Penn State Football

New, old & missing faces at Penn State’s first practice of spring camp

Penn State defensive end Ryan Buchholz stretches during spring practice Monday.
Penn State defensive end Ryan Buchholz stretches during spring practice Monday.

James Franklin bounced off the Holuba Hall turf clapping, wearing a wide smile. The Penn State coach slapped the hands of his assistants, tapped the helmets of stretching Nittany Lions and walked up and down each row of players with a pep in his step.

Football was finally back.

Penn State’s spring camp commenced Monday evening, the first of 15 practices ending with the annual Blue-White Game. New coaches and former players populated the indoor facility, while at least one current fan favorite was not in attendance.

For 20 minutes, media members gained access to Penn State’s practice. The open session mostly consisted of players warming up, but here are a few noteworthy nuggets from the time reporters were there.

▪  Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens was not present.

Franklin wasn’t asked about Stevens, a speculated transfer candidate, in his afternoon press conference. And if Stevens is hurt, it’s not as if the coach would have said anything due to the program’s policy against discussing injuries.

The only four quarterbacks in attendance were Trace McSorley, Sean Clifford, Jake Zembiec and Michael Shuster.

▪  Defensive end Torrence Brown was in a navy blue t-shirt and shorts, standing up and chatting with teammates during warmups.

Brown — who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Georgia State last season, needing to be carted off the field — did not participate in the team’s max squat day at the Lasch Building three weeks ago.

This is all expected, though. Rich Scarcella of The Reading Eagle caught up with Brown before the Fiesta Bowl, and the defensive end said he was aiming for a return in fall camp.

▪  The players weren’t wearing shoulder or leg pads on Monday; just a helmet, jersey, shorts and spikes would do for camp’s opening day.

And defensive end Ryan Buchholz was dressed. Buchholz — who was injured in Penn State’s loss to Ohio State and missed the next two games — played sparingly in the Nittany Lions’ final two contests of the year.

On Monday, the defensive end was breezing through drills, taking it relatively easy.

There’s no rush for the redshirt junior to go hard in spring ball. The staff will want him ready for the opener on Sept. 1.

▪  Defensive tackle Ellison Jordan was stretching with teammates, but was not dressed.

Jordan suffered a broken knee cap in the offseason, according to a tweet by NBC Sports Washington anchor Julie Donaldson in January.

Jordan, a sophomore who did not play in the Fiesta Bowl, was not wearing a brace in Holuba Hall.

His return would be greatly welcomed for a team who lost two starting defensive tackles to graduation.

▪  Penn State has a handful of players it’s considering for the roles of punt and kick returner.

Miles Sanders and Brandon Polk were working as the kick returners. Meanwhile, John Reid, DeAndre Thompkins, KJ Hamler, Mark Allen and Mac Hippenhammer were wearing boxing gloves, catching punts from a jugs machine.

It will be interesting to see if Reid reclaims his old role. The cornerback, who missed last season with a knee injury sustained in the spring, led Penn State with 22 punt returns for 166 yards in 2016.

In Reid’s absence, Thompkins took over in 2017. He had 319 yards and a touchdown on 26 returns.

▪  And finally, a few former Nittany Lions showed up to check out the 2018 squad.

Wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton and running back Josh McPhearson are in town for Penn State’s Pro Day on Tuesday, and former Penn State cornerback Trevor Williams was with them.

Williams, now on the San Diego Chargers, hugged and talked with Franklin and defensive coordinator Brent Pry.

Expect more than a few former Nittany Lions to be around Holuba Hall on Tuesday.

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9