While Penn State has used the spring period to fill in gaps and shore up depth, there are several players who are largely running out of opportunities to make a significant on-field impact for the Nittany Lions.
As younger players develop and emerge, and new talent arrives on campus, it becomes an increasing challenge for some players to break out later in their careers.
Dowrey's pushing to make more of an impact this off-season.
Derek Dowrey, RS Jr, OL
After moving over from defensive tackle, Dowrey saw action in 11 games at guard last season, including a starting role against UMass. He spent much of 2014 backing up Brian Gaia. He has terrific strength, having squatted a team-high 500 pounds 10 times heading into last year's spring drills. He's continued that impressive weight room progress this off-season, and checks in at 6-foot-2, 323 pounds. But will it ever all come together on the field? This spring he's been hampered with a wrist injury that lingered from last season, but has seen periodic work with the first team at guard.
Kline's bouncing back this spring.
Ben Kline, RS Sr, LB
To say last season was a tough one for Kline is an understatement. The linebacker suffered a torn Achilles which held him out of action in 2014. This injury came on the heels of nagging shoulder and pectoral injuries in 2013 which required surgery and held him our of spring contact last year. Kline is "a natural leader," particularly by example in "how he practices, studies and works out." Kline has seen the bulk of his reps at middle linebacker with Nyeem Wartman, who has been leading the charge, and Gary Wooten. Given his recent history, all eyes are on his ability to stay healthy. But Kline is also being looked at as defensive leader and "a guy with a great head and heart" for the unit. If healthy, he can also be an impact player on special teams
The veteran DB is looking for an evasive golden opportunity.
Malik Golden, RS Jr, Saf
Golden saw limited action in eight games last season, primarily with special teams, grabbing seven tackles (four solo). Golden's time within the secondary is an advantage, but with starting corner Jordan Lucas shifting to safety, and young players like Marcus Allen (who ended 2014 with seven starts) and Troy Apke in the mix, the safety position is getting deeper for the Lions. Earning a starting job will be a tall order for Golden, but he has a chance to make an impact as a nickel back.
Schwan has been somewhat adrift in the PSU defense to date.
Evan Schwan, RS Jr, DE
Schwan saw snaps in 12 games in 2014, picking up six tackles (four solo). With Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan manning the DE posts, it was a challenge to break through and get meaningful reps in recent years. This spring redshirt sophomore Garrett Sickels and senior Carl Nassib have taken the majority of first-team reps. Schwan has "solid technique" that "he's still refining," and has been focused on "getting consistent on engaging and shedding blocks." Plus, he's "continually gotten stronger." However, with redshirt freshman Torrence Brown and redshirt sophomore Curtis Cothran making strides, rotation reps will be at a premium. Add to that the anticipated summer arrival of highly touted Class of 2015 freshmen like Kamonte Carter, Ryan Buchholz and Shareef Miller, and things could get even tighter come preseason.
The fifth-year senior is facing a lot o’ competition.
Matt Zanellato, RS Sr, WR
Penn State is building a stockpile of talent at wideout. Redshirt sophomore DaeSean Hamilton grabbed 82 passes for 899 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season, and redshirt junior Geno Lewis had 55 grabs for 751 yards and two TDs. The unit also features experienced targets like sophomores Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall, and an emerging slot receiver in DeAndre Thompkins. And we have not even discussed the three receivers in PSU’s Class of 2015. It all puts available passes at a premium. Zanellato saw limited reps in seven contests last season, all while battling injuries, and did not catch a pass. His 6-3, 211-pound frame give him good size, but he lacks the burst similarly sized players like Godwin and Blacknall possess. A good leader, Zanellato is "crisp on his routes" and continues to focus on "the consistency of his hands." But a lot of things are going to have to come together for him to finally break through.
Davis is stretching to increase his role in the secondary.
Da'Quan Davis, Sr., CB from CB to S
The staff likes the depth at corner, which allowed it to shift Lucas to safety. But what does this mean for the senior Davis, who saw action in six games in 2014, grabbing three tackles (two solo)? The corners are anchored by senior Trevor Williams who started 12 games last season and tallied 27 tackles (22 solo). The position also has emerging sophomores Grant Haley and Christian Campbell, both of whom saw extended action last season, along with redshirt freshman Daquan Worley, who turned heads early in spring drills. Generously listed at 5-10, 170 pounds, Davis’ best chance to make an impact will likely be on special teams.