First Taste of 2016 Football
Position Battles Take Center Stage at Blue White!
By David Abruzzese
Blue-White is finally upon us, meaning anxious fans finally get their first taste of Penn State football after a long offseason. Though this will be the first time in quite some time that the game won’t be televised, fans in attendance will have plenty to look out for as a number of heated position battles take center stage as James Franklin narrows his list of potential starters in preparation for the 2016 season.
Obviously, the quarterback race will be the team’s main event. It’s been three years since a race this heated took to the forefront, but with Christian Hackenberg out of the picture, three talented arms will all vie for the coveted starting quarterback job. Trace McSorely leads the way because of proven talent and experience, but don’t count out redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens. The gunslinger put on roughly 40 pounds of muscle since arriving on campus, and grew more athletic as a result. His upside is tremendous, and there’s a good chance he pushes the elder McSorely for the job. Last but not least is blue-chip recruit and early enrollee Jake Zembiec. He’s athletic, built (6-3, 210 pounds), and talented, and although he hasn’t generated the kind of hype Christian Hackenberg did upon arrival, he represents the future of Penn State football. All three signal callers will rotate in and out during the scrimmage to give Franklin a better understanding of how each player has progressed and where they might stand on the depth chart headed into summer camp. My money is on McSorely, but with no surefire lock, the job realistically could go to anybody.
The next big battle to watch will be freshman Connor McGovern and rotational starter Wendy Laurent for the center job. McGovern, the nation’s No. 1 center, packed on some pounds to tip the scales north of 300 pounds since arriving on campus as an early enrollee. While it’s rare for a true freshman to earn a starting job at the collegiate level, not all players possess the rare physical traits McGovern is blessed with. Mauler Steven Gonzales, a redshirt freshman, will also be in the mix to secure a starting job as the Lions try to bolster their offensive line with strength and size. Gonzales fits the bill at 6-3, 339 pounds, and could be the ideal candidate to pave the way for superstar running back Saquon Barkley is the Lions shift to a more ground-oriented attack.
On the defensive side, tackles Antoine White and Parker Cothren are the prime candidates to replace Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson inside. However, redshirt freshman and Altoona native Kevin Givens has had an offseason for the ages, and could nab a starting job from one of the two with stellar spring game and summer camp performances. Franklin lauded givens after the first week of spring practices wrapped up, calling him “one of the team’s most improved players thus far.” That’s high praise for a guy who didn’t see the field once last season.
While there will always be a number of positional battles, those three could end up being the most importance given Penn State’s struggles up front in 2015 and giant hole left by the departure of two of the program’s most talented defensive tackles in recent memory. We’ll have more to watch as we inch closer to Blue-White week, but expect competition to be intense and the atmosphere to be jovial. It’s almost football season!
Blue and White Event Schedule
Player Autograph Session
Saturday, April 16th @ 1:15-2:00
Saturday, April 16th starting at 8:00 a.m.- all day
Beaver Stadium Parking Lot
Saturday, April 16th @ 4:00 (Gates open at 2:30)
Saturday, April 16th @ 9:00 a.m.
7th Annual Paterno Family Beaver Stadium Run/ Family Fun Walk
Sunday, April 17th @ 11:00 a.m.
Curtin Road (Near Bryce Jordan Center)