Penn State released its depth chart Tuesday for the season opener against Central Florida.
Redshirt freshman Chris Gulla is listed as the starting punter, running back Akeel Lynch is listed atop a group of seven kickoff returners, while cornerback Jordan Lucas is the starting punt returner.
“When you get an opportunity, you’ve got to be able to punch it into the end zone and we think both of those guys give us an opportunity to do that,” coach James Franklin said. “And I think it helps that they’re veteran guys. I think you’ll also see Grant Haley as a kickoff return guy as well.”
The Nittany Lions and Knights will meet at 8:30 a.m. Saturday in the Croke Park Classic in Dublin, Ireland.
Geno Lewis, Von Walker and Adrian Amos are also among the options as kickoff returners. Jesse Della Valle is behind Lucas at punt returner. Other starters in the special teams include: kicker Sam Ficken, holder Ryan Keiser and kick snapper Tyler Yazujian.
Danny Pasquariello is the backup punter.
Offensively, freshman Trace McSorley is listed as the backup to starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Freshman Michael O’Connor is the third-string quarterback. Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak and Lynch are listed in that order at running back.
Redshirt sophomore Geno Lewis and redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton each earned starting spots at wide receiver. Freshman Saeed Blacknall is listed behind Lewis at the X receiver, and freshman Chris Godwin is behind Hamilton at the Z receiver. Redshirt junior Matt Zanellato listed third at the Z receiver and as the backup to Hamilton at the F receiver.
Franklin said the plan is have freshman wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins take a redshirt season.
“Right now, he’s a guy that we’re holding on,” Franklin said. “We’d like to redshirt if we could. But if we have to play him, he’s going to be ready to play.”
Jesse James and Kyle Carter are the top two tight ends, with redshirt sophomore Brent Wilkerson and freshman Mike Gesicki as the third and fourth options, respectively.
Starters on the offensive line include: right tackle Andrew Nelson, right guard Brian Gaia, center Angelo Mangiro, left guard Derek Dowrey and left tackle Donovan Smith. Backups on the line are: right tackle Chasz Wright, right guard Tom Devenney, center Wendy Laurent, left guard Brendan Mahon and left tackle Albert Hall.
Franklin said Dowrey and Mahon remain in a competition for the starting right guard job, but both will play.
On defense, senior Mike Hull will be the middle linebacker with redshirt sophomore Nyeem Wartman and sophomore Brandon Bell starting at the outside linebacker spots. Gary Wooten is listed as the backup middle linebacker, while Jason Cabinda and Von Walker are the backups on the outside.
Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan are the starters at defensive end, with senior Brad Bars and redshirt junior Carl Nassib listed as backups. Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson are the starting defensive tackles. Senior Tyrone Smith and redshirt freshman Parker Cothren are listed behind Zettel and Johnson, respectively.
In the secondary, junior Jordan Lucas is listed as a starter at cornerback. At the other corner, Trevor Williams and Da’Quan Davis share the top spot on the depth chart.
“I think Trevor Williams is a guy who’s played a bunch of football,” Franklin said. “We have two corners with him and Jordan that give us really good size and athleticism, but again, I think at both those spots, you’re going to see multiple guys rotate in and play. We need somebody to truly take a hold of that position and be a playmaker.”
Haley is the backup to Lucas. Keiser is the starting free safety and Adrian Amos is the starting strong safety. Della Valle is the backup free safety and Malik Golden is the backup strong safety.