The Blue-White Game may be a glorified practice, but the spring game provides fans and media alike a look at underused or newer Nittany Lions that could make an impact down the line.
Let’s highlight five guys to watch on Saturday:
Lamont Wade, cornerback
This is the most obvious choice. Wade, a five-star defensive back out of Clairton, has been hyped up ever since he arrived on campus as an early enrollee in January. The hype has apparently translated. Wade has impressed everyone from head coach James Franklin to senior cornerback Grant Haley and safety Marcus Allen, a pair of veterans on the defense. With John Reid’s reported significant knee injury, Wade is in-line for serious reps in 2017 — and good or bad, Saturday is Penn State fans’ first opportunity to check him out.
Andre Robinson, running back
It’s well-known that superstar Saquon Barkley has been limited this spring, and fans shouldn’t expect to see the 2017 Heisman contender in the Blue-White Game. There’s no reason to have him out there, which means plenty of Robinson, who’s been working in with the first-team offense at practice with Barkley held out. Posting five touchdowns in 2016, Robinson proved he can finish off red-zone scores — but can he carry the load? He was a highly touted back in 2015, and Robinson has his chance to get a jump on that No. 2 job. Expect him to do so.
Ayron Monroe, safety
Malik Golden and his 17 career starts have graduated, and Penn State has plenty of options to choose from as his replacement. Nick Scott has impressed this spring, Troy Apke has experience, and Garrett Taylor’s cornerback background is intriguing — but ultimately, Monroe is the guy to watch. Monroe, who made 12 team-leading special teams tackles in 2016, is naturally gifted and is now taking a more serious approach. “I texted Coach (Tim) Banks that I was kind of just blown away by some of the things that were coming out of Ayron Monroe’s mouth,” Franklin said earlier this spring. “Perspective and growth and maturity and really taking an honest look at himself and strengths and weaknesses and where he needs to improve. It’s really cool.”
Shaka Toney, defensive end
I said on our weekly podcast, “Airing It Out,” that redshirt junior defensive end Torrence Brown would have a stellar Blue-White Game — and I still think he will. But it’s worth watching out for Toney. A redshirt freshman, this is the first look fans will get at the Imhotep Prep product. He was dubbed a “freak athlete” who has “incredible explosiveness” by strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt at the end of winter workouts. The Nittany Lions need to replace pass-rushers Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan, and while Brown and Shareef Miller are odds-on favorites to start in 2017, defensive line coach Sean Spencer loves rotating guys in. Toney will get his chance next season, and Saturday could be a preview of what’s to come.
DeAndre Thompkins, wide receiver
He had a first half to forget out at the Rose Bowl, with a drop or two — but Thompkins is still a deep-threat with a lot of ability. Many forget Thompkins’ productive play last season. In the first six games of 2016, Thompkins had 328 receiving yards on 18 receptions, good for an average of 18.2 yards per catch. With Chris Godwin’s absence and plenty of focus on the star of spring ball Juwan Johnson, Thompkins is sneaking up on people. Keep an eye on the redshirt junior — you might just see a deep bomb or two.