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Blue/White Game 2014: Players to Watch

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The Nittany Lions will cap off spring practice with the April 12 Blue/White Scrimmage. At BSD, we've taken a position-by-position look at what to expect in the Spring game, and in fall 2014. Now we're going to single out the players we're most excited to see in action this Saturday.

Eric Francis

T'was the night before Blue & White, and all through State College

Students were working and gaining more knowledge.

But all of them knew when the sun next arose,

The time will have come to wear their gameday clothes.

Even though it's for fun, and the score doesn't matter,

It's still a great reason for talking and laughter.

For tailgates and grilling and meeting old friends,

The fun during Blue/White weekend never ends.

We'll all take our seats in our great football palace,

Thankful we no longer have a punter named Alex.

We'll watch them run out in their white and their blue,

And maybe some gray. Hey, at least it's not maroon.

I could go on but I guess I should write something about football. Tomorrow is the annual Blue/White game at Beaver Stadium. While some interesting changes were made to the scoring system for the last few years under O'Brien, it appears that this year's game will look more familiar to the average football fan. That means that we will get the opportunity to see the players we want to see without being preoccupied with figuring out the rules at the same time. That is why I'm here to point out some names you should be watching for tomorrow at 1:30PM. With that, let's get to the good stuff.

Michael O'Connor- Watchability: Iron Man

Yeah, it's the easy answer. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't also excited to see DJ Crook play as well, but O'Connor is the one who I am most eager to see on Saturday. O'Connor was a 247Composite 4* pro-style quarterback originally from Canada, but played the tail end of his high school football down at IMG Academy in Florida. He came in as a highly touted recruit who chose to enroll early after being persuaded to stick with his Penn State commitment through the coaching change, despite an increased push to flip said commitment by his one-time leader, Michigan State.

It's not yet known whether or not O'Connor is going to take a redshirt for the upcoming season, so it's not known how much is truly expected of him in this year's spring game. However, I will personally be watching him closely nonetheless. Quarterback is a position for which enrolling early should be a major advantage for a player come fall practice, so it will be interesting to see where exactly O'Connor seems to be in his development. I'll be watching for the type of routes he is asked to hit on, as well as which receivers he seems to have a rapport with in this one. Michael O'Connor should be about as watchable as the first Iron Man movie. Just a good, solid film. I still don't have an explanation as to how or why Tony Stark had the pieces available to him to build an impenetrable, flying, flamethrowing metal suit inside a cave under constant surveillance, but I'm willing to let it go.

Mike Hull- Watchability: The Hangover Series

We all have heard by now that Mike Hull is officially shifting to the middle linebacker role for the 2014 season. Personally, I am not a huge fan of the move, as I feel his speed is best served at outside linebacker, but I'm also not Brent Pry so I'll let it go.

We all know that Mike Hull is a special player when healthy. We also know that he was clearly hurting for the majority of last season. I'll be watching Hull to see how he looks at the middle linebacker spot, and how he looks on the field in general. Will he be able to shoot the gaps quickly and clog the running lanes? How often will he be sent to blitz? Will he be running back at full speed once more? Will he look like the leader of the defense he's always been destined to be? Not all (or maybe any) of these questions will be answered tomorrow, but Mike Hull's importance to this defense and this team can't be understated. Mike Hull's watchability level will be about that of The Hangover. Just as the first Hangover movie, Hull was a beast in his first real season of playing time at Penn State (2012). He tailed off in his second season (2013) due to injuries and whatnot, just like The Hangover Part II. I never saw The Hangover Part III, but I was told it was much better than Part II. Sounds about right.

The Entire Offensive Line- Watchability: Ocean's 11

The grayshirts will be out on Saturday. With so few offensive linemen currently on the roster, it looks as if some may have to play for both teams tomorrow. The depth chart was already shallow before the injury to Miles Dieffenbach, apparent injury to Andrew Nelson, and upcoming court case for Anthony Alosi. Now? Well it will certainly be interesting to watch.

Giving Hackenberg enough time to throw this season will be imperative. Allen Robinson is no longer around to bail out his quarterback when everything on a play has broken down. With another year under his belt, Hack should be even more adept at progressing through his reads than he was as a freshman. However, to go through one's reads, one needs to have the time available to do so. I will be watching all of the offensive linemen tomorrow, specifically in pass protection. Run blocking, while still needing technique, is more about power. The Penn State offensive linemen have plenty of power (especially with Brian Gaia and Derek Dowrey switching from defensive tackle to offensive line), but it is fair to call their technique into question at this point. Ocean's 11 is a great film about utilizing everyone's talents to accomplish a goal. Sure, in the movie that goal is stealing 60 million dollars from the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas, but the same values of the film apply to the Penn State offensive line. To be a successful unit this season, they will need to really emphasize their strengths in order to hide their weaknesses.

