Penn State Football: 7 Players to Watch in Nittany Lions Spring Game

Tim Tolley@@TimTolley_BRContributor IApril 7, 2014

Penn State Football: 7 Players to Watch in Nittany Lions Spring Game

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    Gene J. Puskar

    We're less than a week away from the Blue-White Game—the annual culmination of spring camp for the Penn State Nittany Lions.

    This is the first glimpse of your 2014 squad and will serve as the only football fix you get between now and Ireland when Penn State takes on UCF almost five months from now.

    There are some new kids in town and some familiar faces who will be taking on larger roles. 

    Successes and failures of several individuals could go a long way toward shaping the 2014 season, and Saturday is the first real gauge for several of them.

    Expectations will be changed and modified in parking lots surrounding the stadium following the game, and there are a few players who could have a major impact in those conversations.

    Here are seven of the most important players to watch in this weekend's Blue-White Game.

De'Andre Thompkins

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    Credit: 247Sports

    It's not often that a true freshman arrives on campus and immediately becomes the fastest player on the team, but that's exactly what the versatile Thompkins did in January.

    He's been seen fielding punts and lining up in the slot this spring, and he could be a key player for the Nittany Lions in 2014.

    While it's unlikely that you'll see much live punt team action on Saturday, keep an eye on the speedy Thompkins when he is on the field.

    The staff will likely try to get him the ball in space a couple times to see if he can get something going and ignite the crowd.

    He's certainly capable of both.

Trevor Williams

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    Bill Kostroun

    Like last year, Trevor Williams will be given the first shot to start at corner opposite of Jordan Lucas.

    Unlike last year, the true junior has a year of playing the position under his belt and should be a little more comfortable with his instincts.

    Williams showed some flashes of the athleticism that prompted the previous staff to move him to corner last season, but he also looked new to the position at timesgetting beat on double moves and being out of position too often.

    If he can put it together in 2014, Williams could play a big part in solidifying the Lions secondary.

    He'll be tested Saturday when he lines up against Christian Hackenberg and his wide receivers. Keep an eye on how well Williams does in keeping up with Penn State wideouts to see if he has a real shot at being an impact player in 2014.

Michael O'Connor

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    Credit: 247Sports

    With Christian Hackenberg on the team, it's rare to hear about any of the other quarterbacks. However, Michael O'Connor could play a huge role in this team's future, and Saturday is your first glimpse of that future.

    It's hard to say whether he'll redshirt as a freshman or back up Hack, but when O'Connor becomes an upperclassman at Penn State, he'll likely be surrounded by weapons that Happy Valley has not seen in decades.

    O'Connor should get plenty of snaps this weekend that will serve as a glimpse into the future of the program. 

    Plus, quarterbacks are fun to watch.

Gary Wooten

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Gary Wooten's name has been coming up all spring as a player who has really taken off under the new staff.

    With what seems to be a thin linebacker corps, Wooten's success could mean a lot to the overall success of the defense in 2014.

    He'll likely see some snaps both inside and out, and he will be going against a terrific stable of running backs and tight ends on Saturday.

    It's always exciting to see a guy in action who has impressed his teammates and coaches.

    On Saturday, we'll all get a chance to see what the hoopla is about!

Sam Ficken

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    Gene J. Puskar

    It seems like so many of Penn State's successes and failures in the last two seasons have been direct results of Sam Ficken's right foot.

    The junior kicker grew comfortable with Ryan Keiser as his holder last year. Then Keiser went down with an injury, and Ficken suffered.

    Keiser is now back as the holder, and the reports on Ficken have been positive.

    It's always fun when Ficken draws wild cheers during warm-ups, and Saturday should produce several of those.

Derek Dowrey

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    Credit: 247Sports

    After playing defensive tackle in 2013, there is a pretty good chance that Derek Dowrey will be starting on the offensive line in 2014.

    Dowrey has seen snaps at both guard and center this spring as the coaches try to find the best group to protect Hackenberg.

    Saturday will give fans a look at the new offensive line, and how well it holds up against the Penn State defensive front could be very telling.

Malik Golden

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Much like Trevor Williams, Malik Golden could play a huge role in the Penn State secondary this spring.

    He's currently slated as the third safety behind Adrian Amos and Ryan Keiser but will be given plenty of opportunities to establish himself in the rotation.

    If Golden can step up, it would allow the staff to be more flexible with Amos in case it wants to use him at the "star" position or if it becomes evident that he needs to be moved back to corner.

    Blessed with plenty of athleticism, Golden began his career at Penn State as a receiver but has found his role of the future in the defensive backfield.

    If he has the schemes down, he could be a key part of the team for the next couple of years.