Position-by-Position Preview of Penn State's 2014 Roster

Tim Tolley@@TimTolley_BRContributor IJune 2, 2014

Position-by-Position Preview of Penn State's 2014 Roster

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    In just about a month, Penn State will welcome its incoming freshman and begin preparing them for the 2014 season. The losses of Allen Robinson and DaQuan Jones have created holes in the depth chart that will soon be filled by new faces.

    What will the Nittany Lions' options be across the board where replacements are needed?

    Which true freshmen can make an early impact, and can they be joined by redshirt freshmen or even maturing walk-ons?

    Let's take a look at the roster for the upcoming season—including newcomers and likely starters!

    All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

    All recruit ratings reference the 247Sports Composite ratings.


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    Back for More:

    Christian Hackenberg
    D.J. Crook


    Trace McSorley
    Michael O'Connor



    Although we're a couple months away from the opener, it's safe to pencil Hackenberg in as the starting quarterback. The big question will be who backs him up.

    Crook has made great strides since walking on and has a handle on the college game while O'Connor has the tools to be successful at this level.

    McSorley is a bit of a wild card and could actually play his career on defense. However, don't be too quick to write off a quarterback with over 100 total touchdowns and three straight state championships at the high school level. McSorley is the third Virginia QB to be named All-State on both offense and defense. The other two were Ronald Curry and Allen Iverson. 

Running Backs

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    Back for More:

    Zach Zwinak
    Bill Belton
    Akeel Lynch


    Johnathan Thomas
    Mark Allen
    Nick Scott



    Zwinak has averaged nearly 1,000 yards over the last two years but could lose the bulk of his carries in 2014 to Belton, the quicker of the two.

    Belton offers a contrasting style to Zwinak's bruising, between-the-tackles running. He's also more apt to be a receiver out of the backfield and hit the home run.

    Add in Lynch—an all-around threat—and it's hard to imagine the incoming freshman seeing the field this season. 

Wide Receivers

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    Back for More:

    Geno Lewis
    Matt Zanellato
    Richy Anderson


    DaeSean Hamilton
    De'Andre Thompkins
    Saeed Blacknall
    Chris Godwin
    Troy Apke


    While the future is bright at the wide receiver position, somebody, or somebodies will need to grow up quick and perform in 2014. Otherwise, Hackenberg could suffer a sophomore slump.

    Lewis came on strong late last season, but he, Zanellato and Anderson combined for just 35 catches in 2013-14—even with the luxury of Allen Robinson distracting defenses.

    That luxury is gone.

    Hamilton will take his redshirt off and be joined by a dynamic group of freshmen that may show flashes of brilliance but may be a year away.

    Look for Lewis and Zanellato to be the primary targets early, but there will be plenty of competition.

Tight Ends

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    Back for More:

    Jesse James
    Kyle Carter
    Adam Breneman


    Brent Wilkerson
    Mike Gesicki



    This is probably the most loaded position on the roster and should alleviate some of the pressure off the wide receivers.

    Carter was an all-conference tight end and was voted to the All-Big Ten Freshman team in 2012. Breneman was 2013's top tight end recruit and caught touchdowns in each of the last three games in 2013. Jesse James may be the best of the bunch.

    Wilkerson will see his first action this season if there's room on the field, and Gesicki arrives on campus later this summer. He may start his career at wide receiver but was considered one of the top high school tight ends in the country last year.

    There's unlimited potential among this group if the coaching staff can be creative.

Offensive Line

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    Back for More:

    Donovan Smith
    Wendy Laurent
    Angelo Mangiro


    Brendan Mahon
    Brian Gaia
    Derek Dowrey
    Chasz Wright
    Andrew Nelson
    Noah Beh
    Brendan Brosnan
    Chance Sorrell



    It doesn't take Will Hunting to realize that there aren't many veterans along the offensive line. One of the key returning starters, Miles Dieffenbach, will likely miss the season with a knee injury, making Smith the lone player with significant experience.

    Mahon and Nelson redshirted after arriving on campus, and both could be starters when the team takes the field against UCF in Ireland on August 30. As of now, Nelson is the probably starter at right tackle.

    Gaia and Dowrey moved from defensive tackle to the offensive line last winter. Dowrey will see significant snaps at guard in summer camp, and many expect him to emerge as a starter there.

    Mangiro and Laurent will battle it out at center, and the loser could land in the rotation at guard.

    The Nittany Lions will need some contributions from early enrollee Chasz Wright, who has ideal size, and could be forced to play true freshmen before they're ready.

Defensive Line

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    Back for More:

    C.J. Olaniyan
    Deion Barnes
    Anthony Zettel
    Austin Johnson
    Carl Nassib
    Evan Schwan
    Brad Bars


    Garrett Sickels
    Parker Cothren
    Curtis Cothran
    Antoine White
    Tarow Barney



    In what should be the strength of the defense, Penn State returns four starters (Barnes, Olaniyan, Zettel, Johnson) who have extensive experience along the line and a slew of talented depth behind them.

    Zettel has bulked up and made the move inside to tackle where he'll be too quick for many interior linemen. Olaniyan and Barnes have all-conference potential and Johnson played in all 12 games last year, recording 27 tackles and a sack.

    The rotation at defensive end should be as strong as ever with former All-American Sickels battling against veterans Nassib and Schwann for snaps. Bars' return from a knee injury will put him in the mix as well.

    At tackle, JUCO transfer Barney and true freshman White both enrolled in January and showed promise. 

    This is a unit that can go two-deep at every position and remain competitive. 


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    Back for More:

    Mike Hull
    Nyeem Wartman
    Brandon Bell
    Ben Kline
    Gary Wooten


    Troy Reeder
    Jason Cabinda
    Von Walker
    Matthew Baney



    While the three starters will likely be some combination of the first four names above, there's a good shot that every one of these guys will see snaps in 2014. Early projections have Mike Hull starting in the middle being flanked by Wartman and Bell, but a healthy Kline will push both of them.

    Reeder will arrive next month after being named All-State at both running back and linebacker. A standout lacrosse player, his size speed and athleticism should make him a candidate for early playing time. Very early.

    Von Walker isn't a newcomer, but he's new to the linebacker position. After returning kicks and practicing at running back early last year, he was moved to safety and will probably take practice snaps with the defensive backs and linebackers. His high school stats, according to MaxPreps, show how versatile he is and could be at the next level.

    Baney got his first big shot in the spring game when he started and looked like he belonged on the field with the first stringers. The staff could have Penn State's next great walk-on in Baney.


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    Back for More:

    Adrian Amos
    Jordan Lucas
    Trevor Williams
    Jesse Della Valle
    Jordan Smith
    Ryan Keiser
    Malik Golden


    Kasey Gaines
    Christian Campbell
    Amani Oruwariye
    Grant Haley
    Daquan Worley
    Koa Farmer
    Marcus Allen



    Few things are certain among this group. Adrian Amos and Jordan Lucas will be starters somewhere in the secondary, and at least one of the incoming freshmen should have a chance to make an immediate impact.

    Ideally, Trevor Williams will refine his skills and start opposite Lucas, allowing Amos to remain at safety where he'll be flanked by Kaiser or Golden.

    Koa Farmer and Daquan Worley could see early time on special teams, but one or both should get some action at safety or in the nickel package. 

    Gaines is a burner from the South who redshirted last season. He'll be joined by fellow southerners Campbell (Ala.), Oruwariye (Fla.) and Haley (Ga.)—all four of them could see time on special teams.