Five Penn State players who are turning heads in spring

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
  • Penn State's Blue-White game is Saturday, April 22.
  • A number of young players have turned heads during spring practice.
  • They are: Jonathan Holland, Juwan Johnson, Mike Miranda, Shareef Miller and Lamont Wade.

Penn State is winding down spring drills toward the Blue-White game April 22, when a bunch of starters likely won't play.

Penn State defensive lineman Shareef Miller, seen here in action last season against Maryland, is hoping to earn a starting defensive end spot with the Nittany Lions.

Who should fans watch in their place?

Here are five players generating a positive response this spring.

1. Tight end Jonathan Holland: Saquon Barkley, Trace McSorley and Mike Gesicki are known players, so Penn State's offensive coaches are pushing their understudies this spring. Holland, a redshirt sophomore, has been a standout.

Penn State needs to develop a sturdy second tight end behind Gesicki, and Holland (6-4, 247 pounds) is a candidate.

"We had two [practices] now, and not one has gone by without him making a play," Gesicki said. "Whether blocking or catching, he's done a great job understanding his role. He's matured a lot off the field and on."

2. Receiver Juwan Johnson: Players and coaches have raved about the redshirt sophomore, who is beginning to harness his potential. Johnson, who caught two passes last season, has channeled his big frame (6-4, 225 pounds) and athletic ability by becoming a more consistent route-runner and receiver.

Position coach Josh Gattis called Johnson one of the team’s most improved players, and Gesicki sees hints of Chris Godwin in the way Johnson attacks the ball and prepares.

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“He in the building every time I go to do extra work,” Gesicki said. “He’s staying after practice, doing extra catching, coming in his off days to stretch. Juwan is doing everything in his power to reach the success that he wants to.”

3. Offensive lineman Mike Miranda: A true freshman who enrolled in January, Miranda already is taking first-team reps on the line. He's also handling himself pretty well.

"He should still be in high school, but he's progressing really well," tackle Ryan Bates said. "The biggest thing is, he's got to gain weight."

Miranda is 6-3, 295 pounds and likely still a candidate to redshirt. But getting into the flow early will benefit him this fall, particularly if Penn State needs linemen in injury situations.

4. Defensive end Shareef Miller: He's certainly not an unknown, having played in 14 games last season, but Miller is positioning himself to claim a starting spot at end with Torrence Brown.

Miller's two sacks in 2016 hinted at his potential, but now he's 6-5, 260 and becoming a rounded player.

"The sky is definitely the limit with Shareef," defensive tackle Curtis Cothran said. "Shareef is a speed and power guy, and he's definitely gotten stronger in the offseason."

5. Cornerback Lamont Wade: With John Reid's potentially season-ending injury, Wade becomes an even bigger piece of the defense as a true freshman.

An early enrollee like Miranda, Wade drew praise from Franklin for making the quick transition from to college. He also has two interceptions this spring and looks like a candidate to make Penn State's cornerback rotation.

"I think Lamont is killing it at corner right now," safety Nick Scott said. "... He's a younger guy who doesn't carry himself like a younger guy. I think he's going to be one of those guys who really helps contribute in his first year here.

"He's got a little mean streak to him, and that's something I appreciate in the secondary. He's earned our respect."