New faces appear on Penn State football depth chart
It’s clear Parker Cothren isn’t used to the spotlight, but on Tuesday, his time in it began.
Solo at the podium for the first time in front of a substantial crowd of curious media members, the 6-foot-4, 290-pound redshirt junior defensive tackle blushed a little as he answered questions about his listing at first team on Penn State’s depth chart, which was released on Tuesday morning.
His quiet demeanor was quite the juxtaposition to the rambunctious set of twin tackles that manned one of college football’s best interior lines last season, Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson. The two departed for the NFL in the spring.
“(My starting spot) has been developing since A.J. and Zettel graduated,” said Cothren. “All throughout camp I’ve been working hard — we’ve been working hard as a team — and just progressed into the role that it is now.
“I try to (stay in touch) with them as much as I can without pestering them. I’ve learned everything I know from them, especially technique-wise, watching them every play for the last three years, basically.”
Now, Cothren said, he’s trying to “be that guy” that Johnson and Zettel were for him, for younger players in the unit. Most of all, though, he’s just antsy for Penn State’s season opener against Kent State this Saturday.
“I’m ready to go out and hit somebody not wearing a Penn State jersey,” he said.
Altoona native and redshirt freshman Kevin Givens will also start alongside Cothren in the now-vacant three-technique after reportedly big spring and fall camps during which he showcased his athleticism despite his smaller 6-foot-1, 275-pound frame.
“Kevin’s a really quiet person outside of football,” said Cothren. “But inside of football, he’s just one big play after another, great explosiveness. Great football player.”
Givens beat out redshirt sophomore Antoine White and junior college transfer Tyrell Chavis for the position, as well as 6-foot-5, 290-pound redshirt junior Curtis Cothran — the latter of whom was not even listed on the depth chart. Head coach James Franklin said Cothran will have opportunities later in the season to win time, and did not elaborate as to why he was missing.
But for now, Givens has emerged as an intriguing player at the position, if only because tales of his athleticism have spread throughout the team since spring ball. Everybody in the weight room, said Franklin, gravitates toward the young defensive tackle when he is lifting to see what “remarkable” thing he’ll do that day.
“Kevin is pound-for-pound probably one of the strongest guys on our team, and on top of that, he’s got tremendous quickness and athleticism for that position,” said Franklin.
“Sometimes length is a factor at those defensive line positions, as well, when you’re going against offensive linemen with really long arms. But Kevin, his hand placement is excellent, and he’s able to really get leverage from his height and also from his hand placement. And you combine that with his quickness, his athleticism and his strength, and he’s been a problem (for other players).”
As expected for much of the fall, graduate senior defensive end Evan Schwan will fill the vacancy left by last year’s national sack leader, Carl Nassib.
“Evan Schwan is a guy that I think really had a great offseason,” said Franklin of the 6-foot-6, 263-pounder. “He’s a guy that I think studied Carl and all the things that Carl did when it comes to sleep, when it comes to nutrition, when it came to training, for all senior year, he tried to model a lot of the same behaviors. I think it’s really paid off for him.
“I’ve just been very, very pleased and proud of him with how he’s approached everything, his leadership, his understanding of this is kind of his time. He’s put in five years waiting for this opportunity and really approached it the right way and run with it.”
Offensive line: On the other side of the trench, Penn State’s starting offensive line will be, from left to right, redshirt senior Brendan Mahon, redshirt freshman Ryan Bates, graduate senior Brian Gaia, graduate senior Derek Dowrey and redshirt junior Andrew Nelson.
Most crucial — and scrutinized, especially after the line racked up 83 sacks-against in two years — is Mahon’s responsibility at left tackle. Last season’s week-one starter, Paris Palmer, was demoted about midseason and the team rotated a few different players throughout the position.
“With that opportunity, (Mahon) has run with it and really done a nice job for us,” said Franklin. “Talking to our defensive ends and it’s all interesting, getting the perspective, not just with the coaches, but also of the players, the guys, that they hate going against. And Mahon has really earned everybody’s respect.
“You’re talking about a guy who is an older guy. He’s been in the program for a couple years. I think that experience and his maturity is really going to help.”
Behind these front five is a true two-deep — one that contains some intriguing young talent. Freshman Michal Menet will back up Bates at left guard and Connor McGovern has gotten the “green light” to see action in the rotation behind Dowrey.
“Those guys have done a great job for us physically. They are ready to play,” said Franklin of the two freshmen. “Really, if at any point we feel like those guys can help our team be successful, we’re willing to do it.”
Still, there is the ever-present question: Will the line actually be any better? A spread offense and mobile quarterback helps alleviate pressure on the unit, yes, but any actual improvement of the personnel within the unit remains to be seen.
“I think that’s what we’re all waiting to see,” said Franklin. “Until we get into the games and have the chance to produce and be successful; practice is great, but it all comes down to production in the games.”
Aside from Cothran, non-freshman scholarship players missing from the depth chart included: Tight end Nick Bowers, who is out for the season, tackle Noah Beh, to whom Franklin alluded was not ready for a spot in the rotation, guard Steven Gonzalez, tackle Sterling Jenkins, safety Jarvis Miller, safety Ayron Monroe, safety John Petrishen and tackle Chance Sorrell. Thirty-seven of the 68 players Penn State listed on its depth chart between offense/defense/punter/kicker are either true or redshirt freshmen or sophomores.