Penn State Football: Grading Each Early Enrollee's Spring Performance
The bulk of Penn State's 2014 recruiting class isn't on campus yet, but the players who are have already been put to work.
In January, the Nittany Lions welcomed five early enrollees—defensive tackle Tarow Barney, quarterback Michael O'Connor, wide receiver De'Andre Thompkins, defensive tackle Antoine White and offensive tackle Chasz Wright. All five are currently taking classes and participating in spring practices under the tutelage of new head coach James Franklin.
While the adjustment period has been easier for some, the group in general has done a relatively good job. Some have even raised enough eyebrows to warrant consideration for regular playing time come August.
When grading how each player has performed this spring, those two factors were taken into consideration—how well they've acclimated themselves to life in college, and their level of play on the field.
Here's how each early enrollee has fared so far this spring.
With such a big hole in the middle of Penn State's defensive line, Tarow Barney is expected to contribute from the start.
Coming from the junior college ranks, he is slightly ahead of the other newcomers from an experience standpoint. However, according to Audrey Snyder of PennLive.com, Franklin has stressed that Barney still needs time to adjust to the college environment.
On the field, Barney seems to be impressing coaches so far. Snyder adds that his technique and power on the defensive line has drawn praise from the coaching staff.
The fact Barney was able to enroll early only helps in his development. His junior college experience should help bridge the gap a bit, too.
He'll likely be an important piece to the defense come August.
Of the early enrollees, Michael O'Connor's situation is the most straightforward. Barring a catastrophic injury to starter Christian Hackenberg, the freshman quarterback won't see meaningful time in 2014.
The pressure isn't on O'Connor to win the starting job, which is a good thing. This allows him to absorb the information being thrown his way without worrying about a position battle.
Recently, James Franklin credited a poor offensive line with affecting O'Connor's development, per Mike Gross of LancasterOnline.com. There was no mention of how O'Connor has progressed on a personal level.
Other than an incident in early March that hasn't been talked about since, as reported by Donald Gilliland of PennLive.com, O'Connor's name hasn't been brought up much.
No news is probably good news, right?
De'Andre Thompkins should contribute to the offense and in the return game from the beginning.
Spring practice is big for him because of this.
A versatile player, Thompkins has even spent time practicing as a kick returner this spring. He certainly has the pedigree to be a threat in that sense—Franklin has already recognized Thompkins as the fastest player on the roster, per the Lions247 Twitter page.
Could the speedster become the next Justin King? According to ESPN's Josh Moyer, Franklin has said Thompkins could play both wide receiver and cornerback this year.
Nittany Lions fans should be excited by his potential, as he's done nothing but impress so far.
Along with Barney, Antoine White is also fighting for a spot on the defensive line.
White has shown potential so far this spring. Gerry DiNardo of the Big Ten Network named White as one of the few Penn State freshmen who should make an impact during their first season.
In a recent interview with 247Sports, the Nittany Lions head coach said White "is going to have to play" in 2014.
The New Jersey native recently checked in at 6'1" and 286 pounds, so he has decent size already for the position. The focus for him in the coming months will be fine-tuning his technique.
A newcomer to a depleted unit, Chasz Wright is fighting for playing time along the offensive line.
Donovan Smith has the left tackle spot locked down, so Wright is competing for the other tackle job. He's going up against Andrew Nelson, who redshirted last season.
At 6'7" and 321 pounds, Wright is a massive body. If either Smith or Nelson were to go down during the season, there would be no shortage of size with Wright filling in.
With the recent injury to guard Miles Dieffenbach, it's unclear if the staff would consider moving Wright to guard. Of Penn State's linemen in the 2014 recruiting class, Wright is without a doubt the most physically ready.
Not much has been reported about Wright's progress this spring, and he seems more of a depth piece at this point. His development should come with time.