Redshirt Watch: Buffalo

By Dan Smith on September 3, 2019 at 9:00 am
Penn State Nittany Lions tight end Brenton Strange (86) celebrates with offensive linesmen Des Holmes (75) and wide receiver Daniel George (11) after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Idaho Vandals at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Idaho 79-7
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
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Penn State opened things up with an easy win against Idaho, and used the opportunity to put plenty of true freshmen into the game. With the NCAA moving to a rule that allows players up to four appearances while preserving a redshirt, teams have the flexibility to get valuable experience for young players.

In 2018, Penn State took advantage of this. They had seven total true freshmen burn their redshirts, but had seven other players appear in four or fewer games. That allowed current starters Rasheed Walker and Justin Shorter, and key reserves like Daniel George, Jayson Oweh, and Trent Gordon, to see the field earlier than they otherwise would have been able to.

This season, Penn State opened things up with their easiest opponent. Last year, that did not happen until the third game. So, they started the season with maybe the most freshman action we will see all year.

To summarize, we will use James Franklin's green/yellow/red system. For this week, we'll do some editorializing about greens vs. yellows, but it will become more data-based as the season goes on.

Green

Pos. Freshman Played Remaining
RB Noah Cain 1 3
RB Devyn Ford 1 3
LB Brandon Smith 1 3
LB Lance Dixon 1 3
CB Keaton Ellis 1 3

It seems clear at this point, from their usage on Saturday and the staff's statements on them, that these five true freshmen will likely play in every game. Ellis appears solidly as one of the top five cornerbacks, and his ability to relieve John Reid and Donovan Johnson in the slot may be big. Smith and Dixon may not get as much run at linebacker when Cam Brown is able to start, but they are likely going to be special teams contributors who burn their redshirts as Jesse Luketa did in 2018. And Cain and Ford have both forced their way into the mix at running back, despite the staff also liking sophomores Ricky Slade and Journey Brown.

Yellow

Pos. Freshman Played Remaining
TE Brenton Strange 1 3
RT Caedan Wallace 1 3
RG Sal Wormley 1 3
DE Adisa Isaac 1 3
CB Joey Porter Jr. 1 3

Barring injuries, I would strongly suspect that Strange, Wallace, and Wormley all preserve their redshirts. Isaac, on the other hand, could force his way onto the field much like Gross-Matos did as a true freshman two years ago. Porter is maybe the most interesting case here. The staff's uncertainty about his long term position led many to believe he would not be a factor in 2019, but there he was at cornerback, mixing it up on the second unit with Ellis and Trent Gordon. The suspension of Donovan Johnson may have had something to do with it, but we will want to keep an eye on Porter.

Red

Pos. Freshman Played Remaining
QB Michael Johnson Jr. 0 4
QB Ta'Quan Roberson 0 4
WR John Dunmore 0 4
WR T.J. Jones 0 4
DE Hakeem Beamon 0 4
DE Smith Vilbert 0 4
DT Joseph Appiah Darkwa 0 4
DT Dvon Ellies 0 4
CB Daequan Hardy 0 4
CB Marquis Wilson 0 4
S Tyler Rudolph 0 4

It's no surprise to see most of these names on here. It is a mixture of players who need to hit the weight room, were always considered projects, and/or are buried on the depth chart as we speak. The name that has generated the most buzz this offseason is Darkwa, the massive German defensive tackle who is intimidating in photographs. Dunmore, meanwhile, is a guy who would theoretically be in the mix if the receiving went south as it did in 2018, much like Dotson did. But it seems that may not be necessary at this point.

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