Penn State's Top Five Spring Position Battles - Offense

By Craig Fritz on April 11, 2019 at 8:19 am
Penn State Runningback Ricky Slade
© Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Gone are a prolific quarterback, a 1,000-yard rusher, three of the top six receivers, and two three-year starters on the offensive line. As Penn State turns to the next chapter, we take a look at some of the biggest questions and position battles facing the Nittany Lions as they wrap up spring practice on Saturday with the Blue-White Game.

5 - wide receiver rotation

Based on 2018, it would seem that K.J. Hamler has the slot locked down. Penn State's diminutive speed demon hauled in 42 passes at nearly 18 yards per catch. Fellow sophomore Jahan Dotson emerged late in the year, and seemingly has one outside starter spot well in hand. But truthfully, he'll face stiff competition for snaps. While Dotson is clearly talented and seems to be an excellent route runner, he still only had 13 receptions in 2018. With the additions of graduate transfers Weston Carr, and George Campbell, and the anticipated emergence of redshirt freshmen Justin Shorter and Daniel George, expect a lot of moving pieces early before injuries and talent shake out.

4 - quarterback

Tommy Stevens is at the top of the depth chart, but he's still limited. We don't know if he's taking any snaps this weekend, or how much he's participated during spring ball. Has this opened the door for Sean Clifford? Certainly Clifford has shown well in limited game opportunities, but how that translates to running Ricky Rahne's full playbook remains to be seen. If Stevens does miss this weekend's scrimmage look for big numbers from Clifford to stake his claim to the starting job.

3 - Running back

There has been a lot of talk about how sophomores Ricky Slade and Journey Brown are battling it out this spring for the starting running back spot. While the 2019 tailback production share will certainly be different than 2018, I don't think it's quite the competition the teams is building it up to be. Slade is by far the most talented back on the team. I expect Rahne to get him touches early and often, and for him to be highlighted in the passing game. That said, he's not the bell cow Miles Sanders or Saquon Barkley were. Brown, freshman Noah Cain, and newly eligible C.J. Holmes will have plenty of opportunities to punish opposing defenders. Blue chip prospect Devyn Ford arrives this summer as well.

2 - right guard

Connor McGovern gave three tremendous seasons to the Nittany Lions and departed for the NFL. The next level loves him for his interior versatility, and it will definitely be difficult to replace him. That said, Matt Limegrover has two monsters battling to fill his spot. RLR's favorite beefy son Mike Miranda and literal (figurative) truck C.J. Thorpe are ready to maul, and will likely platoon a bit until one claims the position outright. The best part here is they're both beasts and put Limegrover in an enviable position of a very talented two-deep at guard. James Franklin has said both will see action this fall.

1 - tackle

This is where it gets a bit icky depth-wise for Penn State. Will Fries has played a lot of tackle for the Blue and White, but has also had highly visible struggles on the outside. He's one of a few guys in the mix to replace another sure-fire NFL draft pick in the departed Ryan Bates. The other two in the mix for tackle snaps are redshirt freshman Rasheed Walker and JUCO transfer Anthony Whigan. This is where the medical retirement of Nana Asiedu will be felt the most. While Walker and Whigan are certainly talented, neither has any meaningful experience to make me comfortable heading to conference play. Redshirt sophomore Des Holmes could also be in the mix here, but similarly suffers from a lack of relevant playing time. Limegrover's work with the 2019 tackle group will be under the microscope for the next eight months.

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