Nittany Notes: PSU Preseason Quick Hitters

See where the Penn State football team stands heading into the first game week of the 2014 season.

Some quick hitters as Penn State nears its first full week of game prep for the 2014 season:

Donovan Smith has been back in action at LT and seems like he is going to be fine. We think they were being careful with him more for precautionary reasons than anything. Smith has been mentoring several of the younger guys on the line, though, particularly in terms of technique.

• OG Derek Dowrey injured his right hand. We're not sure of the extent, but sounds like he will begin the season wearing the old club. This is always an adjustment, particularly the demands it puts on the player's arm and shoulder without the use of their hand.

• Multiple people have said sophomore LB Brandon Bell was one of the most improved players in camp. Not just doing well in general, but also making plays -- like returning a pick for a score. Bell played well down the stretch last season and that continued in the spring and through training camp. He's said to be much more comfortable with his reads off the snap.

• Also at LB, freshman Jason Cabinda has really turned heads. James Franklin even mentioned him by name in a recent press conference. Cabinda is said to have “strong instincts” and is aggressive, particularly in run coverage.

• At WR, Geno Lewis is stepping up, as expected. Among the younger players at the position -- and there are a lot of them -- DaeSean Hamilton and Chris Godwin are turning the most heads. Hamilton has made some great catches in jump-ball situations with DBs. Godwin has done good things across the middle. All three have put in a lot of work with Christian Hackenberg in an effort to further solidify the passing game.

• Freshman Saeed Blacknall is gaining momentum as the season nears. Working mostly with the second team, he has improved his route precision and gotten more consistent “getting a handle on passes.” He entered the program with great size (6-3, 210) and athletic ability. The improvement has come in the technical aspects of the game. He has a big upside.

• Early enrollee DeAndre Thompkins is slated for a redshirt because, while very fast, he is not as strong and physical as the other players in the primary WR mix. Thompkins is 5-11, 173. The receivers listed above and veteran Matt Zanelatto are all at 200 pounds or heavier.

• Freshman Grant Haley is not only the fastest player on the team, but he is making a serious push for playing time at cornerback. Trevor Williams and Da'Quan Davis have both done a decent job at the spot opposite Jordan Lucas, but neither has wowed the staff. Haley probably has a better combo of size, speed and quickness to play the press coverage new coordinator Bob Shoop favors. He's also shown a physical side on his route coverage.

• Freshman Marcus Allen is also making a serious push for playing time at safety. He has great size (6-2, 196) and a really good nose for the ball. He had a pick in one of the scrimmages. His rapid development is one reasons the staff was comfortable moving fellow rookie Koa Farmer to outside linebacker.

Troy Apke, who was recruited as a receiver but was quickly moved to safety, is slated to redshirt. That will allow the 6-1, 185-pounder to get stronger and become more comfortable at his new position (though he did play DB in high school, too).

• Nearly everyone we talk to mentions freshman QB Trace McSorley as making the most headway since camp began. His overall grasp of the offense in a short period of time has -- to date -- given him the edge in the battle to back up Hackenberg. He is also more of a run/pass threat that either Hackenberg or fellow freshman Michael O'Connor. One observer said there is a “wow” factor with McSorley. He's also shown a tendency to be “calm under pressure,” which the staff has been impressed with thus far.

Jake Kiley, who has played DB and WR to this point of his career, and rookie RB Nick Scott have been sidelined with knee injuries that appear to be serious. However, given how secretive PSU has been about injuries, we've not been able to discern the exact nature of the respective injuries.

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