Penn State football cracked the top twenty in multiple 2021 preseason rankings despite finishing a game under .500 in 2020.
The Nittany Lions return a bevy of players with valuable experience donning the blue and white, but there are already some new faces making impacts on the practice field.
Between transfers and freshmen, these newcomers could prove to be a tremendous help in making the Nittany Lions a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten.
John Lovett, running back
While Penn State already possessed depth at the running back position, John Lovett brings different skills and levels of experience and maturity to a rather young group.
With four years of Big 12 experience, the Baylor transfer ranks sixteenth in program history with 1,803 career rushing yards.
Had he not been sidelined with injuries for most of 2020, Lovett may have climbed that chart a bit higher as he was tabbed the starter for all five games he appeared in.
Now a Nittany Lion, the Burlington City, New Jersey, native has been rehabbing and raising the level of play in the running back room.
While he was limited in early spring action, according to James Franklin, Lovett showed flashes of excellence toward the end and is poised for a breakthrough summer.
Lovett won’t only be able to compete for crucial playing time for the blue and white, but he’ll also increase the level of competition among his position group.
Adding a veteran to the room will make other players work harder for time, thus improving Penn State’s offense.
Johnny Dixon, cornerback
Developing depth at the cornerback position has been something Penn State has struggled with for many seasons, but defensive coordinator Brent Pry voiced confidence in the cornerback group multiple times during the spring.
One piece to that group is Johnny Dixon, a junior transfer from South Carolina.
In his 22 games with the Gamecocks, Dixon totaled 20 solo tackles and one interception, seeing time on defense and special teams.
Whether he cracks the starting lineup or comes off the bench, the Tampa, Florida, native gives Penn State another option to defend the pass — something it’s struggled to do in recent history.
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Arnold Ebiketie, defensive end
The Nittany Lions added yet another experienced transfer on the defensive side of the ball with Arnold Ebiketie.
The redshirt senior from Temple improved steadily over his three seasons of game action with the Owls, capping his career with a second-team All-American Athletic Conference nod.
During his redshirt junior season, Ebiketie led his team in tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles.
Ebiketie has the abilities to gain speed off the edge and apply pressure from his defensive end position, both of which drew attention from both coaches and teammates.
With the departure of multiple edge threats to the 2021 NFL draft, Ebiketie could step up to fill a starting role or rotate in, providing depth nonetheless.
Kalen and Kobe King, cornerback and linebacker
In his previous seasons, Franklin has had his fair share of freshman phenoms burst onto the college football scene in Happy Valley.
But the eleventh-year head coach believes there is something different about Kalen and Kobe King.
The twin brothers from Detroit, Michigan, have been the talk of the team and are poised to have immediate impacts at their respective positions.
Kalen, a cornerback ranked inside the top 20 among all recruits in the country at his position, adds to the growing depth with fellow newcomer Johnny Dixon and a multitude of returners. He made an immediate impact, intercepting two passes during Penn State’s public spring practice.
Kobe has multiple veterans ahead of him at the linebacker position, but he should be able to learn from them while also competing for some time himself.
Franklin raves about the Kings’ impressive abilities and maturity for their ages, so expect both to contribute to the Nittany Lions’ defensive efforts immediately.
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