It can be difficult to extrapolate much useful information from a spring game, which when you get down to it, is still a practice session that doubles as an event to quench the thirst for football of fans during the eight-month long offseason. However, there’s still the opportunity for some key takeaways, especially as Penn State prepares to replace several players who held starring roles during the past few seasons. Without any further ado, here are a few key players to keep a close eye on during Saturday’s Blue-White Game:
OLB Micah Parsons (#11)- Penn State’s latest prize recruit may be pound-for-pound the most talented player to enter college football this season. By enrolling in January, Parsons is fully embedded in spring practice and has an outstanding shot to be a starter from day one as a true freshman. Parsons may be depended upon to start at outside linebacker because of a lack of returning talent, but has all the tools to quickly become a star at the next level. The Blue-White Game will be an excellent opportunity to showcase his skills and get a basic idea if he might develop into an impact player by September.
WR KJ Hamler (#1)- If you’ve been paying attention to practice reports, you’ve noticed the constant buzz surrounding Hamler. He may be one of the smallest receivers on the team (Hamler and Brandon Polk both stand at 5’9’’, with Hamler having a one-pound advantage), he has used his blazing speed and route-running abilities to give the secondary fits throughout spring camp. Hamler will be lining up at the ‘Z’ spot, and could push Polk for a starting position as a redshirt freshman. With so much returning and potential talent at the skill positions, Hamler could become a dangerous X-factor on offense to help stretch the field and do some damage in open space.
S Garrett Taylor (#17)- When Lamont Wade was moved to safety after playing as a cornerback his freshman season, it was somewhat assumed he would line up as the starter next to Nick Scott. However, it seems like the experienced Taylor has been getting the lions share of snaps with the first-team throughout the spring. Taylor came to Penn State as a highly-regarded four-star prospect, and has been patiently waiting his turn to see regular time on defense. In the meantime, he’s performed as a special teams ace and has shown his ability to make devastating hits. Now it seems his time has come to make the most of his opportunity as he looks to become a major contributor in the secondary.
MLB Ellis Brooks (#13)- With both Jason Cabinda and Brandon Smith out of eligibility, the middle linebacker spot is wide open. Brooks might be the guy to claim the spot that Cabinda has held for the past few years. It may be a tall task for a redshirt freshman, but the four-star prospect could be ready to become the quarterback of the defense. This is his second year in spring camp after enrolling early in 2017, and took a redshirt to learn from the senior mentors on how to fit in Brent Pry’s defense. Saturday will be a big test to gauge Brooks abilities to be the man in the middle.
DT Fred Hansard (#53)- Penn State will be looking to some younger players to provide depth behind starters Kevin Givens and Robert Windsor, and Hansard should be right in the thick of things. The massive redshirt freshman is the largest defensive tackle on the roster at 6’3’’, 315 lbs., but also has the athleticism to be a disruptive force in the backfield. The New Jersey product selected Penn State from an offer sheet of a “who’s who” of college football powerhouses, ranked as the eighth-best DT in his class. He was able to use a redshirt season to adjust to the collegiate game thanks to the depth at the position in 2017, but now he should be ready to step in and play a large part in Sean Spencer’s rotation from day one.
QB Sean Clifford (#14)- With Tommy Stevens recent announcement that he will not be seeking opportunities elsewhere as a graduate transfer, Penn State remains in exceptional shape at the quarterback spot for through 2019. But it looks like Clifford could be the man to lead the Nittany Lion offense following that. Clifford has seen advanced reps throughout the spring while Stevens recovers from an injury, and has garnered praise from the coaching staff for his development at this point in his career. The redshirt freshman will probably see the majority of the snaps at quarterback on Saturday, and give a sneak peek at what he can bring to the table down the road.