It's finally here....sorta. Today marks the start of Penn State's 2018 fall camp, and the first step towards a season that kicks off in just 29 days. It is a season that brings with it plenty of excitement, but with key big-named contributors off to the NFL, big questions linger as well. Today's opening practice is a first step towards answering those concerns.
Here are a few storylines we will be following as the month rolls on:
- Is this the season the offensive line truly becomes a strength? With four returning starters, all of whom are in at least their third seasons on campus, and the depth to go maybe nine deep up front, all signs point to yes. Connor McGovern, Ryan Bates, and Steven Gonzalez have starting spots locked down, and redshirt sophomore Michal Menet figures to be in there as well. The only position battle seems to be Will Fries or Chasz Wright at right tackle.
- How many times will Miles Sanders be asked about replacing Saquon Barkley? Nearly a month ago the junior running back was sick of hearing about it, but it will not stop the questions. The former five-star prospect finally is the guy, and figures to get every opportunity to showcase his talent.
- Who among Nick Bowers, Jonanthan Holland, Danny Dalton, Zack Kuntz, and Pat Freiermuth will emerge at tight end? If Bowers is healthy, expect him to get the first shot at locking down the position. The biggest x-factor here could be the two heralded freshmen, and the flexibility granted by the new redshirt rule.
- Juwan Johnson and De'Andre Thompkins are starters if they are healthy, but who will claim the third spot? Brandon Polk is the returning favorite, but five-star freshman Justin Shorter, flash-and-fun K.J. Hamler, and Mac Hippenhammer could get a shot as well.
- On defense, all eyes will be on the linebacker spot. Craig wrote yesterday that it's a huge concern heading into the season with big question marks in the middle, and limited depth. There are also questions surrounding Manny Bowen, after persistent rumors he will return to the team. A pair of freshmen, Micah Parsons and Jesse Luketa, will almost certainly see plenty of action, and guys like Ellis Brooks, Jan Johnson, and Jake Cooper will be relied on as Brent Pry sorts things out.
- Can a secondary that lost all four starters from 2017 to the NFL be better in 2018? Marcus Allen, Troy Apke, and Christian Campbell were all drafted, and Grant Haley signed with the Giants as a free agent. But with the return to health of John Reid, the emergence of Amani Oruwariye a year ago, and the sky high potential of Tariq Castro-Fields, the corners will be a huge strength. Nick Scott has one safety spot seemingly locked down, and there is plenty of talent between Garrett Taylor, Ayron Monroe, and Lamont Wade to feel optimistic about the other spot.
- Up front, the defensive ends could become one of the deepest groups in a conference with plenty of talent at the position. Shareef Miller, Ryan Bucholz, Shaka Toney, Yetur Gross-Matos, Shane Simmons, and Daniel Joseph could make this a truly three-deep position. The interior, however, is a big question mark. Kevin Givens and Robert Windsor are penciled in as your starters, but beyond that is anyone's guess. Antonio Shelton will be the first in line to get a shot behind the two incumbents, but guys like Damion Barber and Fred Hansard will be counted on. Freshmen Judge Culpepper and PJ Mustipher could provide some quality insurance as well. A return to health for Ellison Jordan would be an unexpected, but very pleasant surprise.
- It's been talked about a lot, but the kicking game is very unsettled heading into camp. No one grabbed the reins in back in the spring, giving true freshman Jake Pinegar a shot to see time in his first year. Franklin has alluded to having different players handle kickoffs and place kicking duties, and even floated the possibility of punter Blake Gillikin getting a shot. If that comes to pass, things have not gone well.
What are you looking for over the next four weeks? Share your thoughts in the comments!