Penn State might still be one of the youngest teams in the country, but for the first time in a couple years, it looks to have adequate depth across the board. James Franklin won’t have to rely on a freshman before they’re ready, so if someone from the 2016 recruiting class is on the field, it’s more of a sign of their talent rather than the Nittany Lions’ lack of talent.
Last season, Franklin burned the redshirts of five players — Jake Cooper, Manny Bowen, Brandon Polk, John Reid, and of course, Saquon Barkley. I’d expect to see a similar number this season, as the top of the 2016 class might be too good to leave off the field.
I’m trying to be cautious here, but barring injury, I’d bet my firstborn that Sanders doesn’t redshirt. While the Nittany Lions aren’t hurting at running back, I just can’t see a way in which Sanders doesn’t get at least few carries a game. He’s physically ready, and he very well could already be the second best running back on the roster. I like Mark Allen and Andre Robinson, but Sanders should be on a different level. Like Barkley’s explosion onto the scene in 2015, I believe Sanders will make his presence felt sooner rather than later.
Similar to running back, Penn State is already pretty well set at defensive end. Garrett Sickels, Evan Schwann and Torrance Brown make a strong trio, while Ryan Buchholz and Shareef Miller are both primed for some playing time following redshirt seasons of their own. But like fellow freshman Miles Sanders, Simmons might be too talented to keep off the field. He’s still a little undersized for what you’d like to see along the defensive line, but similar to how Aaron Maybin was used his redshirt freshman season, there’s a role for Simmons as a third-down pass rushing specialist.
This is the toughest one to project. On one hand — for all of its faults the past two seasons — Penn State’s offensive line is actually looking pretty good. Andrew Nelson, Noah Beh, Paris Palmer, Ryan Bates, Derek Dowrey, Brendan Mahon and Brian Gaia make for a solid seven-man rotation. And despite how talented Micahl Menet is, James Franklin has said in the past that he’s in favor of redshirting incoming offensive linemen if given the opportunity.
That being said, I think we see Menet play this year. The main question mark for Menet was would he be physically ready to play as a true freshman? Although he’s still not yet at his peak, he’s coming into the program at 296 pounds. That’s a solid weight for a lineman, let alone someone who is as gifted as Menet.
Perhaps I’m naive to be giving Menet this much credit before his first week of practice is even in the books. But I think there’s a solid chance he surpasses Wendy Laurent for the number eight spot in the rotation. And if that happens, he’ll most likely be called upon at some point this season.
As far as walk-ons go, Penn State has two talented kickers in Joey Julius and Tyler Davis, but Alex Barbir is a scholarship kicker for a reason. He might split duties with one of the other two, but Barbir should see the field this season in some capacity.
I have seen enough Chris Gulla and Daniel Pasquariello shanks for a lifetime. I expect some growing pains from Gillikin, but I can’t foresee a scenario where he isn’t an upgrade over the incumbents.
Which freshmen do you think will see the field in 2016?