He won’t start, but true freshman Micah Parsons has a prominent place in the first depth chart released by Penn State on Tuesday. (Photo by Joe Hermitt, PennLive.com via Associated Press.)

Depth charts don’t have to mean anything. Let’s get that stipulation out of the way right now.

But, reality is, they do. Especially the first one a team releases at the beginning of a season, and Penn State’s came out today with some surprises.

Here’s a look at some of them:

– Freshmen at the receiver spots

Most figured — because, let’s face it, we were led to believe — junior Brandon Polk was going to get a starting spot in Penn State’s three-receiver base offense alongside Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins. But, the depth chart indicates redshirt freshman K.J. Hamler has overtaken that spot.

“We do a lot of kind of interaction between the offense and the defense, having discussions, having the opposite side of the ball rank the position. So having the DBs rank the receivers, the receivers rank the DBs and so on and so forth,” head coach James Franklin said during his press conference today. “When you talk to our defensive coaches about guys that scare them when they got the ball in their hand, KJ is one of the guys at the top of the list.”

Clearly, Penn State really likes what Hamler brings. (He’s also listed as the top kickoff returner and the backup to Thompkins on punt returns.) But what really stands out is that the Nittany Lions’ depth chart is loaded with first-year-eligible players at receiver.

Mac Hippenhammer and Jahan Dotson are listed as Hamler’s backups. and behind Johnson on the three-deep are redshirt Cameron Sullivan-Brown and true freshman Daniel George. And, that’s not including the top receiver prospect in the 2018 class, Justin Shorter, who has missed part of camp with an injury.

– How deep is the offensive line?

There are no surprises at the top of the depth chart, really. Ryan Bates is at left tackle, Steven Gonzalez (left)
and Connor McGovern (right) are the guards, Michal Menet is the center and the right tackle is a toss-up between senior Chasz Wright and sophomore Will Fries. The Wright/Fries race isn’t all that surprising, because you had to figure with their experience and skillsets, they’d be close throughout camp.

But Franklin didn’t sound convinced that what he has on the depth chart is necessarily a true two-deep, where the player listed as the backup center, for instance, automatically goes in if the starting center were to need a break.

That’s probably because three second-stringers up front — LT Des Holmes, LG Mike Miranda and RG C.J. Thorpe — are freshmen-eligible players. Talking about those three a few weeks ago, offensive line coach Matt Limegrover said he expected those three in particular would be pushing for starting jobs late in the season, but that he also hoped the team wouldn’t have to count on them for anything more than pure backup duty early on as they continue to develop.

– Who will separate themselves at defensive tackle?

Again, it’s probably not a surprise what the depth chart looks like at defensive tackle. But Franklin is clearly hoping a few of the top five contenders up front separate themselves and take command of the position.

The starters, as expected, will be Robert Windsor and Kevin Givens. But the backups have been little-used players like Fred Hansard, Antonio Shelton and Ellison Jordan. Add redshirt freshman Damion Barber and true freshman P.J. Mustipher into the mix, and Penn State is probably looking for five consistent contributors.

– Where are the true freshmen linebackers?

We’ll make this one simple: Micah Parsons is the top backup behind Koa Farmer. Jesse Luketa is the third-string middle linebacker, behind starter Jan Johnson and redshirt freshman Ellis Brooks.

Franklin indicated all of them will play.

– The shakedown of the kicking competition

This was going to be crazy from the start, because nobody knew much of anything about anybody competing, and the vast majority of the combatants for playing time hadn’t even been on campus long before camp started.

True freshman Jake Pinegar, the only placekicker currently on scholarship, won the field goal job, and true freshman walk-on Rafael Checa will handle kickoffs.

But, the kicker who drew rave reviews from Franklin during his press conference Tuesday was another true freshman walk-on, Vlad Hilling. More on that in The Times-Tribune and other Times Shamrock newspapers tomorrow.