UNIVERSITY PARK — James Franklin found a surprise along Penn State's offensive line, but it's not at the team's biggest position of need.
Wendy Laurent, a redshirt junior who can play guard and center, is fighting for a starting spot, Franklin said Wednesday after practice. Laurent started three games last season, played in seven, and his flexibility comes into play as Penn State tries to put its best five offensive linemen on the field.
"He's been so much more competitive in the offseason. I really think his commitment level is at a high level right now," Franklin said. "To be honest, he looks like a different guy. He's in consideration, fighting for a starting job right now, and I don't know if I would've said that before camp. He's opened some eyes."
Laurent, along with returning starting center Angelo Mangiro — the team's most versatile offensive lineman who can also play center and guard — could give Penn State options. The possibility of kicking Mangiro or Laurent out to guard if they out-perform one of those two starters could still come into play. At left tackle, where the Nittany Lions need to find a starter this camp, junior-college transfer Paris Palmer and redshirt freshman Chance Sorrell haven't separated themselves.
"It's still uncertain," Franklin said. "Nobody has kind of grabbed a hold of the spot. We're going to have to make a decision here. Are we moving some guys around to get the best five on the field? But we're not at that point yet."
Franklin said all roster decisions for the Sept. 5 season opener against Temple likely won't happen until about a week and a half before the game when the team begins separating into starters, reserves and scout team. While he said Palmer has improved since he arrived on campus in January, he said the 6-foot-7, 297-pound junior is still playing tentative and not as aggressive as he would like.
Running backs in a battle: Freshman running back Andre Robinson carried the ball around the outside of the field, jogging around the perimeter for the 20 or so minutes at the end of practice that was open to the media.
As Robinson continued, freshman Saquon Barkley took a handoff from freshman quarterback Tommy Stevens, burst to the right side and took off for a long run to the end zone. While the defense on the field was largely made up of freshmen, and so was the offense, Franklin said all the running backs are fighting to fill out the three-deep.
Mark Allen — one of three scholarship redshirt freshman running backs — is competing with redshirt freshman wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins for the job as the team's punt returner, as well. Allen caught a short pass from Christian Hackenberg's backup, quarterback Trace McSorley, in practice, while Barkley also worked in the live period with McSorley.
"Mark Allen, just in general, he just brings something to our team and he brings something to our practices," Franklin said. "His energy and his enthusiasm and his confidence, it's infectious and everybody loves him. All those redshirt running backs have done a good job."
Too early for redshirts: Franklin likes to break the true freshmen into red, yellow and green categories. The reds are the ones he plans to redshirt, yellows are maybes, and greens are the ones who will play. At this point, it's too early to make any decisions, but figuring out which freshmen can help on special teams will be part of future conversations.
"If we feel like they can help us, then we certainly will consider it," linebackers coach Brent Pry said after practice. "We've got some talented guys who have a lot of maturity and have the physical tools like [sophomore Jason] Cabinda did last year. Nobody is a redshirt yet."