbell (32) Tariq Castro-Fields (21) Lamont Wade (19)
FS Marcus Allen (28) Nick Scott (26) John Petrishen (11)
SS Troy Apke (41) Garrett Taylor (24)  
CB Grant Haley (32) Amani Oruwariye (27) Zech McPhearson (12)

- A Deep Defensive Line: This team is as deep on the defensive line as any that I can recall. It lacks (for now) the top end talent of some of the nation's best front fours, but there is very little drop off here from the first team to even the third team.

The depth was tested a bit early as Shareef Miller was injured on the first series and did not return. Buchholz, who spent a good chunk of last season playing defensive tackle on passing downs, played almost the whole game at end after Miller's injury.

All in all, we saw seven defensive ends and 10 defensive tackles in the game for Penn State, with Buchholz counting towards both. All but three of those 16 players are scholarship guys.

  • Youth Movement at Corner: The top three corners are Campbell, Haley, and Oruwariye, that much is clear. Haley is playing outside and inside again, as he did in 2015 before John Reid did it in 2016.

    They are not afraid to play the young guys, however. Wade is splitting slot corner duties with Haley, but also played outside. Along with him were redshirt freshman McPhearson and true freshman Castro-Fields. It will be great for Penn State if these three freshmen can see significant playing time in the early going and be ready to contribute in conference play.
  • No Ayron Monroe: Monroe did not play Saturday, despite being listed ahead of Taylor on the depth chart. We also saw the debut of Petrishen, who had not previously been listed on the depth chart and had not played in either of the previous two seasons.
  • More Rotating at Linebacker: The linebacker depth remains less than ideal, but it is better than it was last season. More frequent rotations of the second unit (Smith, Brown, and Miller) are indicators of that. Additionally, we got a peek at the third string linebackers, which are Cooper (on scholarship) in the middle with Vranic and Jan Johnson (walk-ons) rotating on the outside.

    You will remember Johnson stepping into middle linebacker last year against Michigan and injuring his knee. It is good to see him back on the field.

Special Teams Summary

Kickoff Kick Return Punt Punt Return Field Goal Field Goal Block
Tyler Davis (K) Saquon Barkley (KR) Blake Gillikin (P) DeAndre Thompkins (PR) Tyler Davis (K) ???
Amani Oruwariye Zach Simpson  Curtis Cothran (PP) Brandon Smith Billy Fessler (H) ???
Lamont Wade Colin Castagna  Parker Cothren (PP) Cam Brown Tom Pancoast (LTE) ???
Irvin Charles Manny Bowen  Colin Castagna (PP) Jarvis Miller Zach Simpson (LT) ???
Jarvis Miller Cam Brown Kyle Vasey (LS) Irvin Charles Alex Gellerstedt (LG) ???
Brandon Smith Zech McPhearson Grant Haley Tariq Castro-Fields Steven Gonzalez (LC) ???
Juwan Johnson Nick Scott Christian Campbell Nick Scott Kyle Vasey (LS) ???
Nick Scott Koa Farmer Tom Pancoast Garrett Taylor Chasz Wright (RC) ???
Cam Brown Jon Holland Brandon Smith Amani Oruwariye Will Fries (RG) ???
Tariq Castro-Fields Tariq Castro-Fields Garrett Taylor Zech McPhearson Colin Castagna (RT) ???
Marcus Allen Saeed Blacknall Nick Scott Troy Apke Jon Holland (RTE) ???
  • A Renewed Punt Return: Welcome back, DeAndre Thompkins. The return man for a large part of 2015, Thompkins fell out of favor with Charles Huff after some fumbling troubles put Penn State into tough spots. Cornerback John Reid handled the duties admirably in 2016, but with Reid likely out for the season due to an injury in spring practice, the door was wide open for Thompkins to reclaim that role.

And did he ever. Thompkins ran with confidence after catching the football and made Akron's coverage units look silly on a number of occasions.

  •  New Specialists: Billy Fessler takes over the holder role full-time, after filling in for Chris Gulla last season during his suspension. Meanwhile, the graduation of Tyler Yazujian means that Kyle Vasey is the new long snapper. And Davis is kicking off in addition to place kicking on field goals this year.
  • Field Goal Defense? Akron did not attempt a field goal or an extra point against Penn State, so we do not yet know who will populate the field goal block unit.
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