With National Signing Day in the rear view mirror and Blue White Weekend still a few weeks away, news involving Penn State football is rather slow. In this week's Q&A, we had one question on one of the starting safety positions, which prompted us to dig a little deeper. Below is our answer to that question and a dive into a few other starting position debates.
Scott R Dixon: Who is the starting safety opposite Allen in week 1?
This is a good question because the strong safety spot is one that now needs to be filled after losing veteran safety Malik Golden to graduation. However, at this point in time it's a rather hard question to answer because it's a long way until September. The Blue White Game and summer camp will go a long way in evaluating the several players who will be in the mix for the job. I would imagine the coaching staff will wait until the last minute to officially announce who will be starting just to allow themselves the maximum time to do that evaluation. With that being said, some of the top candidates will probably be former running back Nick Scott, who was second in line behind Golden last year, senior Troy Apke, and two redshirt sophomores Ayron Monroe and Jarvis Miller. All four seem to have a good shot at the starting job, but don't count out seeing the other three get some playing time throughout the season.
Other Starting Position Battles:
There are several other starting players that have been lost to graduation or left early for the NFL.
Last year, Brandon Bell was a starting linebacker and one of the defense's main play makers. However, he has graduated, leaving the spot open moving into the upcoming season. I have detailed possible linebacker replacements in my most recent column that can be found here.
Several other starting players’ departures have left openings for the upcoming season. Most notably, wide receiver Chris Godwin and defensive ends Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan.
For the last few seasons, Chris Godwin has been one of Penn State's best wide receivers. Combine that with his impressive NFL Combine performance and you have a guy that can really make an impact for an NFL team. However, come September in Happy Valley, Penn State will need to have found an effective replacement for him. His impressive talent will certainly be missed but the Nittany Lions' deep and talented depth at wide receiver should make the transition a lot easier. Garnering most of the playing time alongside Godwin last year was Saeed Blacknall, DaeSean Hamilton, and DeAndre Thompkins. All three are returning this year and should again capture most of the playing time. However given the rotations utilized by the coaching staff, we should see more of the younger receivers next year with one less veteran in the mix. Irvin Charles, Brandon Polk, and Juwan Johnson should be among those vying for playing time alongside the starters. Charles made a name for himself in the Minnesota game last year with his long touchdown late in the game. His small but impressive sample makes him an intriguing player moving forward. Polk, a speedy guy that's been with the team for a few years now, was out for the majority of last season with an injury. A healthy Polk should fit into the offense quite well. Finally, Johnson, the sophomore, hasn't seen much playing time yet but his size bodes well for the future. Johnson measures up with a 6' 4", 218 pound frame.
Defensive ends Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan have also departed from Penn State following the 2016 season. For the start of the 2016 season, Sickels was the only returning starter on the defensive line and Schwan took over as the new starter on the other side of the line. He and Sickels teamed up to create forceful pass rush from the edges last year. As the 2017 season approaches, Penn State again needs to break in a new starters but this time to replace Sickels and Schwan. Shareef Miller figures to replace Sickels and Torrence Brown figures to replace Schwan on the other side. Miller, the true sophomore, and Brown, a junior, saw a decent amount of playing time last season as they manned the ends during the line rotations that were utilized. With Sickels and Schwan now gone, both should see a significant increase in playing time as the starting defensive ends. Assuming the line rotations continue, Shane Simmons and Ryan Buchholz should see an uptick in playing time as the back-ups.