Penn State football: 7 players to watch

tjohnson@centredaily.comApril 12, 2014 

Strength33

Assistant strength coach Chuck Losey spots safety Malik Golden during a strength and conditioning workout in March. Golden is a Penn State player to watch.

NABIL K. MARK — CDT file photo

No. 3 — DeAndre Thompkins, 5-11, 178 lbs., WR

The Nittany Lions have to replace their top two receivers from last season as Allen Robinson and Brandon Felder have moved on. While DeAndre Thompkins, a true freshman, isn’t the biggest player in the receiving corps, he might be the fastest.

His quickness off the line of scrimmage has been noticeable this spring, and cornerback Jordan Lucas has praised Thompkins for his athletic skills and ability to go up and make a catch. If he can continue to develop chemistry with quarterback Christian Hackenberg, he could help Penn State as a speedy option from the slot. A live scrimmage in what will be his first 11-on-11 in Beaver Stadium is a perfect opportunity for Thompkins to do so.

He’s also practiced as a punt returner and could impact games there with his speed and ability to make plays in open space.

No. 91 — Tarow Barney, 6-1, 290 lbs., DT

Tarow Barney is in line to earn a high volume of snaps in the middle of Penn State’s defensive line following the departures of DaQuan Jones and Kyle Baublitz. The former Northwest Mississippi Community College star enrolled in January and has had a good spring. His early progress made coach James Franklin’s decision to move former defensive tackles Brian Gaia and Derek Dowrey to offense easier.

Barney has two years of eligibility after playing two juco seasons wherein he made 9½ tackles for loss and 3½ sacks.

Now, Barney will work into the rotation with Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel. Fellow newcomer Antoine White has also impressed Penn State coaches and strong efforts in the scrimmage would cap a promising spring for the unit.

No. 8 — Gary Wooten, 6-2, 238 lbs., LB

Gary Wooten contributed on special teams last season but wasn’t able to crack the linebacker rotation. Expect that to change as soon as the Blue-White game kicks off.

Now that veteran Mike Hull has shifted to the middle, Wooten will likely see time at the boundary linebacker spot, roaming the short side of the field. A former track-and-field letterman in high school, Wooten’s speed could allow him to play on the wide side as one of the team’s field linebackers with an emphasis on coverage.

Penn State brings a host of established running backs and tight ends that a player like Wooten will have to match up with and account for in the fall. With that in mind, the scrimmage will give the staff an excellent chance to evaluate a player like Wooten in a game situation.

No. 53 — Derek Dowrey, 6-3, 323 lbs., G

Derek Dowrey shifted from the defensive line to guard by necessity. He was a complementary piece on defense last year and will be counted on to play a much bigger role at an unfamiliar position this season.

He’s had big Blue-White games before. In 2012 he played a lot as a reserve and finished with four tackles and two sacks to help the defense win that scrimmage. Now he’ll be tasked with preventing those types of plays.

Dowrey has the athleticism to get down the field and could ease a lot of apprehension about the position group as a whole with a good showing.

No. 71 — Brendan Mahon, 6-5, 292 lbs., G

A handful of offensive linemen are on the shelf, and the redshirt freshman guard suddenly has a really good chance to make a strong case for more playing time in the fall. Brendan Mahon was a highly-touted recruit just a year ago, and he’s taken a lot of snaps in practice with all the injuries along the line.

Mahon has the length to play tackle but could add more weight to his frame. Keep an eye on him if he shifts outside. Either way, he’ll likely be going up against much more experienced players on the inside of the line and Saturday will set the bar for him heading into summer workouts.

No. 6 — Malik Golden, 6-1, 197 lbs., S

Malik Golden can fly, as evidenced by him helping break his high school’s record in the 4x100 track relay. He can fly to the football, too.

His instincts for physicality were on display in the 2013 season finale, when he got his most extended action on defense with Adrian Amos nursing an ankle injury. Then, Golden made three tackles and a key pass breakup on a third-and-short.

While Penn State’s secondary is loaded with experience and returning upperclassmen, Golden could be used in multiple packages and could provide the defensive staff with another option moving forward.

No. 15 — Michael O’Connor, 6-4, 226 lbs., QB

Another true freshman, early enrollee Michael O’Connor isn’t likely to supplant Hackenberg as the team’s starter. But he’s seen as the quarterback of the future for now.

With incoming quarterback prospect Trace McSorley set to join the team this summer, O’Connor can get a jump on him in the battle to be Hackenberg’s successor. And with depth concerns along the offensive line, it is imperative for Penn State to bring a second quarterback up to speed as soon as possible.

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