STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Many familiar faces will be missing Saturday when Penn State concludes its spring football period with the annual Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium.
Trace McSorley won’t be around to play quarterback. Running back Miles Sanders is gone, maybe a second-day NFL draft choice like cornerback Amani Oruwariye, if some mock drafts can be believed. Wide receivers Juwan Johnson and Brandon Polk have transferred.
As far as replacements, don’t expect to see much in the way of competition Saturday for those positions that need to be filled. Head coach James Franklin will be happy to see the tens of thousands creating somewhat of a game environment but, to him, it’s basically the 15th and final practice of the spring.
“These practices are much more valuable for us,” he said Wednesday. “The spring game is great. You see a lot of people around the country not even doing spring games. The spring game, I think there’s still value in going to the stadium and compete in that environment, especially when we get 75,000 people to show up for the game.
“But I think for coaches, it’s always more about the practices, where you can control a little bit more the situations and the environment.”
Entering his fifth season in the program, Tommy Stevens began spring as the starting quarterback but took a minimum of reps while he continued his recovery from foot surgery late in the 2018 season. Sean Clifford, entering his redshirt sophomore season, took most of the reps and received favorable reviews from Franklin.
Clifford has lowered his body fat while boosting his weight to 218 pounds, nearly 30 pounds more than when he enrolled. Franklin said he has gone from strictly a pro-style quarterback to someone who can be “a legitimate dual-threat guy that can hurt you in many ways because he’s worked so hard at changing his body and getting stronger and getting more explosive.”
Franklin said he was pleased with his quarterbacks, adding “we’ve created a pretty competitive room there that is very supportive of one another.”
At running back, sophomore-to-be Ricky Slade backed up Sanders last year but redshirt sophomore Journey Brown is competing for playing time.
“Ricky’s pretty confident right now, that game experience I think was really helpful for him,” Franklin said. “Journey didn’t get as much game experience but still got some. And we’ve seen some really good things. There’s a lot of things going right for Journey right now. He’s confident, he’s becoming a leader, he had an unbelievable offseason.”
The defense also has some holes to fill. The defensive backfield lost Oruwariye and Nick Scott but Franklin said Garrett Taylor and Lamont Wade have looked strong at safety, and he loves what he has seen from true freshmen corners Marquise Wilson and Keaton Ellis. The coach also likes the depth the Lions are building at defensive tackle.
All in all, Franklin said the Nittany Lions have been better in the spring “just in terms of how we do things.