The heavy lifting for the coaches ended on Wednesday.
Penn State’s 13th spring practice was the last major evaluation point for the Nittany Lions before heading off into the summer. No. 14 on Friday was a dress rehearsal for No. 15 on Saturday — the annual Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium.
“It’s really about going in and having one last hurrah,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “And it’s about the fans.”
The scrimmage figures to be a bit more competitive than in past years, when decreased numbers led to James Franklin and his staff loading up one side with most everyone on the two-deep.
This time, many of the second-teamers will be on the White squad up against some of the projected starters on the Blue. Standard scoring rules will be in effect with 11-minute quarters and a running clock — except for the final two minutes of each half.
While fans shouldn’t expect to see some of the team’s most experienced starters — guys like Saquon Barkley, Marcus Allen, Jason Cabinda and Mike Gesicki will play sparingly, if at all — there’s still plenty to look for during the afternoon.
The talk of the spring
Players, coaches — pretty much everyone — brought up Juwan Johnson’s name as one that stood out over the past month.
A wide receiver headed into his redshirt sophomore season, Johnson is one of many high-pedigree targets on the roster who is trying to help replace Chris Godwin.
“I don’t know that you necessarily can do that, but when you have so many guys that have played a lot of football for you, it helps,” Franklin said. “Probably not one guy but multiple guys who are going to be able to do it.
“With Juwan, I don’t know that he dropped three balls all spring.”
That consistency is what has helped him stand out.
“I’ve always been a person that’s been, not looked down on, but, like, ‘He’s going to be good. We’ve got to find out when.’ ” Johnson said.
That time may be now.
Finally a linebacker
Franklin and defensive coordinator Brent Pry were pretty convinced that Koa Farmer would be a linebacker when he first arrived back in 2014. It’s just taken some time to get to that point.
Bouncing back and forth between linebacker and safety, Farmer ended up starting in the Rose Bowl as the field linebacker in the scheme because of a suspension to Manny Bowen.
Now he’s looking to claim the job full-time with Bowen moving into the box along with Cabinda.
“He’s got everyone really excited,” Franklin said. “He’s finally found a home and he’s comfortable. I’ve had a lot of conversations and arguments with Koa about this is where I thought since he got here was the right place for him, but we weren’t going to force him there.
“He has been fighting genetics for a long time. He’s finally embraced linebacker. I think he’s about 239 right now by not trying to be a safety any more. It’s just naturally happened.”
Farmer said there was some frustration involved with the last few years but that this spring has been the best he has felt heading into his junior season.
“I’m just having fun out there,” Farmer said. “I’m not being nervous. I’m not playing slow. I’m just having fun.”
Allen turned down the NFL to anchor the Lions’ secondary this fall, but replacing Malik Golden at the other safety spot remains a question mark.
Fellow senior Troy Apke has the most experience, taking reps at both spots the last two seasons, but special teams captain Nick Scott and the emerging Ayron Monroe have also been making a case.
Scott in particular is looking for reps at the position as he begins his second year at safety after switching over from running back.
“When I moved to defense, it didn’t take too long before I realized, ‘Hey, maybe I’ve been a defensive guy my whole time as a football player,’ ” Scott said. “And I just didn’t know it because I was athletic.”
Elsewhere in the secondary, plenty of eyes will be on prized freshman Lamont Wade, who teammates said was leading the team in interceptions as the spring wound down.
With starting cornerback John Reid sidelined indefinitely, Wade figures to see more opportunities in the fall.
Depth at quarterback
Both Trace McSorley and backup Tommy Stevens are listed on the Blue team roster for Saturday, which could mean a light day of work for McSorley.
Franklin was effusive in his praise for Stevens, and the Lions feel their offense would still be in high gear if they needed him to take over.
“I think Tommy Stevens has really had a good spring,” Franklin said. “I’m very, very pleased with him and the process he has had, really every year since he’s been here.”
Still up for grabs is the third spot on the depth chart, where Jake Zembiec is competing with walk-ons Michael Shuster and Billy Fessler.
“I don’t know if we feel that yet,” Franklin said. “And that’s no disrespect to the guys that we’ve got. They’ve done a nice job for us. But I still think those guys have got to take another step to feel like we’ve got three quarterbacks that we can win with in the Big Ten.”