Football tour notebook: Fun takes from Penn State practice

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Football tour notebook: Fun takes from Penn State practice

The BTN bus has left Penn State practice, and now it’s time to share some nuggets I gathered while watching the Nittany Lions on Thursday and Friday.

[ MORE: 5 things Tom Dienhart learned | See our team’s PSU practice tweets ]

The battle to replace kicker Sam Ficken is between 260-pound redshirt freshman Joey Julius and sophomore Tyler Davis. Julius, nicknamed “Big Toe,” looks to have a slight edge. Stay tuned.

LB Nyeem Wartman-White was wearing some colorful Kevin Durant shoes after practice even though he is a LeBron James fan. Wartman-White says he bought them out of respect a year or so ago after Durant went on a 30-point scoring streak over several games.

A big worry entering 2015 was replacing heart-and-soul LB Mike Hull. But Wartman-White is quelling those fears. He looks like an anchor in the middle and is strong at the point of attack. Wartman-White is flanked by junior Brandon Bell on the strong side and sophomore Jason Cabinda on the weak side. Cabinda is having one of the best camps among Penn State defenders. He’s relentless.

The son of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, Tyler, is a walk-on wideout. Offensive line coach Herb Hand’s son, Trey, is a manager.

Former NFL head coach Jim Haslett is serving as a consultant. His son plays football at nearby Indiana (Pa.), which is where Haslett played. And Haslett’s father-in-law lives in State College.

Staffers rave about Mike Gesicki. The sophomore tight end has separated himself from his peers and looks poised for a big season. He has really improved his blocking.

Penn State says it has 80 players on scholarship.

Backup QB Trace McSorley brings a different skill set. The 6-0, 200-pound redshirt freshman can move a little bit. And so can true freshman QB Tommy Stevens.

Often during scrimmage sessions, James Franklin will scream out down-and-stance scenarios that his team must react to quickly.

Penn State was stung last year by losses to Illinois and Maryland in which the offense couldn’t ice the game when PSU had the lead. The team has gone back and recreated those scenarios in each game to learn from them and improve its “four-minute offense.” “We have to run the ball better,” OC John Donovan says.

Scouts from the Redskins and Jaguars were on hand.

Things got chippy between the defensive backs and receivers. In one drill, junior corner Jordan Smith shoved junior wideout Geno Lewis into some thick bushes along a sideline. It took Lewis about 5-7 seconds to emerge. When he did, Lewis approached Smith and shoved the ball in Smith’s facemask and yelled: “What are you doing?” Smith took exception and the players scuffled, and a scrum broke out. Later, sophomore safety Marcus Allen and sophomore wideout DaeSean Hamilton tussled a bit.

Penn State is building the Morgan Academic Center adjacent to the football complex.

The punting job remains a derby between sophomore Daniel Pasquariello—yet another Aussie kicker in the Big Ten–and sophomore Chris Guila.

***

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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