When reporters walked in for their 15-minute allotment of Penn State’s 10th spring football practice on Wednesday evening, things began to look a bit different.
Joe Moorhead’s spring allotment of offensive concepts have been installed and the team was running through two-minute drills — complete with a glimpse of run-pass option plays that will likely be a major characteristic of the new spread.
But on the offensive line, things had been shuffled a bit.
Instead of taking what appeared to be first-team reps, left tackle Paris Palmer was on the second team providing protection for Tommy Stevens — and he was on the right. Sterling Jenkins took second-team reps on the left, while redshirt sophomore Noah Beh saw time on the first team on the right.
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Also protecting Trace McSorley on the left was Andrew Nelson, who has, by all accounts, set himself apart from the rest of the line this offseason in workouts.
Could it mean a full reshuffle is in order?
“Well, (Paris) had missed our last practice and we had Nelly (Nelson) at left tackle,” said head coach James Franklin. “Thought it went well, so thought ‘Let’s experiment with Paris at right tackle. Sometimes you make those types of moves because of the situation you’re in and it ends up being a blessing in disguise.
“It’s still us kind of searching for the best five, getting them on the field, and you know, not only getting the right people on the bus but getting them in the right seats as well. Just kind of experimenting on that.”
Franklin added that the team is experimenting a little with early enrollee center Connor McGovern at tackle as well.
Defense beats offense
While the first-team unit, despite a little unsteady with the newness of the system, looked sharp at times, the second-team was unceremoniously shredded by the defense.
Chris Godwin in particular drew some noise from the sideline during the first team’s two-minute drills, pulling down a slick little slant and dragging his toe to stay in bounds, and then making a 50-50 catch on a seam route.
The period, which was not full-contact, drew “sack” after sack and hoots from the defense, especially a sideline-roving Jason Cabinda who paced, yelling, smacking his teammates on their shoulder pads or backs to rev them up after a successful stop.
“I thought today, defensively, I thought we played our best practice of the spring,” said Franklin. “We are playing with a lot more of what I call ‘personality’ with our linebackers and with our secondary, disguising some of the pressures.
“In the past I think we’ve been a lot more predictable. We’ve been very good, but we’ve been a little bit predictable with our indicators. And I think coach (Tim) Banks and (defensive coordinator Brent) Pry and the rest of the defensive staff are doing a really great job of disguising some of the things in our offseason studies.”
The team is a bit banged up — Cabinda said two weeks ago that Brandon Bell is limited, and of course Nyeem Wartman-White is rehabbing an ACL tear suffered last season — so in the linebacker unit especially, younger players are getting important on-field time.
“Manny (Bowen) is getting a bunch of reps, (Jake) Cooper is getting a bunch of reps…It’s really good for those guys,” said Franklin.
Andre Robinson stepping up
Just because Saquon Barkley continues to solidify himself as the team’s premiere running back (and had his first media session after Wednesday’s practice), that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of reps for a two and maybe even a three-back in Moorhead’s system.
“I feel like all the running backs that we have fit the style,” said Barkley. “It’s more of a one-cut back, get upfield and take what they give you…I mean, the offense that he has is incredible. It sets you up one-on-one with the safety and it’s our job to win.”
Redshirt freshman running back Andre Robinson is vying for a slot alongside Barkley and has turned a few heads thus far in spring workouts, including that of the latter, who is also his roommate.
“Andre is one of my best friends up here,” said Barkley. “He’s doing a great job, having a great spring ball. It’s interesting seeing some of the stuff he can do, like try to take some of his game. I think he’s more of a physical guy, he can definitely get the three yards needed but he can also make you miss.”
Not to be forgotten is redshirt sophomore Mark Allen, who Franklin said is (somewhat surprisingly) one of the better pass blockers on the team despite his 5-foot-6, 180-pound frame.
“Mark, who I’m really good friends with, I’ve been quoted before saying he’s the quickest guy I know,” said Barkley. “I mean, all of them are just great running backs and helping me become a better player also.”
Joining the pack next fall will also be Miles Sanders, one of the top running backs in the nation.