Penn State Football: Projecting Post Spring 2-Deep Depth

Troy WellerContributor IIIMay 1, 2014

Penn State Football: Projecting Post Spring 2-Deep Depth

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    With spring practice finished and summer camp just around the corner, Penn State head coach James Franklin now has a better idea of what his depth chart looks like.  

    For the most part, there shouldn't be any major roster surprises for Nittany Lions fans come August. Besides the quarterback, offensive line and some of the specialists, most position groups will do a lot of subbing anyway to keep legs fresh. Usually, players listed in the top two or three spots at one of those given positions will play on a weekly basis. 

    Here's a projection of what Penn State's two-deep depth chart will look like come the fall.

    Note: Bold indicates a returning starter, while italics indicate a first-year player. These are true freshmen, as well as prep school and JUCO transfers.


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    1. Christian Hackenberg

    2a. Michael O'Connor

    2b. D.J. Crook

    Christian Hackenberg will need to learn his second offense in as many seasons but looks poised to build on the success he had during his freshman campaign. He's easily the most important player on Penn State's entire offense. With wide receiver Allen Robinson out of the fold, it's now time for Hackenberg to prove he's also the best player. 

    D.J. Crook and Michael O'Connor will battle for the backup spot, but O'Connor looked good enough in the spring game to garner the slight edge here. However, don't count Crook out as Hackenberg's official backup. If the coaching staff places high importance in O'Connor redshirting, naming Crook as the backup for a year would make sense.  

Running Back

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    1a. Zach Zwinak

    1b. Bill Belton

    2. Akeel Lynch 

    Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton have been 1a and 1b for the past two years, even though the numbers may not indicate it. Some fans feel Akeel Lynch should be the starter, but Zwinak rushed for 1,989 yards over the last two seasons. He does have some issues with fumbling, but that's not a good enough reason to stash him on the bench. Lynch will have his day as the Nittany Lions' feature back, but it won't be in 2014. 

    Had this been a three-deep depth-chart projection, walk-on Cole Chiappialle would have easily made the cut. He may be stuck behind three talented rushers, but his performance throughout spring practice earned him some playing time. 

Wide Receivers

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    1. Geno Lewis

    2a. DaeSean Hamilton

    2b. Saeed Blacknall


    1. Matt Zanellato 

    2. Chris Godwin


    1. Richy Anderson

    2. De'Andre Thompkins

    The Nittany Lions have to replace the production of Robinson, which won't be easy. The good news for Penn State is that it signed four wide receivers during the 2014 recruiting period, three of whom should help immediately: De'Andre Thompkins, Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin.

    Geno Lewis and Matt Zanellato look pretty locked in as two of the starters, but after that, everything is up for grabs. Richy Anderson is penciled in as the other starter right now but could easily be overtaken by DaeSean Hamilton or any of the previously mentioned freshmen. 

    Penn State may not have that elite receiver (yet) like it did with Robinson, but Hackenberg will have plenty of options to throw to. 

Tight End

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    1a. Jesse James

    1b. Kyle Carter

    1c. Adam Breneman

    2a. Mike Gesicki

    2b. Brent Wilkerson

    Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman could all be the top option at this position. James had the most production last year of any Nittany Lions tight end—25 catches, 333 yards and three touchdowns—and could be in for a bigger year as he continues to polish his skills.

    Keep an eye on Mike Gesicki. One of the top-ranked tight end recruits in 2014, he has the versatility to line up in the slot in sort of a hybrid role. The chips are stacked against him to become the official starter, but his athleticism and playmaking ability will be hard to ignore. 

    Brent Wilkerson looks to be relatively healthy after missing the 2013 season due to a back injury. However, the depth in front of him could limit his role to special teams.

Offensive Line

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    Left Tackle

    1. Donovan Smith

    2. Chasz Wright 

    Donovan Smith is the veteran of the bunch and without question the most talented player on Penn State's offensive line. Chasz Wright enrolled in classes a few months ago and seems to be transitioning well. At 6'6", 321 pounds, he already has the size to play in the Big Ten and will provide depth at right tackle too. 


    Left Guard

    1. Derek Dowrey

    2. Brian Gaia

    Both of these players were playing defensive tackle last season. With the injury to Miles Dieffenbach, Penn State now has to deal with inexperience at left guard. Still, Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia looked good in spring ball and should be serviceable in 2014. 



    1. Wendy Laurent

    2. Angelo Mangiro

    Angelo Mangiro could still win the spot, but his versatility to play guard could force Franklin to stick with Wendy Laurent as the starting center. He is the only true center on the team (Mangiro was recruited as a guard), which bodes well for his chances to win this position battle.


    Right Guard 

    1. Angelo Mangiro

    2. Brendan Mahon

    The starter at right guard might be determined by who wins the battle for the center job. Mangiro can play both positions, but if the coaches feel confident in redshirt freshman Brendan Mahon's ability to contribute right now, they could give him the top spot on the depth chart. 


