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Penn State Football: With Unique Eligibility Rules, Three Freshmen Not Starting Who Could Still Make An Impact

by on October 21, 2020 2:20 PM

Earlier this summer the NCAA announced a broad and sweeping eligibility waiver that gives all fall sport student athletes an additional year of eligibility no matter how much they play this upcoming fall season.

This change is a net positive in the grand scheme things but not without a few attached caveats. For one the 85 player scholarship limit has not been changed, meaning simply because a student-athlete wants to return does not mean a program or school has to offer him a place on the team. It's a roster management nightmare balancing between returning experienced players and incoming freshmen.

That said, it provides Penn State and programs across the country a blank slate to develop players on the field without worrying how many games they've played in. Previously -and ostensibly in the future- a recent rule change mandated that a player could see game action in four contests before losing a year of eligibility. This gave players and coaches some flexibility where in years past, seeing the field for just a single snap counted as a year under the belt.

The question now of course is how coaches go about actually using this new freedom. In years past Penn State coach James Franklin and his staff announced a Red, Yellow and Green system that dictated where a freshman was in his development and the likelihood that he would see the field for four or more games.

In 2020 there is no particular need to decide from Day 1, because everyone can play in every game without consequence relative to eligibility. Of course the other side of this coin is somewhat obvious: being eligible is not the same thing as being needed, and while you might be able to play, that doesn't mean getting throw into the fire against Ohio State is a good idea for either party. 

"I am going to meet with the freshmen after practice tonight because we started getting some questions and that's one of the things that you have to be careful of as a coach is you kind of assume things or take things for granted," Franklin said on Tuesday. "There really is no redshirting this year because this year doesn't count. So literally, if you need to play a guy you play a guy, whether that's one snap whether that's one game or whatever it may be and that could be in the middle of the season at the end of the season so everybody needs to be preparing as such."

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"That's our mentality as a coaching staff is, there's really no discussions. You know about redshirting, if we can get everybody a little bit experience we would love to do that. If we need a guy, you know to play late in the game or late in the season, we have the flexibility to do that so it's just allowed us to open our roster up."

So who might play that doesn't crack the All-22 atop the depth chart? In theory anyone could, but here are three freshmen on Penn State's depth chart not listed as staters to consider.

KeAndre Lambert-Smith (Receiver)

Penn State is looking for answers at receiver and while Parker Washington is getting the eyes as a freshman starter, Lambert-Smith seems to be in good shape to try and provide answers in his own right. Freshman Jaden Dottin -not to be confused with Jahan Dotson- isn't far behind and the 6-foot-4 Malick Meiga is sitting down the chart as well. There's a chance all three see the field, but if any freshman behind Washington are going to get the nod first, Lambert-Smith seems like a good bet.

Caziah Holmes (Running Back)

It's no secret Penn State is happy to play three running backs let alone freshmen ones. With Journey Brown out of the equation for at least the immediate future Holmes slots nicely into the third-guy role. The questions here are a lot of things we don't have answers to. How is he in pass protection? Is he understanding the offense? Is his body ready? Time will tell answers to all three, but it's hard to imagine that in a free year, Holmes isn't getting work, even if it's just in relief.

Curtis Jacobs (Outside Linebacker)

The Nittany Lions have answers in the starting three at linebacker and some established depth with Lance Dixon in the wings, but there's not a ton of "known" assets behind them. Certainly it stands to reason these players will develop over the course of time and Jacobs seems poised in the rotation to see some action. As of today, Jacobs is listed behind sophomore Brandon Smith at the outside linebacker spot. 

That's our mentality as a coaching staff is, there's really no discussions. You know about redshirting, you know if we can get everybody a little bit experience we would love to do that. If we need a guy, you know to play late in the game or late in the season, we have the flexibility to do that so it's just allowed us to open our roster up.



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