The Color of Playing Time

Playing a lot of true freshmen is a must for Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and his staff due to scholarship limitations. See how they control the traffic.

Blow through a yellow light and you might be pulled over. Ignore a red light and the chances increase.

Apply that simple traffic scenario to the world of college football and you'll find those colors have a totally different meaning. At least to Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, anyway.

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg, receiver Richy Anderson, tight end Adam Breneman, cornerback Jordan Smith, cornerback/long snapper Anthony Smith and linebacker Brandon Bell have already proceeded through the green light for the Nittany Lions. That means each scholarship true freshman named above has already played a snap this fall.

Run-ons Von Walker and Gregg Garrity have also been green-lighted.

O'Brien, you see, is using the traffic light analogy when determining which rookies will and will not play in 2013. It is an ongoing process.

“We do have a plan for it,” he explained earlier this week. “We have a deal where basically on Thursday mornings as a staff, we sit down and look at our depth, where we're at injury-wise and those kinds of things and say, 'OK, is this guy a red light, a green light or a yellow light?'

“If he's a red light, that means that we're not … playing him no matter what happens,” the coach added. “If he's a yellow light, that means that, hey, look, it depends on what happens. Two or three guys go down, then this guy's going to have to play. And if he's a green light, he's playing.”

So who might be in a position to risk a yellow-to-green light at some point this fall? It's reasonable to assume offensive tackle Andrew Nelson could find himself in that position, what with his listing at third-string left tackle coming on the heels of a host of positive comments out of camp. Still, O'Brien noted before the season began that an undisclosed injury “probably set him back a little,” but just how much is undetermined.

Nelson and run-on kicker Chris Gulla (a second-teamer) are the only true freshmen to see the depth chart but not the field yet in the 2013 season.

But again, things can change due to injuries, especially considering the scholarship limits the Lions are dealing with due to NCAA sanctions.

Here is our projected true freshman “light” situation for the UCF game this weekend. We will add run-ons if we think there is a chance they will play.


WR Richy Anderson

LB Brandon Bell

TE Adam Breneman

WR Gregg Garrity

QB Christian Hackenberg

CB/KS Anthony Smith

CB Jordan Smith

RB/KR Von Walker


K Chris Gulla

OT Andrew Nelson


DE Curtis Cothran

DT Parker Cothren

S Kasey Gaines

WR DaeSean Hamilton*

G Tanner Hartman

G Brendan Mahon

DE Garrett Sickels

*Out for the season with a wrist injury
Run-ons in italics

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