The Nittany Lions were back at work on Wednesday, opening up practice to the media for the fourth time this spring. Here are some observations:
- Rasheed Walker took most of the first-team reps at left tackle, while Mike Miranda and CJ Thorpe ran at the guard spots. This is the second week we've seen this at guard, meaning both those guys are getting long looks at the position.
- Will Levis ran with the first-team offense with Tommy Stevens still limited and Sean Clifford out sick. Ta'Quan Roberson was with the second-team.
- Jayson Oweh looks like a force of nature out there. He's so quick for his size and you can tell his technique has come a long way over this past year.
- Blake Gillikin was putting some punts on the money during a coverage drill. One kick seemed to bounce straight up in the air when it hit the one-yard line. Also, the coverage was great during this drill, especially by walk-on Dan Chisnea. He's a guy the coaching staff has raved about all spring so it's starting to look like he could play a key role on special teams this season.
Penn State has slowly built up its defensive front to be one of it's biggest strengths. After dominating opponents for the better part of this decade, James Franklin seems to think this current unit can be the best of them all.
"I think we're further along at D-tackle than we thought we would be at this point. I think Damion Barber is a guy that's coming on right now. I think (Judge) Culpepper is a guy that's coming on right now. The other names I think you guys are already aware of and they've taken the next step, which is really good for us. The thing I would also say is that I think our defensive end group is one of the better defensive end groups in the country. In my 24 years, this is the best D-end group that I've been around. Obviously losing Shareef (Miller) is a big loss, but I'm talking from top to bottom. Our D-end group I think has a chance to be special and I think if you look at last year I think we led the nation in sacks. I think if you look over a three year period, I think we've had as many sacks as anybody, so I think that number will continue to trend up."
Although he's at the top of the depth chart right now, Tommy Stevens knows the starter is far from being decided. The fifth-year senior embraces the competition and loves the way it can make a whole team better.
"I think every day there's competition at every position so if you're not getting pushed, there's a problem. I would say that even when Trace was here I was trying to push him every day. (Clifford) has done a great job, obviously with the increased number of reps he plays well. He's on scholarship at Penn State for a reason so he's a talented football player. I'm happy with the progress our room, in general, has made."
For the first time in almost five years, Penn State has some questions marks at running back. Ja'Juan Seider said that Ricky Slade and Journey Brown have begun to separate themselves, but when asked about Noah Cain's role for the season, the longtime running backs coach wasn't ready to put him in that category just yet.
"It's too early. It's a lot of reps, it's playing fast, the game slowing down to him. He's right where I thought he would be at right now. The thing to him is, he's different. He's one of those guys that can pound the run. He's the type of back that can touch the ball 30 times a game and get stronger. We've just got to slowly bring him along and there's no pressure. The best thing about no pressure is that we've got two guys in front of him that can play and we're going to bring him along. He's going to play this year. He knows that and the guys in the room know that. We'll see multiple guys play this year, I feel strongly about that."