Penn State reveals its football depth chart

The first depth chart of the new football season usually produces a few surprises. But with Penn State in 2016, James Franklin's choices prompted no shockers and little discussion.

The Nittany Lions coach released the depth chart Tuesday for Saturday's season opener against Kent State at Beaver Stadium. Of the 22 positions on offense and defense, 17 were manned by either holdovers or players who have started before.

Five spots where players either graduated or left for the NFL were filled with first-time starters, including a pair of redshirt freshmen.

One, Ryan Bates, a 6-foot-4, 305-pound guard from Archbishop Wood High, won the fifth spot on the offensive line alongside four veteran returnees.

Speaking Tuesday at his first teleconference of the season, Franklin said that Bates was so impressive during his first year on campus in 2015, coaches considered moving him into the lineup and taking away his redshirt.

"Bates was a little bit undersized compared to those guys coming in and needed time to get bigger and stronger in the weight room," Franklin said. "But he was a guy that we were close to burning his redshirt.

"That was a big discussion for us during the season last year. We ended up being able to save his shirt, and now he's got four years to have a big role for us. There's a lot of excitement about him, his athleticism, his intelligence, his approach."

The other redshirt freshman who will start Saturday for the first time is 6-1, 275-pound defensive tackle Kevin Givens, who grabbed the coaching staff's attention with an impressive spring and kept up his level of play in training camp.

Givens may be a little undersized, but Franklin said he has all the tools to succeed at his position.

"His work ethic and commitment in the weight room has really translated on the field, and his quickness and athleticism at the defensive tackle position has been a problem for guys," he said.

"Typically you don't have both. Typically you have undersized guys that have tremendous quickness, but they can get overpowered at times. Kevin is pound-for-pound probably one of the strongest guys on our team, and on top of that, he's got tremendous quickness and athleticism for his position."

The other two new starters on the defensive line are fifth-year senior Evan Schwan and redshirt junior Parker Cothren. Schwan, Cothren, and Givens replace three players who are in NFL training camps - Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson, and Anthony Zettel.

Franklin said the 6-6, 263-pound Schwan learned a lot from playing behind Nassib, a former Malvern Prep star who won three national awards last season.

"He studied Carl and all the things that Carl did when it came to sleep, when it came to nutrition, when it came to training," he said. "He tried to model a lot of the same behaviors, and I think it's really paid off for him."

The depth chart lists one true freshman, punter Blake Gillikin, as a starter. Three first-year players are listed on the offensive line - second-team guards Connor McGovern and Michal Menet and third-team tackle Will Fries.

In addition to Bates, two other starters from the Philadelphia area are senior linebacker Brandon Bell (Oakcrest) and cornerback John Reid (St. Joseph's Prep).

Saturday's game will mark Penn State's first season opener at Beaver Stadium since 2012. The Nittany Lions played their last three openers at Met Life Stadium (2013), Dublin, Ireland (2014), and Lincoln Financial Field (2015).

jjuliano@phillynews.com

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