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Penn State Football: Five Things To Watch At Saturday's Blue White Scrimmage

by on April 12, 2014 6:00 AM

Fourteen practices down. One more to go.

Penn State will take the field at 1:30 for the final practice session of the spring, the annual Blue-White game. With only a few months between the end of the spring and the start of the summer training camp, a lot of questions are still out there to be answered. While much will change between now and August, fans will get their first glimpse of what the James Franklin era might have to offer in its first year.

With a new coaching staff and new players filling roles on the field, there's no shortage of things to look for. Here are five of the top areas to keep an eye on this weekend.

1. Offensive Line

Everyone knows that the offensive line is an area of concern coming into the season and Saturday will be our first chance to see how that unit has come along. While the defense won't be bringing the most complex blitz packages, it's safe to say that Saturday won't be a walk in the park for Herb Hand's offensive line unit.

False starts and holding penalties will be an interesting cue to how the unit is gelling, aside from more obvious numbers like sacks and tackles in the backfield. Donovan Smith should have things locked down on the left side, but the new interior of the line against a new defensive interior on the other side of the ball will be a fun match up to watch.

2. Receivers

No more Allen Robinson means no more safety valve for Christian Hackenberg. Geno Lewis looks poised to be the new No.1 target but Richy Anderson and Matt Zanellato have had good springs as well. Freshman DaAndre Thompkins is also another potential breakout star to watch with his quick speed. Chemistry between Hackenberg and his receivers will grow over the summer, but early signs of being on the same page can be seen -- or not seen -- in the Blue/White game.

3. Hands On Hands Off

With James Franklin being the third head coach to roam the sidelines over the past few years, how he handles duties on the field will be something to watch. So far Franklin seems happy to let his assistants do their jobs and just manage the game at large. That would be a different look to the Beaver Stadium sideline after two years of Bill O'Brien having his hand in everything that went on for a full 60 minutes. How Franklin conducts himself during the season might be different than how he does at the Blue/White game, but it'll still be an interesting detail to keep an eye on.

4. Linebacker Who?

Mike Hull is the man in the middle of the linebacking corps but everything else is wide open with some relatively untested players getting an opportunity. Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell both saw time last season but neither accumulated significant numbers -- although Bell came on strong in near the end of the year. Gary Wooten has been the hot name this spring and Saturday could be his chance to shine. All four linebackers will see time this year, but the starting spots are still open for the taking at both outside linebacker positions.

5. Special Teams

Sam Ficken is back in action after a groin injury hampered him in the final stages of last season. Ficken's holder Ryan Keiser is also back in action and should help steady what has been a sometimes shaky unit. Chris Gulla will make his debut at punter and with little to no video to show how he's been doing, each punt will provide a new look at Penn State's special team's unit. In general Franklin has placed an added empahasis on special teams compared to the previous two coaching staffs. That makes every kickoff and punt return something to keep an eye on. There won't be any kick returns of punt returns to reduce the chance of injuries, but it will be important to note who trots out on the field for the formalities. 

--Additional Notes--

  • The Blue-White Game will feature regular scoring.  
  • The squad has been split into a Blue team and White team with separate coaching staffs. (Roster here)
  • The offensive line and specialists will wear gray jerseys. 
  • The game will have four quarters, each 15 minutes in length. The first quarter will have normal game timing. Quarters two, three and four will feature a running clock.

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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