Redshirt Freshmen to Watch

We give you the lowdown on a handful of youngsters to keep an eye on during Penn State's spring practice sessions.

OK, so Penn State coach Bill O'Brien does not want to name names when it comes to the redshirt freshmen he believes are poised to make an impact this spring.

“I don't want to get into individual names,” O'Brien said Sunday, a day before spring drills are set to begin. “There's a lot of guys on both sides of the ball that we're excited about and that we think have the potential to be very good players.”

But we think we have a pretty good idea who rates among the best of the best of the redshirt frosh. Here are four youngsters to keep an eye on this spring and beyond.

Austin Johnson

No. 99/DT/6-4/302

At a Maxwell Club event in Atlantic City recently, O'Brien actually did praise Johnson by name, saying he is “a really good young defensive tackle.” So why didn't he see the field last season?

Led by All-Big Ten DT Jordan Hill, the underrated DaQuan Jones and veteran James Terry, the Nittany Lions were strong enough in the middle of the line that Johnson was able to focus on improving his technique, strength and endurance during a redshirt.

Both Hill and Terry have moved on. At the very least, expect the imposing Johnson to earn a spot in position coach Larry Johnson's DT rotation. And don't be surprised if he claims a starting spot alongside Jones.

Eugene Lewis

No. 7/WR/6-1/198

One of the best all-around athletes on the team, “Geno” Lewis played receiver and quarterback on the Dirty Show last season. He redshirted because the staff did not want to force the former high school QB into action at the position he'll play in college (WR).

Lewis has good size and speed. He has great athletic ability, long arms and a huge set of hands.

With the key components from the 2012 receiving corps all returning, Lewis can adjust to the new position at his own pace without having to worry about being a focal point of the passing game. But expect him to have a flair for highlight-reel catches and terrific moves after the catch right off the bat.

Also, given his unique skill set and O'Brien's knack for finding creative ways to use his most versatile players, one can only imagine what might eventually be in store for Lewis.

Akeel Lynch

No. 22/TB/6-0/214

The staff resisted the temptation to play Lynch last season, even when a key defection and then injuries left the team playing with its fourth-team tailback. Of course, that fourth-teamer, Zach Zwinak, wound up rushing for 1,000 yards, so the decision to keep Lynch in a redshirt now looks like genius. Lynch took advantage of the redshirt, hitting the weights and packing nearly 20 pounds of muscle onto his frame.

But when it comes to fighting for playing time, the key for Lynch is his breakaway ability. On 203 carries last season, Zwinak had four rushes longer than 18 yards (though one was a 50-yard TD). Bill Belton had 60 carries with a long of 23 yards.

Lynch, meanwhile, is more of a home-run threat out of the backfield.

Nyeem Wartman

No. 5/LB/6-1/236

People got a good look at Wartman early last season. He played in the first two games before he was lost for the season due to a knee injury. Playing mostly on special teams, he had one tackle and showed great athleticism by blocking a punt in the opening loss to Ohio.

He was granted a medical redshirt.

With Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges both gone, playing time is up for grabs at linebacker. With his combination of size, speed and physicality, expect a now healthy Wartman to make a run at the starting job. They key now is for him to build up the strength and endurance needed to be an every-down player.

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