Changing player positions and replacing graduating All-Ivy talent are two of the many things Penn football coach Ray Priore and his staff has done to improve the team’s outlook heading into this season. Here are the players to keep an eye on at each position this season.
Key Returners: Nick Robinson, Ryan Glover
Player to Watch: Nick Robinson
Key Losses: None
This first major shake-up comes at the game's most important position. Though junior quarterback Ryan Glover was the incumbent starter, it appears there will be a new man under center to start the season. Senior quarterback Nick Robinson, after serving as the primary backup to Will Fischer-Colbrie and Glover the past two seasons, has finally secured the starting nod.
Robinson has showed promising flashes in limited time over the past two years. Despite not starting a game in 2018, he appeared in seven of 10 contests, completing over 67% of his passes for three touchdowns and zero interceptions. On the other hand, Glover completed just under 60% of his passes for seven touchdowns and six interceptions. However, he had over five times as many passing attempts as Robinson, and he is much more of a threat on the ground than his senior counterpart.
Key Returner: Karekin Brooks
Player to Watch: Trey Flowers
Key Losses: None
The rushing attack was one of the strongest parts of Penn’s offense last season, with seniors Karekin Brooks and Abe Willows providing a dynamic one-two punch. A 2018 second team All-Ivy selection, Brooks racked up 898 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. Willows complimented Brooks nicely, totaling over 500 all-purpose yards. However, with Willows moving to wide receiver this year, expect Brooks to take on an even bigger workload this season.
Likely taking Willows' role as backup running back is sophomore Trey Flowers. Flowers did not play much in 2018, rushing for 22 yards and a touchdown on four carries. Barring injury, expect Brooks to take most of the snaps this season.
Key Returners: Tyler Herrick, Kolton Huber
Players to Watch: Abe Willows, Eric Markes
Key Losses: Christian Pearson, Steve Farrell, Mike Akai
Last season, the biggest question at the wide receiver position was how Penn would replace current Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Justin Watson. This year, the Quakers face a similar dilemma in how to replace a senior class of wideouts that combined for nearly 57% of the team's receiving yards and 60% of the team’s touchdowns through the air. Returning to the mix are seniors Tyler Herrick and Kolton Huber. Herrick and Huber each caught two touchdown passes last season, with Herrick pacing all returning wide receivers with 156 yards.
With the loss of three wide receivers to graduation, Penn has moved seniors Abe Willows and Eric Markes to join Herrick and Huber out wide. As previously mentioned, Willows served as a change-of-pace back and a receiving threat out of the backfield in 2018, and he even had more receiving yards than Herrick.
Markes, a former cornerback, is coming over from the other side of the ball. He appeared in all 10 games at cornerback and special teams, and had a timely interception against Bucknell after senior safety Sam Philippi went down with a season-ending injury. Penn has moved players to wide receiver before, with Herrick making the switch from quarterback to wide receiver two seasons ago. The Quakers will look for these moves to improve a passing attack that ranked toward the bottom of the Ivy League in most major statistical categories last year.
Key Returners: Greg Begnoche, Jeff Gibbs, Ace Escobedo
Players to Watch: Trevor Radosevich, Dan Beaver, Johnathan Gessner
Key Loss: Tommy Dennis
Being a new starter under center, much of Robinson’s success or failure will depend on the offensive line. Penn’s line features three returning starters in right tackle Greg Begnoche, right guard Jeff Gibbs, and left guard Ace Escobedo. This unit was one of the strongest in the country in 2018, allowing just over one sack per game, good for 20th in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Most likely joining the senior starters on the line are junior right guard Dan Beaver and junior center Trevor Radosevich. Neither received much playing time on the line last year, with Beaver primarily playing special teams and Radosevich not appearing in a single game. Radosevich will be an X-factor for the line this season. Strong play from the sophomore could allow everyone to remain in their primary position. Last year, many of the starters were forced to rotate across the line, with Gibbs in particular playing six games at center and four at right guard.
“It would be amazing to stay in one spot throughout the year,” Begnoche said. “But having that experience with moving across the line could really benefit us going into games if someone’s dinged up.”
Key Returners: David Ryslik, Prince Emili, Taheeb Sonekan, Benji Mowatt
Players to Watch: David Ryslik, Prince Emili
Key Loss: Cooper Gardner
Losing an All-Ivy player like Cooper Gardner undoubtedly hurts, but like in most of the defensive units, Penn has the depth to combat the loss of a talented player. Tasked with picking up the slack are seniors Prince Emili and Taheeb Sonekan, as well as juniors David Ryslik and Benji Mowatt.
Mowatt was statistically the most productive of the bunch, finishing second on the team with four sacks. Sonekan blocked two kicks against Sacred Heart in a four-point win. Emili started seven of ten games while Ryslik, a Connecticut transfer, appeared in all 10 games despite not making a start. With the return of many experienced veterans, expect the defensive line not to miss a beat this season.
Key Returners: Brian O’Neill, Zach Evans, James McCarthy
Players to Watch: Brian O'Neill, Zach Evans
Key Losses: Nick Miller, Jay Cammon Jr.
Nick Miller was one of the most decorated defensive players in Penn football history, garnering All-Ivy recognition three times while leading the team in tackles, tackles-for-loss, and sacks last season. Though the linebacker unit will undoubtedly miss what Miller brought on and off the field, the Quakers return a bevy of experience to the position. Brian O’Neill, Zach Evans, and James McCarthy all saw a significant amount of reps last season, with O’Neill finishing second to Miller in total tackles.
Evans appeared in all 10 games and finished sixth on the team in tackles. McCarthy split his time between linebacker and special teams, appearing in nine of the team's 10 games. However, this year, McCarthy will be mostly used as a linebacker.
Key Returners: Jacob Martin, Sam Philippi, Conor O’Brien, Mohammed Diakite, Tayte Doddy
Players to Watch: Jaden Key, Kendren Smith
Key Losses: None
Even if Sam Philippi wasn't returning from his 2018 season-ending hip injury, the Quakers' defensive backfield would still arguably be the strongest unit on the team. Jacob Martin, a safety, and Mohammed Diakite, a cornerback, received All-Ivy recognition last season. Diakite finished as a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award, given to the top freshman in the FCS. Penn also returns Conor O’Brien, who led the team in interceptions, and Doddy, who started eight games in place of Philippi. However, it is expected that Philippi will slot back into his starting spot.
Besides returning five players with significant starting experience, freshman safety Jaden Key and freshman cornerback Kendren Smith have each had strong training camps according to Priore. The Quakers will be more than comfortable combatting five wide receiver sets or rotating between personnel given the sheer depth of the defensive backfield.
Key Returner: Drew Brennan
Players to Watch: David Perkins, Daniel Karrash, Jake Haggard, Patrick McGettigan
Key Losses: Jack Soslow, Carson Vey
Following the graduation of Jack Soslow, one of the best kickers in Penn football history, junior David Perkins and sophomore Daniel Karrash are competing to step into Soslow’s shoes. The punter spot is also up for grabs, with incumbent senior Drew Brennan in a “dog fight" against sophomore Jake Haggard for the starting job, according to Priore. At long snapper, junior Patrick McGettigan will replace Carson Vey.
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