Antoine White- Watchability: The Dark Knight

Antoine has been garnering great reviews during spring practice. Big Ten Network's Jerry Dinardo was at Penn State practice recently, and had this to say after observing.

@gerrydinardo · 23m ago
BTN Spring Practice Tour #PennState 4 early enrollees & 1 JC. DeAndre Thompkins & Antoine White most impressive will play this year

Antoine has the potential to be a force on the defensive line, and has always had the potential to be a force on the defensive line. The main questions surrounding him were about his size. Well, he's already listed at 285 (was 265 as a recruit), so clearly those concerns are being alleviated. Antoine uses his hands well for a lineman (a compliment often given to former Penn Stater Jordan Hill), and has a great motor. We will almost certainly be seeing him in a game come the regular season, but the Blue/White game will be a nice first look at how well he can attack blockers in a game setting. With the current state of the offensive line, it would be nice to see Antoine be able to get some pressure on whoever is playing quarterback. The Dark Knight is commonly referred to as one of the best and most entertaining movies of recent memory. It is filled with nonstop action, and is nearly impossible to pause once you start watching. Seriously, the entire movie is made up of scenes and sequences that are worth talking about and repeating over and over. Antoine White should be fun to watch tomorrow, and hopefully he will provide the same type of nonstop entertainment that Christopher Nolan's second Batman film provides.

De'Andre Thompkins- Watchability: Animal House

There is only one movie in this world that I would choose over Animal House, but we'll get there in a minute. My praise for De'Andre Thompkins has been widespread and very visible on this blog. To again reiterate my feelings on him, I think Thompkins has a chance to be a special player for Penn State. His speed and versatility make him not only the ideal kick and punt returner, but slot receiver as well. I don't know if it will be Thompkins or Richy Anderson who lines up in the slot first in Ireland, but I do know that the Blue/White game could provide some insight on the matter.

Thompkins should eventually develop into the kind of player that the offense designs plays around, similar to Percy Harvin. While that will probably not be the case right away this season, and will definitely not be the case in the Blue/White game, I am interested to see where Thompkins lines up and how many times he touches the ball. Over his Penn State career, I expect to see Thompkins moving a lot before the snap, lining up in the backfield, splitting out wide, and lining up in the traditional slot position. Tomorrow, I expect only the slot. Specifically I will be watching what sort of routes he is asked to run, how his hands look, and his ability to find open space in the defense to give himself room to use his electric speed. Animal House is one of the greatest movies of all time. I (and I'm sure many of you share this sentiment as well) could watch it over and over and never become tired of it. Thompkins is going to be a sparkplug for this offense, and one who gives the crowd and the offense a little extra energy every time he's in the game. Tomorrow will be the first look at this influence.

James Franklin- Watchability: Caddyshack

Who else could top this list? There are plenty of other players who I will be watching for as well, like Gary Wooten, Jordan Lucas, Jesse Della Valle, Akeel Lynch, and Kyle Carter to name a few. However, this will be the first look Penn State fans have at James Franklin the gameday coach. We know plenty already about James Franklin the recruiter, now it's time to see what he can do as an X's and O'x man.

I will be watching to see the complexity of the offensive sets, especially with the first team offense. Bill O'Brien had one of the more complicated offenses in recent memory, but most of the team seemed to have a pretty firm handle on it by the end of last season. In his introductory press conference James Franklin said they would not have a set gameplan on offense or defense, rather that they would tailor their schemes to the talents of the roster. Considering nearly every player on the current depth chart was on the depth chart last year under O'Brien, it is pretty safe to assume that they have a fairly strong ability to understand offensive systems. I will be watching to see what kinds of personnel groups Franklin sends out and when (especially with CJ Olaniyan mentioning he would be able to play outside linebacker the other day), as well as what types of plays he calls. Naturally, we will see nothing close to the full playbook on Saturday, but it should be a nice little preview anyway.

Caddyshack is the greatest movie of all time. James Franklin is the coolest dude of all time so far. Time to see if he can match up his gameday coaching persona to his recruiting and public speaking persona. I could watch Caddyshack in the same manner that Bill listens to Lady Gaga: on loop. I expect the James Franklin show to be one that will approach or match Caddyshack in terms of watchability.

That's all from me. Post in the comments who else you're watching for on Saturday, what movie their watchability level is akin to, and why you're watching them. Hope to see some of you around the fields tomorrow.

Blue/White 2014 Positional Previews

Special Teams (by Cari)
Offensive Line (by Ryan)
Running Backs (by Devon)
Tight Ends (by Jared)
Defensive Ends (by bscaff)
Defensive Tackles (by bscaff)
Wide Receivers (by Nick)
Defensive Backs (by Cari)
Linebackers (by Devon)
Quarterbacks (by Bill)