    Right Tackle

    1. Andrew Nelson

    2a. Chasz Wright

    2b. Noah Beh

    Andrew Nelson was hobbled by a leg injury during spring practice but was basically a lock to start at right tackle anyway. Wright will again serve as a second-stringer and can even move inside if necessary. Incoming freshman Noah Beh looks to be more of an emergency option right now and will likely redshirt. 

Defensive Line

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    Defensive Ends

    1. Deion Barnes 

    2. Curtis Cothran


    1. C.J. Olaniyan

    2a. Carl Nassib

    2b. Garrett Sickels

    Penn State lost both its starters from the inside of the line but is fortunate enough to see both Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan return. Barnes struggled a little bit last year, so the Nittany Lions hope to see him regain the form that garnered him multiple accolades in 2012.

    Carl Nassib walked on at Penn State just a few seasons ago but has slowly made his way into the defensive line rotation. Both Curtis Cothran and Garrett Sickels are redshirt freshmen and could be the future at the position once Olaniyan and Barnes leave. 


    Defensive Tackles

    1. Austin Johnson

    2. Tarow Barney


    1. Anthony Zettel

    2a. Antoine White

    2b. Parker Cothren 

    The Nittany Lions' interior defensive line was a big question mark when spring practice started. With the emergence of Anthony Zettel—who is transitioning from end to tackle—the picture is a bit clearer as summer approaches. Austin Johnson was the third defensive tackle last season and has shown a lot of potential. 

    Tarow Barney and Antoine White are two early enrollees, and both should see considerable playing time in a rotation. So should Cothren, although his role may be limited if the aforementioned youngsters catch on quick. 


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    Middle Linebacker

    1. Mike Hull

    2a. Ben Kline

    2b. Troy Reeder

    Mike Hull is Penn State's leader on defense and will move inside this year to replace Glenn Carson. Ben Kline has been hobbled with injuries ever since his freshman season. He has the talent and size to play in the middle but needs to get healthy. He was sidelined for the majority of spring practice. 

    Troy Reeder has yet to enroll but could wind up as Hull's backup if Kline's injury problems resurface. Even if Kline is healthy, Reeder's ability to play both linebacker positions gives him a shot to play on the outside too. 


    Outside Linebackers

    1. Brandon Bell

    2. Matthew Baney


    1. Nyeem Wartman

    2. Gary Wooten

    Like Hull, Nyeem Wartman is another returning starter who should help anchor Penn State on the outside. Brandon Bell slowly became a contributor toward the end of his true freshman campaign last year and is expected to take over for Hull.

    Little-known players like Gary Wooten and Matthew Baney made a name for themselves during spring practice and will be serviceable backups in 2014. Penn State doesn't have a lot of linebackers to work with, but the group is still a solid one, given the limited numbers. 


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    1. Jordan Lucas

    2. Da'Quan Davis


    1. Trevor Williams

    2a. Jordan Smith

    2b. Amani Oruwariye

    Jordan Lucas is the budding star of the group and one of the better corners in the Big Ten. Behind him, there isn't much to get excited about. Trevor Williams was a starter to begin last season but got demoted, and Da'Quan Davis regressed from 2012 to 2013. Jordan Smith played sparingly and is more of a depth piece right now

    Amani Oruwariye is a player to keep an eye on once camp rolls around. He's yet to enroll, but he has some good tools for a young cornerback and the body to play right away. If he picks up the defensive schemes quickly, he could challenge Williams for playing time. 



    1. Adrian Amos

    2a. Jesse Della Valle

    2b. Koa Farmer


    1. Ryan Keiser 

    2a. Malik Golden

    2b. Marcus Allen

    After shifting over to cornerback midway through the 2013 season, Amos will move back to safety and anchor the back of the Nittany Lions defense. He'll be paired with Ryan Keiser, who had three interceptions last year and will look to replace Malcolm Willis.

    Marcus Allen and Koa Farmer are two incoming freshmen who have loads of talent and high expectations in the future. Farmer can play either safety or linebacker, but look for him to fight for time in the secondary due to how poor the unit was in coverage last year.


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    1. Sam Ficken

    2. Chris Gulla

    Sam Ficken has steadily improved after a disastrous start to his 2012 season and by all accounts had an impressive spring. A faction of the fanbase has called for his benching over the years, but it's pretty clear that he is Penn State's best kicking option. 



    1. Chris Gulla

    2. N/A

    Gulla is a walk-on and didn't play last season because Alex Butterworth was still around. He'll handle all punting duties this year and doesn't seem to have any competition right now for the job. 


    Return Specialist

    1a. Geno Lewis

    1b. De'Andre Thompkins

    2. Jesse Della Valle

    Geno Lewis and Jesse Della Valle were the primary return specialists last season, and both will be at it again in 2014. Thompkins' speed and ability in the open field make him a top candidate to contribute as well. Really, Penn State has a variety of players it can stick back there to return kicks.