Rite of spring
It’s just one practice in the grand scheme of things, coach James Franklin said, but the Blue-White Game also is a lot of fun for the players, fans and alumni, especially when the weather cooperates, as it should today. Here are 10 things to look for in Penn State’s spring game:
There will be an extra color in the mix as offensive linemen and specialists are to wear gray uniforms. There’s not a lot of depth on the line, so those players will have to play for both teams during the scrimmage.
How much football?
Franklin said all along that the plan is to play an actual scrimmage, but that will depend on the health of the team coming in. The format announced Friday called for four 15-minute quarters, with the last 3 quarters being a running clock. There will be a 15-minute halftime intermission. On special teams, kickoffs, punts, field goal attempts and point after touchdowns will take place without contact. Following kickoffs, the ball will be placed at the 25-yard line. On punts, the offensive drive will commence where the punt is fielded.
There already have been a couple of injuries this spring (guard Miles Dieffenbach suffered an ACL injury, and tight end Adam Breneman has a knee issue), but as long as the team is in good health overall – particularly the O-line – then we should see a good bit of actual football. But if Franklin feels like he doesn’t want to push things or anyone gets injured, the scrimmage could be cut short or add some other practice elements.
Lots and lots of backups
Probably even more than usual, this year’s Blue-White Game will feature many backups and walk-ons playing extensively. Penn State still has a lot of depth concerns, so Franklin cannot afford to have any key players injured, like RB Zach Zwinak (wrist) was last year.
Test run for coaches
It’s a new coaching staff, so this scrimmage can help the coaches and players get familiar with game day routines and communication while playing in a stadium atmosphere. Those things are taken for granted when the coaching staff has been around a long time, but it’s a subtle thing that everyone has to get accustomed to before the season.
Bigger, stronger QB
Christian Hackenberg enjoyed a terrific freshman campaign, and he’s added about 10 pounds of muscle so far during the offseason. Hackenberg said he’s throwing the ball better and has even more foot speed, so this will be a chance to see some of that progress. It’s just a scrimmage, though, so don’t count him trying to do too much.
Backup QB on display
True freshman Michael O’Connor should get a lot of time in the scrimmage as he tries to win the backup job behind Hackenberg. Franklin said O’Connor needs work on his footwork and arm strength.
Who’s catching the ball?
Allen Robinson is gone, and Geno Lewis figures to be the leading candidate as the No. 1 receiver. Richy Anderson is another impressive young target. There are talented tight ends, such Kyle Carter and Jesse James, and we could get a glimpse during the scrimmage of how much Franklin intends to use those guys in the passing game.
Running back trio
Zwinak and Bill Belton remain the top two tailbacks, but perhaps Akeel Lynch will get a chance to showcase himself in the scrimmage. Lynch is very talented but only carried 60 times as a freshman. It might be tough for him to overtake Zwinak and Belton, but we’ll see what strides he’s made.
Defense ahead of offense
The best unit on the team is the defensive line, while the biggest question mark is the offensive line. If this were a real game, the D-line might blow things up in the trenches. But since it’s a scrimmage, the defensive guys will be reined in a bit. Still, the offense might have a tough time, especially early against the defensive starters.
Beautiful weather, big crowd
It’s supposed to be in the high 60s today, which could mean for a huge crowd. Franklin is hoping for 80,000 people to turn out, which might be a little high, but then again the excitement of having a new coach coupled with great weather could lure that big of a crowd.