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Penn football loses their first home game of the season to Villanova, 41-7. Credit: Zoe Gan , Zoe Gan

Penn football’s first game may come a full two weeks after most teams begin their seasons, but a high level of competition has been brewing for weeks in Quakers’ practices at Penn Park.

As the Red and Blue approach their opener against Lehigh, position battles have been on the minds of many coaches and players. And while some players have separated themselves from the rest of those in their position group, a few question marks on the depth chart still remain.


There are no doubts heading into the year that Alek Torgersen will lead the offense onto the field in week one. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior showed snippets of excellence last season despite only having two wins to show for it. As a sophomore, the Californian was 11th in the country in passing yards per game with 268.9, and ranked third nationally with 26 completions per contest. Under new offensive coordinator John Reagan, it’s possible that those numbers decrease, especially with a rejuvenated and healthy backfield behind Torgersen. Senior Andrew Lisa comes into the season as Penn’s primary backup, but hasn’t shown indications of challenging Torgersen for the starting spot.

Running Back

One of the biggest uncertainties heading into the preseason was what the Quakers were going to do at running back. Last year, the Red and Blue were forced to institute a running back-by-committee approach after their top three rushers went down with injuries. Sophomore Tre Solomon — who was knocked out for the remainder of 2014 when he tore his ACL against Fordham — views himself as the number two back heading into camp behind junior Brian Schoenauer. However, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Solomon end up winning the starting job once the season gets underway, especially if the sophomore demonstrates no lingering effects from last year’s knee injury and manages to put together a handful of explosive plays.

Wide Receiver/Tight End

Cam Countryman is back. After missing the final eight games of last year’s campaign due to off-the-field issues, the senior wideout will see plenty of time alongside sophomore Justin Watson and senior Eric Fiore. Lining up with them will be two fellow seniors, tight ends Ryan O’Malley and Ryan Kelly. Of course, the glaring omissions here are Conner Scott and Mitch King, a pair of dynamic passcatchers who graduated in the spring. Scott compiled one of the greatest receiving careers in Penn history, and he leaves big shoes to fill. But the current wide receiver corps has plenty of experience under its collective belt as well, not to mention talent. Between a collection of upperclassmen and Watson — who set program records for receiving yards and receptions by a freshman last year — there are plenty of weapons for Torgersen to involve in the Quakers’ passing game.

Offensive Line

The five big men in charge of protecting Penn’s quarterback this season are all upperclassmen. That experience will be key after a season in which Torgerson consistently felt the pocket collapsing in on him. The one slot on the line still up for grabs is right guard, where senior Daniil Lysenko is trying to hold off junior Nick Whitton. The group isn’t glaringly large — the heaviest projected starter only tips the scales to 290 — although sophomore backup center Nathan Kirchmier does push 310 pounds.

Defensive Line

Senior nose guard Dan Connaughton highlights the group that will often line up only three wide under new defensive coordinator Bob Benson. The latter made it clear during the team’s Media Day that Connaughton is not only one of leaders of the unit, but the team as a whole. It’s fair to have faith in Connaughton, who has played in 21 career games and finished last season with 17 tackles. Two sophomores, Tayler Hendrickson and Louis Vecchio, will flank Connaughton. While the young duo is slated to get the starting nods at Lehigh, seniors Austin Taps and Lukas Nossem remain in contention for playing time right behind it.


The middle part of Penn’s defense boasts both the team’s most intact position group from a year ago as well as the one that will miss one specific player the most. 2015 graduate Dan Davis was a two-time preseason All-American, and the two-time first team All-Ivy linebacker was the cornerstone of Ray Priore’s defense. But with Benson now in charge, this season’s crop of linebackers is ready to go. The team’s defensive approach is designed to replace Davis with a group that doesn’t have to rely on only one person. The unit is not lacking in experience, and Benson pointed to senior Nolan Biegel and junior Donald Panciello as the squad’s cornerstones.

Defensive Back

The Quakers’ secondary took a beating in Al Bagnoli’s final season as the head coach. Penn’s defensive backs were continually beaten on long passing plays and were responsible for numerous explosive drives by opposing offenses. Three seniors will lineup alongside sophomore free safety Ephraim Lee with cornerback Kevin Ijoma ensconced as the defensive backfield’s leader. The fifth-year senior was sixth in the Ivy League with eight pass breakups and was a constant threat to rush the quarterback from the end. While the front seven will need to get to the quarterback with more consistency than last season, it will be on the back four to keep opponents on their toes.

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