Penn State's first depth chart of the 2018 season, released Tuesday, showed the starters at all but two positions for Saturday's opener against Appalachian State.
Head coach James Franklin says, however, that starters at certain spots may be fighting for their jobs every week. The areas of linebacker, defensive tackle, and tight end appears to be those where the competitions are the closest.
At his first weekly teleconference Tuesday, Franklin named redshirt junior Jan Johnson the starter at middle linebacker, saying that he "gives us the best opportunity to win on Saturday." But the battles at that position and at strongside linebacker, where fifth-year senior Koa Farmer will start his 15th consecutive game Saturday, are especially spirited.
"I don't think there's a huge gap between our 1s and our 2s," Franklin said. "So I think you're going to see maybe the 2s get close to, if not the same, amount of reps as the 1s at a lot of those positions."
The coach mentioned a stern challenge in the middle from redshirt freshman Ellis Brooks and true freshman Jesse Luketa, and also on Farmer's side, where Micah Parsons, a five-star recruit last season, is making a run.
"I think Koa has done a good job, played a lot of football for us, and I think Micah is making a strong push there," he said. "I think Jan, between Ellis and Jesse, there's going to be a strong push there. You're going to see a lot of guys rotating and getting time."
No starter was listed Tuesday at tight end or offensive right tackle. Redshirt junior Jonathan Holland and redshirt sophomore Danny Dalton are the two choices at tight end, with redshirt junior Nick Bowers and talented freshman Pat Freiermuth on their heels. Fifth-year senior Chasz Wright and redshirt sophomore Will Fries are the finalists at right tackle.
At defensive tackle, redshirt juniors Kevin Givens and Robert Windsor are the starters, but Franklin openly wonders who will establish clear separation from the others at the position. A wild card at that spot might be 6-foot-4, 305-pound true freshman P.J. Mustipher, whom the coach called "a high-energy, high-motor guy."
Two players making their first starts Saturday are junior running back Miles Sanders, who backed up Saquon Barkley the previous two seasons, and fifth-year senior cornerback Amani Oruwariye, who saw significant action in a reserve role and was named second-team All-Big Ten.
Johnson and the choice at tight end will be making their initial college starts. Other first-time starters are sophomore center Michal Menet, redshirt freshman wide receiver K.J. Hamler, sophomore defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, and redshirt junior safety Garrett Taylor.
Philadelphia-area players named as starters are wide receiver Juwan Johnson (Glassboro), left tackle Ryan Bates (Archbishop Wood), defensive end Shareef Miller (George Washington), and cornerback John Reid (St. Joseph's Prep), all redshirt juniors.
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Franklin said freshman Jake Pinegar won a four-man contest as the team's kicker of field goals and extra points at the end of what he called "the most competition we've had at the kicker position since we've been here, not even close." Freshman walk-on Rafael Checa will handle kickoffs for the season opener.