Repeat after me: It. Is. Game. Week. Just six days from now, we’ll get our first look at the 2018 Nittany Lions, and a big part of the team is shaping up to be the stellar 2018 class. Let’s take a player-by-player look to see which true freshmen will play big roles this year.
LB Micah Parsons: This one has been locked in since he re-committed to Penn State back in December. Parsons is just too good of a football player to have sit on the sideline for a year. We’ll see how far along he is at linebacker, but worst case scenario, Parsons will be used as someone who can blitz from the WILL linebacker spot on third-and-longs.
TE Pat Freiermuth: Like Parsons, this one isn’t much of a surprise. Turning 20 years old in October, Freiermuth is very old for his class, and is much more along physically than a normal freshman would be. He’ll join Jonathan Holland, Nick Bowers, and Danny Dalton in Penn State’s tight end by committee approach that should see a heavy amount of rotation especially early in the season.
WR Justin Shorter: This is another “no duh” selection as Shorter is battling for the starting outside spot opposite Juwan Johnson. But even if Shorter isn’t named the starter, he’s a stone cold lock to be in the rotation.
RB Ricky Slade: Bruce Feldman and Miles Sanders have echoed praise for Slade so it won’t be a surprise when he sees time against Appalachian State on September 1. Of course, he’ll be in a backup role to Miles Sanders — and perhaps even Mark Allen — but Slade is too dangerous with the ball in his hand to not see the field right away.
DT PJ Mustipher: *conductor voice* This is the last call to board the PJ Mustipher Express. I repeat, this is the last call to board the PJ Mustipher Express.
K Jake Pinegar: James Franklin hasn’t really expounded on the kickers individually too much, but it’s tough to see a scenario where Pinegar doesn’t have some role in the kicking game.
DE Jayson Oweh: I’ve gone back-and-forth on Oweh. Truth be told, he is probably still a bit too raw to be out there for long stretches, and I think a redshirt year of heavy reps with the scout team could serve him well. But on the other hand — Oweh is an absurd athlete that could benefit from 8-12 reps per game in a Shaka Toney-esque pass-rushing role. With the way Sean Spencer rotates at defensive end, I think we’ll see Oweh past four games.
LB Jesse Luketa: Luketa very well could be in the green category, but Penn State’s surprisingly good depth at linebacker gives me a little bit of pause. For Luketa, who would be playing in the middle or at the WILL, there’s actually quite a bit in front of him — Jan Johnson, Manny Bowen, and maybe even Ellis Brooks at the MIKE, and then one of Koa Farmer/Cam Brown and Micah Parsons at the WILL. We’ll for sure see Luketa due to the new four-game rule, but I don’t think he’s a lock to have his redshirt completely burned just yet.
WR Jahan Dotson: The “buzz of camp” as James Franklin called him, Dotson has played his way into the Yellow Light territory. Physically, Dotson probably is a year away from being truly ready, but if the kid makes plays, the kid makes plays. With strong in-game performances, Dotson could force his way into the green light category permanently.
DE Nick Tarburton: Tarburton will be redshirted in a perfect world, but if one or two of the defensive ends succumb to injury, I think you’d see Tarburton’s redshirt yanked. He’s already a well-developed kid at 6-foot-3, 252 pounds, and while he just made the switch to defensive end this spring, the kid is just a good football player. I think he’d be able to hold his own if called upon.
DT Judge Culpepper: Culpepper is probably in the same camp as Tarburton — if injuries pop up, he could be pushed into action. Ideally though, Culpepper would get a redshirt year, and come back next year 310 pounds with a full year of defensive tackle training under his belt.
WR Daniel George: George is probably more so in the red light camp, but a couple players have brought him up when asked about which freshman standout so we’ll give him a yellow light for now. One thing is for sure — the 6-foot-2, 210-pound George is a physical freak.
QB Will Levis: No offense to Levis, but if he isn’t redshirted this year, something went terribly wrong for Penn State.
TE Zack Kuntz: Credit to Kuntz for already being 240 pounds, but it appears that Kuntz is another offseason of #gainz away from making an impact on the field.
OT Rasheed Walker: If Walker came in with the 2014 or 2015 recruiting class, he probably would have started right away. Fortunately, Penn State is in a much better spot now where Walker can take a redshirt year.
OG Bryce Effner: Offensive line coach Matt Limegrover said that Effner is ahead of where they thought he’d be, which is obviously good news. Still, Effner will be redshirting this season.
OG Juice Scruggs: Very few offensive linemen are ready to contribute from day one, so here again, it will be a redshirt season.
DT Aeneas Hawkins: Hawkins has good size at 292 pounds, but after missing his senior season with an injury, it’s understandable that Penn State will take Hawkins along slowly.
LB Charlie Katshir: Like Hawkins, Katshir is coming off an injury. Toss in that he’s making the move from safety to outside linebacker, and a redshirt year makes a ton of sense for Katshir.
S Isaiah Humphries: Humphries enrolled early with the hopes of competing for a spot on the safety two-deep, but the true freshman is probably a year away physically from being ready for Big Ten play.
CB Trent Gordon: Penn State goes five or six deep at cornerback pretty easily so there’s no need to burn Gordon’s redshirt. Like a lot of these guys, he could stand to get a little bigger.