The opening of spring practice comes with great anticipation- not just from the football-starved masses who anxiously await the rumblings of a new season, but the fresh faces who are looking to leave their mark during their time at Penn State. Beginning today, all players are basically equal for the next few weeks. Anyone can step up and make an impression that will result in increased playing time come fall, and perhaps even a starring role. While there are many young and talented prospects throughout the Penn State roster who are itching to make their mark, here's a list of players who we are likely to grow much more familiar with during the course of the 2015 season.
DE- Evan Schwan- With the departures of C.J. Olaniyan and Deion Barnes, expect to see much more of Evan Schwan this fall. Schwan managed to work his way into the rotation as a redshirt freshman, but will play a much larger role and will vie for a starting spot in 2015. Schwan has one of the more interesting backstories on the team. He suffered a broken vertebrae as a high school junior and quickly saw nearly all of his college suitors dissipate. Even Purdue, where his father played his college ball, would not return his phone calls. Schwan came back with a vengeance his senior season as he collected 17 sacks and helped lead Central Dauphin to a state championship. Schwan remembered the loyalty demonstrated by the Nittany Lions coaching staff and committed to Penn State following his senior season.
DE- Torrence Brown- Brown spent his redshirt year adding about 20 pounds to his lengthy frame, and could develop into an absolute terror in the blue and white. Hailing from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Brown stands 6'4" and is currently listed at 255 pounds, to go along with his skill position speed. Brown has the skillset to develop into an outstanding edge rusher, and many expect to see him in the starting lineup by midseason. If Brown makes the most of spring ball, his ascention up the depth chart could come much sooner.
RB- Saquan Barkley- After two seasons of waiting his turn behind Bill Belton and Zac Zwinak, junior Akeel Lynch finally gets his turn to become Penn State’s feature back. Lynch appears to be the best all-purpose back to wear the blue and white in several years and should make a name for himself throughout the Big Ten and beyond. But who will take the important role of the secondary back who spells Lynch after he spends an afternoon beating up opposing defenses? The answer may be the true freshman, Saquan Barkley.
While there are other running backs a year ahead of Barkley, he may just make the leap to find himself listed on the depth chart directly behind Lynch. Barkley joins Penn State as the second-best prospect in Pennsylvania and 117 overall. He has an excellent burst that allows him to make plays outside while also picking up tough yardage between the tackles. Perhaps most importantly, Barkley possesses the type of field vision that is unusual for a player of his age. His physical talents combined with his ability to make defenders miss could mean Mr. Barkley is carrying the rock much earlie than expected.
WR- DeAndre Thompkins- There was plenty of buzz surrounding Thompkins heading into the 2014 season before James Franklin decided it was best to have him take a redshirt season to prepare for the college game. Now, the hype is ready to become reality. Thompkins doesn’t have the size of returning receivers such as Saed Blacknall or Chris Godwin, but he more than makes up with it with off-the-charts athleticism. Thompkins should add a much-needed wrinkle to Penn State’s offense in 2015 as the coaching staff seeks ways to get him in space while creating mismatches with a talented corps of receivers and tight ends. If you need a football fix, just check out some of Thompkins highlight reels and it won’t take long to realize he’s a special talent. There’s also a strong possibility that Thompkins takes over as the leading kick returner as Grant Haley prepares for a larger role in Penn State’s secondary.
OT- Paris Palmer- You don’t have to be much of an expert to know that Penn State had a historically bad offensive line last season. With nearly everyone returning a year older and wiser in 2015 and the addition of some new faces, Penn State’s offensive line (and the entire offense for that matter) should enjoy a marked improvement. Foremost among the new faces is Palmer, who seems destined to start at one of the tackle spots along with sophomore Andrew Nelson. Palmer may be better-suited to protect Christian Hackenberg’s blindside thanks to his 6’8", 330-lb. frame. The JUCO transfer was initially set to attend South Carolina, but fortunately will be bringing his much-needed talents to State College.
S/LB- Koa Farmer- While it's unknown how much time he'll see the field in 2015, Farmer is easily one of the most intriguing prospects on the team. Farmer took a redshirt year to make the transition from safety to outside linebacker. However, at 6'1" and 213 lbs., you have to wonder if Famer may be destined to remain in the secondary. Perhaps he's destined for the "Hero" or "Star" role that at times requires the athleticism to cover the opponent's best receiver and the tenacity to stop a runner dead in his tracks at the line of scrimmage. Farmer has both.
Farmer has a reputation as one of the most intelligent players on the team, which will hopefully translate to John Urschel-level leadership skills and an understanding of the game. The California native is likely to get his start on special teams before moving into a meatier role on defense.
LB- Jason Cabinda- Cabinda saw extensive playing time for a true freshman in 2014, but was mainly in the shadow of all-world Mike Hull as well as more-established linebackers Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman. This fall, Cabinda looks to become a primary starter, possible even inheriting Hull’s spot at inside linebacker, a role peppered with numerous All-Americans during the past few decades of Penn State Football.
Cabinda finished his true freshman campaign with 17 tackles, including an eight-tackle performance against Northwestern when he started in place of the injured Nyeem Wartman.
K- Joe Julius- It's unknown who will replace Sam Ficken, but how much fun would it be to have a nearly 250 lb. kicker nailing 50-yarders?