With Justin Watson off to the NFL, many of the questions surrounding Penn football this offseason have been focused on how the Quakers will replace the production of the team’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving touchdowns.
Those questions are fully warranted, but the Red and Blue’s performance in each of the other positions groups could prove to be just as important. Ahead of Penn’s season-opener against Bucknell on Saturday, take a look at the players you can expect to shine at every position.
Player to watch: Ryan Glover
Biggest loss: Will Fischer-Colbrie
If coach Ray Priore knows who his starting quarterback will be in Week 1, he’s done a good job of keeping it under wraps. Will Fischer-Colbrie, who took the majority of last year’s snaps from under center, has graduated, which leaves junior Nick Robinson and sophomore Ryan Glover in a two-man competition for the job this year.
Robinson has the advantage as far as experience goes — he appeared in six games last season and threw for six touchdowns — but Glover, who competed in long jump events in high school, would present a bigger threat with his feet. The two players will almost certainly split drives come Saturday with the coaching staff paying close attention to who performs better.
Player to watch: Karekin Brooks
Biggest loss: Tre Solomon
Losing a 2016 unanimous first-team All-Ivy and 2017 second-team All-Ivy running back in Tre Solomon to graduation is a blow, but that doesn’t mean you should expect the Quakers to lose a step in the backfield this season.
Karekin Brooks, who led Penn with 840 rushing yards last season, is back for his junior season, and his classmate Abe Willows, who scored two touchdowns in 2017, is back too. Brooks may very well be the top rusher in the Ivy League this year, and the pair of Brooks and Willows could be the league’s best one-two punch. The only major concern with this group is a lack of experience — none of the team’s running backs are seniors.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Player to watch: Christian Pearson
Biggest loss: Justin Watson
It’s already been well-documented that Penn will have its hands full replacing Watson this season, but that’s far from the Quakers’ only loss in the wide receiver and tight end group; the team’s second-leading receiver in tight end Nicholas Bokun graduated too.
With those two players gone, the Red and Blue’s receiving corps this year will be largely made of inexperienced and unproven talent. That could present a bigger issue if the team’s quarterback play is inconsistent again, but for now, expect to see the coaching staff spread playing time around with seniors Christian Pearson, Steve Farrell, and Logan Sharp carrying the biggest loads early on.
Player to watch: Tommy Dennis
Biggest loss: Nathan Kirchmier
Growing pains are to be expected anytime a team has to replace two-fifths of its offensive line, but that’s especially the case when one of the starters is a first-team All-Ivy center like Nathan Kirchmier.
With a new player set to start at center, too, the center-quarterback relationship will be one to keep a close eye on — but Penn will have talent returning on both sides of the line. 2017 second-team All-Ivy left tackle and senior captain Tommy Dennis figures to be charged with protecting the quarterback’s blind side once again, and between Greg Begnoche and Jeff Gibbs, the entire right side of the line is returning.
Player to watch: Brody Graham
Biggest loss: Louis Vecchio
With Louis Vecchio now playing as a graduate transfer at Vanderbilt and Taylor Hendrickson having graduated, Penn has some holes to fill up front. That could leave room for one of the team’s newly recruited defensive linemen to break out, but the largest burden will most likely fall on seniors Brody Graham and Cooper Gardner.
Graham and Gardner combined to appear in 19 games with 10 starts on the line last year for the Quakers, and both showed enough to suggest that they could be key cogs in their final seasons for the Red and Blue.
Player to watch: Nick Miller
Biggest loss: Colton Moskal
In 2017, Penn’s linebacker group was led by Nick Miller, and in 2018, that shouldn’t change. The 5’11’’ senior captain was a finalist for Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year last season, and barring injury, should be one of the strongest defensive forces in the Ancient Eight again this year.
Other returners, like Jay Cammon, Jr., Nico Ament, and Connor Jangro, will help round out the core of Penn’s defense as the team will have to replace Colton Moskal, who was second on the team in tackles (to Miller) last season with 60.
Player to watch: Sam Philippi
Biggest loss: N/A
Senior safety Sam Philippi has been a key part of Penn’s secondary ever since he first arrived at the University as a freshman, and he will once again lead the unit — and the team — as a captain this year. Returning to join him will be several other defensive backs who all started games last season, including Conor O’Brien, Luke Bullock, Jacob Martin, and Jared Noble.
The Red and Blue’s secondary is one of the team’s most experienced units and should be a strength of the defense, but with the defensive line somewhat depleted from last year, the pressure will be even higher for the backs to stick to their assignments.
Player to watch: Jack Soslow
Biggest loss: Hunter Kelly
The long snapper, kicker, and punter trio of Carson Vey, Jack Soslow, and Hunter Kelly was one of the best and most experienced special teams units in the Ivy League last season. Kelly, who was honorable mention All-Ivy in both 2016 and 2017, has graduated, but Soslow and Vey will both return this season for their senior seasons. Soslow is coming off a first-team All-Ivy season and Vey has started all 30 games over the last three seasons.
The one question mark for the Quakers’ special teams unit is how well they'll replace Kelly. Ahead of the season-opener, freshman Jake Haggard and junior Drew Brennan are competing for the starting job.
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