Now that the long and dreary football off-season is upon us, we're going to do the only thing we have left- speculate wildly about the upcoming season! Over the next two days, we're going to make some very early predictions about what Penn State's depth chart will look like against Kent State on September 3, 2016. We will break this down infinitely more in the coming months, but for now, here's what we think the Nittany Lions will look like on opening day. Up first, the offense.
Starter: Tommy Stevens
Reserves (in order): Trace McSorley, Jake Zembiec
If you don't know by now, I'm all-aboard #TeamTommy. I think Trace McSorley is a fine player, and one that would do well for Penn State in a pinch, but I don't believe he's the starting quarterback of the future. Yes, he made a few strong throws in the TaxSlayer Bowl, but I think Stevens is the better option moving forward, and the one with a better chance at performing on a consistent basis. The coaching staff has raved about his play in practice, and I think he takes over the reigns in 2016. Zembiec is a wild card here, as he enrolled early and is already on campus. If he can pick up the playbook and be physically prepared in time, he'll be a name to watch. He likely has the best physical tools of the three.
Starter: Saquon Barkley
Reserves (in order): Miles Sanders,
Akeel Lynch Andre Robinson
Sorry, Akeel. But Miles Sanders will be too good to keep off the field. The true freshman will likely force his way into the rotation, just like Barkley did in 2015. However, I expect that to happen in camp, rather than after a few live games. Sanders has way too much talent to ignore, although I still think Akeel gets a decent number of snaps, barring a major improvement from Barkley in the pass-blocking department.
Update: With the news of Akeel Lynch's impending transfer, I think Andre Robinson steps up into the 3rd string back role. Many forget, but Robinson was actually ranked higher than Barkley as a recruit, before falling to injury. He broke LeSean McCoy's touchdown record while at Bishop McDevitt, and is surely chomping at the big to show Penn State why. This has the potential to the be one of the best Penn State backfields in a very long time.
Starters: X- Chris Godwin, Z- Juwan Johnson, F- DaeSean Hamilton
Reserves (in order): X- Saeed Blacknall, Z- Irvin Charles, F- De'Andre Thompkins, Brandon Polk
Yes, I expect to see Juwan Johnson jump Blacknall for a starting spot. However, I think Blacknall still gets a ton of snaps, and puts up solid numbers in his first real shot at performing. With Godwin and Hamilton so entrenched in their roles, putting a receiver like Johnson on the line with them should work very well. Godwin has shown that he's a solid route runner who can fight for the ball, and Hamilton is an ideal slot receiver, but Johnson is a different beast. He has the size and strength to be a Calvin Johnson-type threat down the field, who can make tough catches even with defenders all over him. Will he play like that right away? Surely not. But it's not hard to imagine him balling out in practice enough to earn the starting role. Expect to see plenty of Thompkins and Polk, as well, in an offense that seems like it will showcase their strengths.
Starter: Mike Gesicki
Reserves (in order): Brent Wilkerson, Nick Bowers/Jon Holland
Don't call it a comeback! I think Gesicki, in a new offense that will call for the ball being spread around the field, will find a way back into the starting role. A long off-season to reset himself and get over the jitters that seemed to stick with him all year after a few early drops in the rain should be enough to help him get himself right in time for 2016. When there is a need for blocking, Wilkerson will likely be in there, but I see Gesicki earning the starting nod. Also expect to see both of last year's freshmen make appearances, as well, particularly the multi-talented Bowers.
Starters: LT- Andrew Nelson, LG- Steven Gonzalez, C- Ryan Bates, RG- Brian Gaia, RT- Paris Palmer
Reserves (in order): LT- Chance Sorrell, Sterling Jenkins, LG- Wendy Laurent, C- Connor McGovern, RG- Michal Menet, RT- Brendan Mahon, Noah Beh
The rise of the red-shirt freshmen is upon us. Reports all year were glowingly positive on Gonzalez and Bates, and there was even talk of the staff nearly burning Bates' red-shirt at one point. In 2016, I expect to see the two of them take control in the middle of the line. Nelson and Palmer both got stronger as the 2015 season progressed (when they were both healthy) and I don't expect to see anyone take their spots on the outside. I was also very close to putting Menet in as the starting right guard, and I do think he will be starting by the end of the season, but without enrolling early, I don't see it happening that quickly.
There has also been a lot of talk recently about Connor McGovern, and how he may be ready to step into a starting role immediately. If that's the case, it's very easy to see a starting five of Nelson-Gonzalez-McGovern-Bates-Palmer. With their positional coach off to Auburn, it will be interesting to see how the new offensive line coach (a position that has now been filled by Matt Limegrover) assesses the youngsters. It has the potential to be one of, if not the, youngest line in the country.
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What do you think? Do you agree with our picks? Disagree? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to look out for our 'way too early' defensive depth chart on Wednesday.