It is a wonderful time to be a Penn State football fan, when the coaching staff is able to redshirt players that are not ready or needed for a variety of reasons during their first year on campus. Let’s remind ourselves of what freshmen the Nittany Lions redshirted on offense in 2016, and analyze their chances to play.
Quarterback Jake Zembiec is the one of the least likely on this list to see the field given that he is behind Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens. He is currently battling for the third spot on the depth chart, but James Franklin has hinted that if a third quarterback were needed to play (Please don’t even joke about that, James.), Zembiec would probably get the nod to preserve true freshman Sean Clifford’s redshirt. While not seeing any playing time yet, Jake has earned Dean’s List honors all three semesters he has been on campus. Zembiec has great size at 6’3’’ and 213 pounds, and has been said to have decent athletic ability, which could bode well in the coming years. There’s a chance that Zembiec may see playing time against an overmatched opponent early in the season.
Tight end Danny Dalton has good size at 6’4’’ and 235 pounds, and judging by his high school film, has great athletic ability. The 2016 early enrollee (who had offers from Alabama, Arkansas, and Nebraska, among others) was at one time expected to compete for playing time in his freshman season, but after Mike Gesicki blew up, the coaching staff decided to redshirt him. He is currently behind Gesicki and the better blocking Nick Bowers on the depth chart. Given Gesicki’s talent, chances are good that Dalton won’t see the field until 2018.
Wide receiver Dae’Lun Darien possesses terrific size at 6’4’’, but given that he sits behind two other similar receivers in redshirt sophomores Irvin Charles and Juwan Johnson, not to mention redshirt junior DeAndre Thompkins, and seniors Daesean Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall, odds are slim that Darien sees the field as a receiver. However, he may see time on special teams in 2017.
Offensive guard Michal Menet, picked to be 2017’s Breakout Player by Clay, should indeed make a big impact on the unit that has improved the most since the beginning of 2016. He has a good shot to start at right guard, where he is in a battle with Chasz Wright. Wright started five games in 2016, and was a little inconsistent on the field, so if Menet continues to work the way he reportedly has over the spring and early summer, expect him to earn the nod at right guard.
Offensive tackle Will Fries is in a similar position to Menet as he battles for a starting tackle position (most likely the right tackle spot). Fries was the one offensive line freshman that was closest to playing after the injury on the line to Andrew Nelson, but the coaching staff decided to keep the redshirt on him. The scout team is one thing compared to Big Ten defenses, but I think Fries will see significant action in 2017.
Offensive tackle Alex Gellerstedt may be the odd man out of the three-man redshirt freshmen offensive linemen in terms of consistent minutes on the field, simply because of the depth ahead of him (especially if both Brendan Mahon and Nelson fully come back from their injuries). Another early enrollee, Gellerstedt has gained nearly 25 pounds in his redshirt season, and although he may not see the field in 2017, should seriously challenge for playing time in 2018.