Penn State spring camp opens Wednesday, and dozens of players are set to begin their fight for playing time.
Sure, guys like Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley figure to attract most of the attention at Penn State’s spring game on April 22, but there are several under-the-radar Nittany Lions to keep an eye on throughout camp leading up to Blue-White weekend.
Here are five Nittany Lions to watch:
▪ Irvin Charles, wide receiver
Someone will have to fill the shoes of Chris Godwin and his 11 touchdowns last season — so why not Charles? He certainly has the body for it. The New Jersey native stands at 6-foot-4, 219 pounds, perfect size for an outside threat. Experience is the knock on Charles, who had only two catches in 2016. But one of them was an 80-yard touchdown against Minnesota, arguably one of the most important plays of Penn State’s 11-3 season. Plus, Franklin said back in November that Charles is “maybe the most talented wide receiver” he’s ever been around; high praise for a wideout that’s seen limited snaps.
▪ Jarvis Miller, linebacker
A big question heading into spring practice is who will start opposite Manny Bowen at outside linebacker, with Jason Cabinda manning the middle. The best bet is either Koa Farmer or Cam Brown, but one to watch is Miller. A redshirt sophomore, Miller is a converted safety with intriguing measurables. Penn State strength coach Dwight Galt said Friday that Miller bulked up to 225 pounds for his position switch. But the 6-foot-2 former safety’s speed didn’t disappear, as he ran around a 4.4-second 40-yard dash during winter workouts. A linebacker with 4.4 speed? That’s a potential nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators.
▪ Michal Menet, offensive line
Center is the only position Penn State will need to fill on the offensive line — and Menet, a former four-star recruit, could be the Nittany Lions’ answer. With Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon returning from injury, Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern coming off impressive freshman campaigns, and several other players contributing in 2016, it’s a crowded group that offensive line coach Matt Limegrover has to sort out. But Menet, who ultimately redshirted last year after coming close to playing due to depth concerns, should get an opportunity to separate himself in spring camp.
▪ Jabari Butler, cornerback
If the name doesn’t ring a bell, that’s not surprising. Butler is a walk-on who transferred to Penn State at the start of the spring semester. A former FCS standout at Abilene Christian, Butler made first-team All-Southland Conference after a five-interception freshman campaign back in 2015. He already made an impact during Penn State’s winter workouts as one of five players to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.3-second range, joining Barkley, Grant Haley, DeAndre Thompkins and Saeed Blacknall. Whether it’s on defense or special teams, Butler’s speed is an interesting asset for the Nittany Lions.
▪ Shaka Toney, defensive end
In the words of Galt, Toney is “a freak athlete” — and he hasn’t played a down for the Nittany Lions. Toney, a highly-touted recruit out of Imhotep Charter in Philadelphia, redshirted last season. Both of Penn State’s 2016 starting defensive ends, Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan, have moved on, leaving a wide-open race for a pair of starting positions. Nittany Lions defensive line coach Sean Spencer loves to rotate his guys in and out, and Torrence Brown, Curtis Cothran, Shareef Miller and Ryan Buchholtz got plenty of run last season. But Toney is another weapon at Spencer and defensive coordinator Brent Pry’s disposal. “He looks more like a linebacker than a defensive end, but incredibly explosive,” Galt said. “He’s going to be tough off the edge.”