5 Penn State underclassmen ready to break out
Sean Clifford, Pat Freiermuth and Jayson Oweh are all names Penn State fans have become quite familiar with, but every year a few underclassmen fly under the radar before they’re launched into stardom inside Beaver Stadium.
In a year where roster availability is as crucial as ever, there’s a few players who could be poised to break out despite limited to no role last year with the team.
Here are 5 guys who should have a 2020 to remember:
Brandon Smith, LB
The sophomore linebacker was going to start at the Sam even before Micah Parsons left, but now his presence will be larger without the shadow cast by No. 11. Smith was a 5-star recruit and the top LB in the Class of 2018. He played in all 13 games last year as a true freshman, finishing with 14 tackles, including 2 for loss, but those stats don’t necessarily foreshadow just how impactful Smith can be.
DC Brent Pry waxed poetically at Penn State media day about the linebacker’s unlimited potential and similar physical characteristics to Parsons. With the history that Pry has of developing star linebackers, anytime he talks as highly as he does about the potential of Smith, it can’t be taken lightly.
Who better than No. 12 to take the reins from No. 11, right?
KeAndre Lambert-Smith, WR
It feels like the same story every year as Penn State fans wait for a new wide receiver to emerge. With K.J. Hamler gone to the NFL, the need for a wideout is even more apparent in 2020.
New OC Kirk Ciarrocca has expressed a desire to increase the amount of explosive, 20-plus-yard plays the Penn State offense has, and he has a history in doing so. Look no further than Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson, who led the Big Ten in receiving last year at Minnesota.
A true freshman early enrollee, Lambert-Smith (6-1, 185) has good top-end speed and could be just the guy to help open up the offense.
Phil Trautwein, OL coach
The man may be 34, but it’s his first year at Penn State, so for this article’s purpose, he’s an underclassman. Trautwein is the new offensive line coach, replacing Matt Limegrover, after serving in the same role at Boston College for two seasons.
All 5 of Trautwein’s starting offensive lineman at BC in 2019 received All-ACC honors, something that shouldn’t be much of a stretch to replicate in the Big Ten with the type of experience on his line.
The Penn State line returns two 3-year starters (Michal Menet and Will Fries) and three 2-year starters (C.J. Thorpe, Mike Miranda and Rasheed Walker). The line averaged the third most sacks per game in the Big Ten last season, but with the amount of returning experience, that should improve. Couple that with the type of year Journey Brown will have, and Trautwein should come off looking pretty darn smart in his first year in Happy Valley.
Adisa Isaac, DE
Isaac played in 11 games as a true freshman, recording 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Expect Isaac and senior Shane Simmons to be the first off the bench to relieve Jayson Oweh and Shaka Toney.
Penn State had one of the best front sevens in the country last year led by Yetur-Gross Matos’ 9.5 sacks, which limited the amount of time Isaac saw on the field. But Isaac was the No. 1 prospect coming out of New York in 2018 and should see plenty of action on a defensive line that isn’t shy about rotating in the second team.
Charlie Katshir, LB
Back to the earlier point, even without Parsons, this linebacker group is loaded. Katshir is a redshirt sophomore who played in 12 games last season, recording 5 tackles. He has spent the last few months learning the Mike position behind Ellis Brooks, meaning that Katshir is now the utility man of the group, capable of playing all 3 spots.
Pry called him the “sleeper” of the group. As he’s continued to put on size since his safety-playing days in high school, Katshir should be as good of an option as any coming off the bench.