Here are looks at three young players who have stood out in the early drills and could make an impact on the squad this coming season.
Antoine White, DT, Freshman: With the departure of Da'Quan Jones and Kyle Baublitz from the defensive line's interior, Sean Spencer is looking to build out the depth for a consistent rotation. White is a strong potential candidate.
At 6-foot-1, he has already built himself up to 286 pounds due to what one observer called "an important jump in the weight room." Although the defensive tackle positions are expected to be primarily manned by veteran Austin Johnson and shifted DE Anthony Zettel, White has shown "aggression" and "determination" in practice. "He's pushed it out of the gate," as another observer explained. "He's gone all out. His basics aren't there yet; it's early but he hasn't taken reps off, which is an issue with a lot of freshmen."
Johnson has been working with White on his technique with a focus on "his body control and footwork." As an aside, Johnson and White have known each other for the better part of four years, since they lived in neighboring towns in New Jersey. "They have a connection, which will help get him up to where he needs to be," an observer said.
DeAndre Thompkins, WR, Freshman: While the true freshman receiver has shown "impressive straight-ahead speed" and "sharp, fluid running," he also needs "precision with his routes." At 5-11, 173 pounds, "his size won't be a major factor if he can get control of his speed."
Thompkins, another early enrollee, has shown his "freshman hands," meaning he's had ups in downs in receiving work. He's shown he can catch "fast balls" from starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg, but has had some misses due to "poor hand positioning."
Aside from technique and route-running, Thompkins' off-season focus is on adding strength to help him "get off the line" and "use his body more effectively."
Parker Cothren, DT, RS Freshman: Aside from White, the coaches are looking at Cothren to help shore up depth at the tackle position. Cothren received strong reviews during his redshirt season, showing the ability to battle veteran guards like John Urschel and Miles Dieffenbach in 1v1 drills.
"He's shown a physical and mental edge to his play," and observer said. Aside from this he's been "pretty quick to pick up the nuances of the position" and has "progressed nicely with his technique."
At 6-5, 271 pounds, he has good size and is "strong on his feet." Overall observers like his strength and feel the last year with Craig Fitzgerald and the Dwight Galt in the weight room are starting to pay off.
Overall the sentiment seems to be that Cothren could have broken into the rotation during the later portion of last season given his progress, but preserving the redshirt was a good thing at this stage.