With the Blue-White Game on the horizon, Tuesday was a day of player conference calls — and the Nittany Lions offered up some interesting tidbits.
Let’s get right to it with five takeaways:
DE Brown confident about starting spot
With defensive ends Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan moving on, so does 12 of Penn State’s 40 sacks in 2016. The Nittany Lions are tasked with naming two new replacements — and Torrence Brown thinks he’s earned a starting spot.
Brown, a redshirt junior, is one of the senior members on the Penn State defensive line. He had 33 tackles last season, six for a loss, and started four times.
With depth at defensive end — redshirt sophomore Shareef Miller and redshirt freshmen Shaka Toney and Shane Simmons have garnered attention — the job isn’t going to be handed to Brown. But he feels like he’s done enough to take it.
“If you go into a situation thinking you’ve already got it won, you’re going in with the wrong mindset,” Brown said. “I feel like I’ve worked for the job, and I feel like it will be mine. That’s the way I feel.”
Miller ‘embraced’ switch from safety
Koa Farmer knows what it’s like to move from safety to linebacker. He did it himself last season.
Now, Jarvis Miller is going through the same thing.
Miller, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound redshirt sophomore, moved from safety to linebacker in-between the Rose Bowl and the start of spring camp. He appeared in all 14 games last year on special teams and is now battling for time in a crowded group at linebacker. Jason Cabinda will man the middle, while Farmer, Manny Bowen and Cam Brown figure to all earn starter minutes.
On paper, that leaves Miller on the outside looking in. But Farmer said the Connecticut native has “changed his game” and will be featured quite a bit at the SAM linebacker position in 2017.
“It’s more of a hybrid safety-linebacker in-betweener, and I think that’s what Jarvis is,” Farmer said. “I think he embraced it. He’s doing really well this spring, and you’re gonna see that guy’s name pop up a lot during the fall.”
McGovern wants offensive line to lead
Offensive lineman Connor McGovern believes Penn State’s 2017 offense can be “special” — and he wants his unit to be the driving force.
“We don’t want Trace (McSorley) or Saquon (Barkley) or anyone else to have to lead the offense,” McGovern said. “We want to lead the offense first from up-front.”
McGovern, who started nine times as a true freshman last season, has transitioned from guard back to center this offseason. He’s surrounded by Brendan Mahon (29 career starts), Andrew Nelson (27) and Ryan Bates (14), as well as Chasz Wright, Steven Gonzalez and a stable of young up-and-comers: Will Fries, Michal Menet, Alex Gellerstedt and Mike Miranda.
Unlike years past, the offensive line might be Penn State’s deepest position, and McGovern thinks it can be one of the Nittany Lions’ strongest units by bringing “that physical aspect back.”
“We were physical at some points last year,” McGovern said, “but this year we really want to finish blocks, get guys on the ground, give Trace and Saquon bigger holes to make easier reads, just blowing guys off the ball.”
Farmer playing loose
Farmer can’t even remember what position he was slated to play this time last year. He was a safety and moved down to linebacker following Penn State’s win over Temple, but it was all such a blur during the season.
Farmer, who started twice at linebacker, appeared in all 14 games, recording 29 tackles and three sacks. All the while he was getting his footing at the position. Things are a lot clearer now for the redshirt junior — and he’s having a blast.
“I’m not being nervous, and I’m not playing slow,” Farmer said. “I’m just having fun. I think that’s the difference; when a guy has fun, he plays faster.
Johnson’s best play of spring
Wide receiver Juwan Johnson, the star of spring ball for Penn State, has wowed with acrobatic catches throughout camp; Cabinda even said a couple weeks ago that he made a reach-behind, one-handed catch in practice, similar to Chris Godwin’s in the Rose Bowl.
But in Johnson’s mind, his best play of camp so far wasn’t a reception — it was a block. Apparently, the 6-foot-4, 218-pound wideout sprung quarterback Trace McSorley loose for a 60-yard run in a scrimmage.
“That was probably my best play,” Johnson said.
Looks like Johnson can do it all.