LEVARSE: Position-by-position analysis for Penn State's 2015 football team
Players reported on Wednesday. Practice begins Thursday. The season? Just one month away.
Penn State's training camp is ready to get underway.
"Getting to that point in the year when everybody has the itch and is ready to get going," coach James Franklin said during Big Ten media days. "The funny thing is we're trying to get our guys to be as present as they possibly can be because they'll be telling us the same thing two weeks from now — that they're ready to stop hitting each other and play another opponent."
The Nittany Lions don't have quite as many issues to work out this summer compared to the sanction-riddled depth charts of the past few years. And for that, Franklin is grateful.
"Really excited about the opportunities," he said. "We have a two-deep at every position now that's available to play in games. Some positions three deep, which I know sounds crazy. But the way we're going to be able to practice, the way we're going to be able to develop, it's going to have a major impact on everything."
Here's a position-by-position glance at what the Lions will be looking at during those practices.
Quarterback: As durable as Christian Hackenberg was a year ago, the Lions don't want to find out if he can withstand another 44 sacks this fall.
Unlike last year, however, Penn State doesn't need to worry about keeping its top backup off the field. The Lions were able to redshirt Trace McSorley a year ago, so he's better prepared to step in if needed in 2015.
McSorley has drawn strong reviews from the team so far, but the public hasn't been able to see him in action just yet. The Virginia native sat out the Blue-White Game after being tested for meningitis, according to Franklin. He was clear and heads into camp without any issues.
"I do think there's a lot of confidence (in McSorley), not just from the staff, but with our players," Franklin said. "I think there's a little bit of a buzz in our program about Trace. I think people believe in him."
Running back: It's Akeel Lynch's time in the spotlight. But there are a dozen different ways the depth chart might fill out behind him, making for some interesting camp battles.
Lynch is the only back on the roster to have even one career carry. But while Johnathan Thomas was strong in camp last year and Nick Scott turned in a nice performance at Blue-White, they both are still just redshirt freshmen.
In other words, there is plenty of opportunity for one of the highly regarded true freshmen — Saquon Barkley or Andre Robinson — to make a move and see the field right away.
"In the Big Ten, you better have three backs you can win with," Franklin said. "That's going to be an interesting storyline. Those young, hungry running backs who have no game experience at all — who's going to be No. 2, who's going to be No. 3?
"To be honest with you — is there going to be one of them that's going to challenge Akeel for that job? It's most likely that Akeel's going to be the guy, but it's not in stone."
Wide receiver: The receivers room figures to be extremely competitive with sophomores Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall pushing last year's usual starters, DaeSean Hamilton and Eugene Lewis.
Penn State runs plenty of three- and four-receiver sets, so there should be plenty of snaps to go around for everyone. But after his impressive showing in the Pinstripe Bowl, Godwin in particular should have a bigger role in the offense.
The added experience for what is still a fairly group should be very important for the offense. At times, the mental mistakes by the wideouts a year ago were as damaging as the Lions' offensive line woes.
Tight end: There's no doubt Hackenberg is excited to see Adam Breneman back healthy. It's easy to forget what a difference Breneman was beginning to make by the end of his freshman season, highlighted by an impressive catch and run touchdown at Wisconsin.
Breneman's return should ease the loss of Jesse James along with Kyle Carter coming back for a fifth year and sophomore Mike Gesicki aiming for more snaps.
Offensive line: Last summer, Franklin didn't sugarcoat his comments about the line, knowing full well that it was going to be an issue for 2014.
His comments about the unit a year later have generally been more positive, but there's naturally still some concern there.
"Obviously offensive line is going to be a big storyline going into the season," Franklin said. "We're just in a different position. I think we've made great progress. We still have a lot of progress that still has to take place."
That likely applies to projected left tackle Paris Palmer, the Lackawanna College transfer who certainly passes the looks test at 6-foot-7, and right around 300 pounds.
"Have you seen the guy?" senior center Angelo Mangiro said. "He's massive."
Palmer, however, struggled in pass protection during the Blue-White Game and still needs some refinement.
"He came in and he was real raw," Mangiro said. "He was obviously a talented guy but skinny. He was in the 280s when he came. I think he's up in the 300s. The guy's looking real big. He power cleaned 330 or 325 the other day and did it very impressively. He wouldn't have been able to touch that weight when he first got in."
Scranton Prep grad and Stanford transfer Kevin Reihner adds some depth to the interior, which returns Mangiro, Brian Gaia and Brendan Mahon.
Defensive line: Franklin said he had questions about his defensive end group in the winter but came out of spring practice feeling confident.
Senior Carl Nassib and sophomore Garrett Sickels are the projected starters, but the Lions will be looking at figuring out a two-deep there as guys like Curtis Cothran, Evan Schwan, Torrence Brown and a host of true freshmen look to impress.
Of course it helps when Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson are manning the middle of the line.
"They are, I think, one of the best tackle tandems in the country," Franklin said.
Linebacker: Nyeem Wartman-White is eager to show that he can make the move to the middle and play an even bigger role for the defense this fall with Mike Hull off to the NFL.
But the Lions won't be putting all of the pressure on the Valley View grad.
"I don't know if we can expect one person taking on the role Mike Hull had," Franklin said Tuesday during an appearance on ESPN's SportsCenter. "We're excited. We had a legitimate two-deep on defense last year that played at a really high level. It's not going to be one guy that can replace a guy like Mike Hull."
Brandon Bell will also return into a starting role with Jason Cabinda and Ben Kline battling for time along with guys like Von Walker and Troy Reeder.
Secondary: Both Jordan Lucas and the coaching staff wanted to see him make the move from corner to safety. The senior said last week that the transition has been going well.
"I like being a leader," Lucas said. "I feel like at safety you have to be a leader. You have to know other people's responsibilities. And I like that challenge."
The move was precipitated by an emergence of young talent at corner where true sophomores Grant Haley and Christian Campbell will be battling to start opposite senior Trevor Williams. The staff also moved Amani Oruwariye back to corner after working out at safety during the spring.
Add in another sophomore starter in Marcus Allen at safety and a highly regarded freshman class, and the Lions are looking deep in the backfield.
Special teams: Though it wasn't a big topic during media days, the kicking game remains a big-time concern headed into camp.
Joey Julius at kicker and Danny Pasquariello at punter would seem to be the favorites headed into the season, but there are no guarantees.
A lackluster punting game cost Penn State some wins last year. Sam Ficken is no longer around to save a couple wins as he did last season. It's not hard to imagine that the Lions will be playing a lot of one-score games again this fall, and the development of the kickers could be the difference between a successful season and a disappointing one.