Courtesy of GoPSU Athletics
Photos by Tim Weight
Nittany Lions wrap up 2022 spring practice in front of approximately 62,000 fans
Story by Pasquale Tartaro, GoPSUSports.com
UNIVERITY PARK, Pa – The Nittany Lions wrapped up spring practice Saturday with their annual Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium, as Penn State’s defense defeated the offense by a score of 17-13.
On the final play from scrimmage, safety Zakee Wheatley broke up a pass in the end zone from Beau Pribula to clinch the victory for the Penn State defensive unit.
Wheatley, who led the team in interceptions throughout the spring, offers an example as to why head coach James Franklin is excited about his team’s depth heading into next season.
“At a lot of positions, I’m not ready to say we’re as talented with the starters that we’ve ever been,” Franklin said. “But we have positions where our depth is as good as it’s been where the drop off is not as significant to the number twos and number threes.”
“I’ve seen a lot of improvement from all our young guys,” safety Ji’Ayir Brown said about his positional group. “Overall, they overcame the standard of their own expectations of themselves. They came to play, and they showed it to all throughout the spring.”
Though its format was slightly modified, the exhibition provided an opportunity to get a glimpse at some of Penn State’s highly regarded newcomers and offseason risers in action.
The first scrimmage period featured a heavy dose of sophomore Keyvone Lee rushing the ball. The 6-0, 234 pound sophomore headlines a talented running back room which also returned Devyn Ford and Caziah Holmes and added freshmen Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen.
“We’re just trying to work on the run game,” Lee said. We built it up and today was the day went on and we showed we’re going to run the ball no matter what.”
The drive was capped off by a 13-yard touchdown catch for wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley, who caught a swing pass on the left side and took it in for the scrimmage’s opening touchdown.
Tinsley, whose route running and steady hands propelled him to corral 1,400 yards (14 touchdowns) at Western Kentucky last season, looks to be a plug-and-play impact player in Penn State’s receiving core this upcoming season.
“I thought Mitchell came in and did some good things that you’d expect out of a veteran wide out,” Franklin said.
In fact, as the scrimmage unfolded, Penn State’s depth at the wide receiver position became more apparent.
KeAndre Lambert-Smith showed off his shiftiness as he weaved through defenders and scored a touchdown over the middle, while Malick Meiga displayed his unique combination of size and speed.
Standing 6-4, Meiga used his physical traits to his advantage and snagged a couple of passes during the live 11-on-11 portions.
“It’s all about working with the right mentality,” Meiga said. “Adapt well and put in the work. I feel like we just came out with a great mentality, and everything is looking great right now.”
In between drives, the Nittany Lions also took part in 7-on-7 drills, which granted a variety of skills position players, linebackers and defensive backs the opportunity to show off their superb athletic ability in space.
Although the play didn’t technically count towards the score, redshirt freshman Harrison Wallace III climbed the ladder and made an aerial adjustment in the corner of the end zone to secure perhaps the most impressive catch of the afternoon during skeleton reps.
“My favorite moment that I had today was with Harrison Wallace,” Meiga said. “That touchdown he had, he proved he can jump.”
The defense forced back-to-back three-and-outs, along with interceptions from cornerback Bobby Walchak and linebacker Dominic DeLuca to take a 10-7 lead into halftime.
Additionally, Jake Pinegar and Sander Sahaydak put together a solid collective performance for the special teams unit, as both kickers drilled numerous field goals from 40-plus yards out.
Throughout the second half, Penn State’s defense continued to rack up points, as it forced a few punts and another interception by DeLuca.
“We answered some questions this spring, but we still have some questions going into fall camp,” Franklin said. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done between now and fall camp and then before you know it…we’ll be going to Purdue.”