Penn State's Blue-White Game is more about depth than drama

Nits01-e
James Franklin said ha some pieces to fill heading into the summer.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Because they return many players from a team that last year won the Big Ten championship and finished one spot out of the College Football Playoff, the Penn State Nittany Lions haven't experienced the major drama of position battles during spring practice.

Well, maybe there was some drama as the Lions tried to find a new snapper and holder in addition to a third-string quarterback. But on the offensive and defensive units, only seven starting spots are at stake with most probably not being decided until preseason camp in August.

The Nittany Lions conclude spring drills Saturday with the annual Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium, where fans will get to see the candidates for starting jobs and other young players who will build the team's depth once the real season begins on Sept. 2.

Head coach James Franklin and his staff must select two new starters at defensive end replacing Garrett Sickels, who left to enter the NFL draft, and Evan Schwan. Then there's the matter of finding a wide receiver who can match the output over the last two seasons of Chris Godwin, who also is awaiting the draft.

"I think D-end probably is the position that we obviously felt like we needed to kind of figure out some things there," Franklin said this week. "I don't think we're going to completely figure those things out until camp. I think that was a concern.

"On offense, we had pretty much everyone back but it was also how we were going to replace the production of Chris Godwin. I don't know if you necessarily can do that but when you've got so many guys who have played a lot of football for you, it helps. Probably not one guy but multiple guys are going to be able to do it."

One of the wide receivers who has stood out this spring is Juwan Johnson, a former Glassboro High star. After sitting out his first year as a redshirt, Johnson played mostly on special teams last season and made just two catches, but he's ready to take on a larger role this season.

"It kind of takes a hit at your character sitting for two years," Johnson said. "It's just the thing about being patient. I guess you have to trust in yourself, trust in why you came here and just be patient, work hard, keep your head down and not cry about your situation."

The pool of defensive ends holds a distinct Philadelphia area flavor. Holdovers Shareef Miller (George Washington) and Ryan Buchholz (Great Valley) are joined by Shaka Toney (Imhotep), who redshirted last season. Torrence Brown and another redshirt freshman, Shane Simmons, are in the mix as well.

An open spot that came about unexpectedly this spring is at cornerback where John Reid (St. Joseph's Prep) suffered a knee injury and may miss the entire season. Senior Christian Campbell, whom Franklin said had a great offseason, takes over there.

Other new starters are likely to be Koa Farmer at outside linebacker and Nick Scott at strong safety. Connor McGovern, who started nine games at guard as a true freshman last season, moves over to center.

Franklin said the players will be graded in the Blue-White Game just as in any other game, but he said the practices have been more important.

"That's really where the most value for us comes," he said. "It's more about what they did over the 13 practices and the film that we've been able to watch."

jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq