STATE COLLEGE — Brent Pry knew who the first question was going to be about. Penn State’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach was waiting for someone to ask him about Manny Bowen.
“Manny who?” Pry joked during the team’s annual media day on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
Manny who could perhaps solidify a Nittany Lions linebacker group that’s low on experience — or Manny who could end up never seeing the field at all.
Regardless, Bowen has been reinstated to the Penn State roster for training camp. But the senior linebacker’s role on the 2018 team remains very much in the air.
After all, Bowen had twice been suspended from the squad due to unspecified violations of team rules — the first time caused him to miss the Rose Bowl at the end of the 2016 season and the second had him sit out the final three regular-season games in 2017.
He ultimately was dismissed from the team entirely prior to the Lions’ Fiesta Bowl win.
So why is he back this summer?
“We created some stipulations for Manny to achieve from the time he left the program,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “And if he lived up to his end of the program, then he would have an opportunity to earn his way back on the roster.
”I think probably the biggest part of that is Manny graduates in December, and we felt like this plan was going to give him the best opportunity to graduate in December and leave this way. And we didn’t make it easy on him.”
Given how these situations usually go, Franklin wasn’t expecting Bowen to be back at all.
“I was surprised when he said, ‘I’m going to try to grind this thing out,’” Franklin said. “Because the easiest thing to do would have been just to transfer. We put a bunch of stipulations out and he did those stipulations.”
Bowen wasn’t available for interviews with the rest of the upperclassmen on Saturday. But teammates vouched for him.
“Manny’s good,” fifth-year senior linebacker Koa Farmer said. “He has a lot of experience. He brings a lot of value to our team. I think him being back here is a good thing.”
What remains to be seen is when — or if — he’ll play this year.
Penn State is notably thin at linebacker following the graduation of Jason Cabinda and Brandon Smith, who stepped into Bowen’s starting spot last fall.
Bowen played both outside linebacker spots in his first three years with the team, but his seniority could make him a candidate to fill the sizable hole Penn State has in the middle for 2018.
So the Lions could definitely use him in some capacity. What happens next will depend on how he handles himself as the season moves along.
“Would I like to have him, from a football perspective?” Franklin said. “Yeah. But I have no idea how this whole thing is going to play out.”
Given that, Pry isn’t counting on him for anything this season. Yet.
“In my mind, I’m not planning on Manny Bowen right now,” Pry said. “With what we know, the information we have, that’s the way this thing’s playing out right now. And if things change, we’ll take another look at it.
“But Manny had a laundry list of things to kind of earn his way back and gain some trust, and he did an outstanding job with it. To be honest, I’m not surprised. He’s a very determined young man. So it’s good to have him back out there, and got a lot of love for Manny. Support him and hopefully things work out really well.”
McGovern to guard
Franklin had strongly hinted at it since spring practice ended. Connor McGovern simply said it on Saturday afternoon.
“I’m at guard this year,” McGovern said. “I’m very comfortable there.”
While it’s not a lock that he’ll be there when Penn State’s season opens on Sept. 1, McGovern is back at guard after starting all 13 games at center for the Lions in 2017. Sophomore Michal Menet is at center to start camp.
As a true freshman out of Lake-Lehman in 2016, McGovern took over the first-team right guard spot during the Big Ten opener at Michigan. He then started nine of the final 10 games there, sitting out one while recovering from injury.
Offensive line coach Matt Limegrover lauded McGovern for his versatility and said he reserves the right to flip him and Menet back, if needed, later in camp.
“The great thing about it is, that would be as easy and seamless of a switch as anything,” Limegrover said. “I don’t want to say it’s an experiment, but it’s something I think will make us better in the long run. But I also know exactly what I have in Connor at center, and I like that. And Michal Menet had a really good spring at guard.
“I want to make sure that maybe if we tweak that, we can get the absolute best out of both of them.”
In other personnel news, Brailyn Franklin is no longer with the team. Franklin signed as a linebacker in the 2017 class, redshirted last season and was listed as a defensive end in the spring before his departure.
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse