Grading Penn State's Post-Spring Depth Chart
With the completion of Penn State's annual Blue-White game, head coach James Franklin has reached his first milestone as a Nittany Lion.
While Penn State returned plenty of key contributors from the 2013 squad, there were also a fair share of newcomers who impressed during spring ball. With a new staff in place, it was a fresh start for everyone involved.
How does each position group look after spring practice?
Each group was assessed based on both talent and depth currently at the position. Freshmen who have yet to enroll were obviously not considered in the assessment process.
Here are the position grades for Penn State's post-spring depth chart.
Starter: Christian Hackenberg
Key Reserves: D.J. Crook and Michael O'Connor
Christian Hackenberg has cemented himself as Penn State's starting quarterback for at least the next two years. He struggled a bit in the spring game, failing to hit some of his receivers on what would have been big gains. Still, he's made good progress since last fall and his future is very bright.
As for the backup position, D.J. Crook had a decent day despite throwing two interceptions. Michael O'Connor did as well, completing 11 of 16 passes for 81 yards. O'Connor looked like the freshman he is at times, but keep in mind he's only a few months removed from high school.
As long as Hackenberg stays healthy, the Nittany Lions will be in good hands at quarterback.
Starter: Zach Zwinak
Key Reserves: Bill Belton, Akeel Lynch and Cole Chiappialle
Zwinak didn't play at all in the Blue-White game, and both Belton and Lynch combined to carry five times for a total of 10 yards. All three will play a valuable role in 2014, so the starter label doesn't mean much here. Zwinak gets the nod because of what he's done over the last two years.
The pleasant surprise all spring was sophomore Cole Chiappialle. He registered nine carries for 63 yards and two touchdowns during the Blue-White game and looked very comfortable. Chiappialle is a north-south runner. He made shrugging off initial contact look effortless. He'll be a key contributor on special teams, but don't count him out as a change-of-pace back for the Nittany Lions.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Starters: Geno Lewis (WR), Matt Zanellato (WR), Richy Anderson (WR) and Kyle Carter (TE)
Key Reserves: DaeSean Hamilton (WR), Adam Breneman (TE), Jesse James (TE), and De'Andre Thompkins (WR)
Led by Geno Lewis, Penn State's wide receivers are relatively young and very inexperienced. Even so, players like Zanellato, Anderson and Thompkins each possess different skill sets that should mesh well together.
Penn State's tight ends will be more heavily relied on in 2014, led by Carter, James and Breneman. The group is one of the deepest in the nation, and should provide valuable weapons for Christian Hackenberg to use.
The Nittany Lions' depth (and talent) outlook will only get better once freshmen Chris Godwin (WR), Troy Apke (WR), Saeed Blacknall (WR) and Mike Gesicki (TE) step on campus. Until then, it's not too shabby.
Starters: Donovan Smith (LT), Derek Dowrey (LG), Wendy Laurent (C), Angelo Mangiro (RG) and Andrew Nelson (RT)
Key Reserves: Brendan Mahon (G/T), Brian Gaia (G) and Chasz Wright (T)
Penn State's offensive line is the most depleted unit on the team—it's not even close. Donovan Smith is the only returning starter, while Angelo Mangiro played a little over the past few seasons in rotation. Other than that, everyone else is new.
Nelson didn't play in the Blue-White game due to injury, but looks primed to start at right tackle. Meanwhile, Laurent looks locked in at center, while Mangiro's experience should be good enough to earn him a starting job.
Dowrey should have some competition at left guard, so keep an eye on both Brendan Mahon and Brian Gaia.
Depth is a huge concern for this unit right now. Even with multiple freshmen enrolling this summer, an injury to any one of the aforementioned starters could create a massive problem.
Starters: Deion Barnes (DE), Austin Johnson (DT), Anthony Zettel (DT) and C.J. Olaniyan (DE)
Key Reserves: Tarow Barney (DT), Garrett Sickels (DE), Carl Nassib (DE) and Parker Cothren (DT)
The front four should be a strength for the defense. Zettel, who will transition inside from defensive end, was very disruptive during the Blue-White game. Coupled with Austin Johnson, the starters at defensive tackle look fairly good.
The reserves will play a critical role, starting with Barney. A JUCO transfer, it will take some time for him to get acclimated, but he could be a very good third defensive tackle. Nassib and Sickels will provide the Nittany Lions with fresh legs off the edge.
This is a unit with a lot of potential right now. If the reserves can step up and contribute at a high level, the defensive line could be a force for Penn State in 2014.
Starters: Brandon Bell (OLB), Mike Hull (MLB) and Nyeem Wartman (OLB)
Key Reserves: Gary Wooten, Ben Kline and Matthew Baney
Penn State is thin at linebacker, so there aren't a ton of options from a depth perspective. Sophomore Brandon Bell looked promising toward the end of last season. Nyeem Wartman is a solid player as well, but has battled many injuries over the course of his career. Hull will anchor the unit in the middle.
Baney, a State College native, returned an interception for a touchdown and looks to be a decent backup. Wooten has progressed nicely as well. Meanwhile, Kline will only see the field if he's ever able to get healthy. After that, a slew of walk-ons will contribute on special teams.
Starters: Jordan Lucas (CB), Adrian Amos (S), Ryan Keiser (S) and Trevor Williams (CB)
Key Reserves: Da'Quan Davis (CB), Malik Golden (S), Jesse Della Valle (S) and Jordan Smith (CB)
Lucas and Amos are two of the best players on Penn State's defense, and both will be relied upon heavily to lead a unit that was criticized a great deal in 2013. Both Keiser and Williams were shaky last season, so hopefully an extra year of work did the trick.
Davis played well throughout the course of the spring, and could even beat out Williams for the final cornerback spot. The depth behind the starters is a big issue, so the Nittany Lions will run into trouble if injuries occur.
Penn State's 2013 recruiting class features a handful of talented secondary prospects, but none that can make a complete impact right away.
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