It’s mail time.
Blue-White weekend is a couple days away, and with that comes excitement about Penn State’s 2017 season.
Without further ado, here are a few questions fielded this week:
Q: Who do you think will lead the team in sacks and interceptions this year? From @BrianHagberg on Twitter.
A: It’s pretty far out, but my gut tells me Christian Campbell and Kevin Givens will lead the Nittany Lions next season in interceptions and sacks, respectively. Last year, linebackers Brandon Smith and Brandon Bell were tied for the most picks with two each. Even though Koa Farmer’s former safety skills could translate into a pick or two, I don’t see a linebacker leading that category again. Head coach James Franklin and cornerback Grant Haley said a couple weeks ago that creating turnovers has been an emphasis this spring for the secondary. After the Nittany Lions recorded only 10 interceptions in 2016 — tied for 68th in the country — the defensive backs are committed to generating more picks by working the jugs machines throughout camp. For the first time in his Penn State career, Campbell impressed in an injury-free spring, and he has the skill — and opportunity with John Reid reportedly out — to make a big impact. In regards to bringing down the quarterback, Givens had 4.5 sacks last season, second on the team to Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan, who each had six. Veteran defensive tackle Curtis Cothran said that Givens, a redshirt sophomore, is a “monster” and expects a big 2017 out of him. So do I.
Q: Is it realistic to expect to be 6-0 heading into the Michigan game? Two tough road games, but more talented in all six. From @jimithingin on Twitter.
A: Barring catastrophic injuries in fall camp, yes, Penn State should be 6-0 heading into the Michigan game. They’ll be a top-10 squad in the preseason polls, and if the Nittany Lions lose one of those games, it’ll be a serious disappointment. Those first six games are as follows: vs. Akron, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Georgia State, at Iowa, vs. Indiana, at Northwestern. Unless Penn State comes out sluggish against Akron, the Nittany Lions should be at least a touchdown favorite against Pitt. Playing in Iowa City and Evanston can be tricky, but it shouldn’t be for this Penn State offense. Outside of the matchup with the Panthers, I could see these games being not only wins, but straight-up blowouts. And you know what? If the Wolverines get past Florida in the season opener, Michigan could be undefeated heading into this season’s White Out game, too, setting up quite a night in Happy Valley.
Q: James Franklin has poached two Massachusetts tight ends in Marshfield’s Danny Dalton and Brooks’ Pat Freiermuth. Will Franklin keep taking talent from Masschusetts, and will Dalton see any time? Prescott, from Boston
A: As long as there’s talent to be had in New England, I think you’ll see Franklin and his staff go after it. Franklin’s plan when he was hired was to “dominate the state,” but if you look at how they’ve expanded their scope — the 2018 class has a pair of Texas commits — the Nittany Lions are looking to parlay last season’s success into fruitful recruitment of the whole country. Massachusetts doesn’t scream recruiting hotbed, but it won’t be ignored by Franklin and his staff. As for Dalton, he’s in an iffy spot this season. He’s got the size — 6-foot-4 — and talent, but Franklin said after Wednesday’s practice that redshirt sophomore Jon Holland looks like the backup to Mike Gesicki. Also consider that former highly touted recruit Nick Bowers missed the 2016 season due to injury, and he’ll be back in the picture at some point. When Gesicki moves on after this season, you’ll have Dalton, Bowers, Holland and Freiermuth, assuming he stays true to his verbal commitment, all competing for time in 2018. That’s when you’ll see Dalton’s name pop up more frequently.