According to Penn State head coach James Franklin, three categories come into play when determining the course of action for playing true freshmen or opting for a redshirt season.
Looking to make decisions within the first two weeks of camp, Franklin said in an interview with Blue White Illustrated this summer, he focuses on the following:
1) "Who is going to be able to help us right away?"
2) "Who probably is going to end up helping us before the year is out?"
3) "Who just needs another year for maturity - whether it's physically, emotionally or mentally?"
More than two weeks of preseason camp have passed and, with just 11 days remaining before the Nittany Lions officially kick off the 2014 season in Dublin against Central Florida, the Penn State coaching staff has largely made its decisions regarding the true freshmen who will be expected contribute this year.
"We actually had that conversation last night," Franklin said Wednesday afternoon via teleconference. Going through the team, Franklin said he and his coaching staff talked to mostly the freshman class that arrived in the summer and laid out their plans. "Some guys that we saw would play right away, and then other guys were kind of wait and see that we were going to try to hold their redshirt if we were able to based on injuries, and then another group that was more than likely going to redshirt again, based on injuries.
"So, we kind of went through that with each one of them to make sure they kind of clearly understood where they were. There's still some ongoing conversations with their position coaches and me as well, but we did start that conversation last night."
On a team so devoid of experienced depth within the program, injuries are likely to play a factor in how many redshirts the Nittany Lions are going to be able to hold onto this season. As Franklin explained this summer, a big part of the rationale behind reps divvied up during preseason practice revolve around those plans.
"The guys that you think are going to end up playing for you at some point, you might as well start getting them as many reps as you can early on and the guys that you know can help you from day one, you better have them involved," he said. "We figure that out usually within the first two weeks."
Citing the fact that the redshirting process isn't a matter of making "snap-judgments" because of all the due diligence put into the recruiting process, building relationships with family, high school coaches and friends, and learning each individual's work habits, Franklin also said the first two weeks of camp simply help round out a picture that already has many elements to draw on.
"We've been getting to know these kids, a lot of them, at least for over a year and in some cases two years, and now you actually get to work with them in person and they're either building on that or not," he said. "So it's not like it's just the two week picture. It's more of a complete picture just based on all the time you spent with them. And then the two weeks, it's usually a little bit more than that when you break into scout teams to start getting ready for your opponent, and that's usually when the decision has to be made.
Remembering that two weeks of preseason camp also equate to more time with the players in its all-football, all-the-time atmosphere, Franklin said the decisions largely clear themselves up substantially.
"You get a pretty good picture of kind of where you're at," he said. "The guys that are going to help you from day one, they kind of stand out. It's pretty obvious to everybody. It's that next group of guys that you really kind of have to figure out, where is this guy going to be four or five weeks from now?"
Joining reporters for a teleconference Wednesday afternoon, Franklin didn't knock out a player-by-player list of those who have seemingly made the cut and are expected to contribute as true freshmen this season, but he did offer some hints.
Calling them a "handful of guys," Franklin started on the offensive side of the ball by noting receivers Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall as jumping out to him, along with tight end Mike Gesicki. Said Frankin, "Guys that we're going to need to have a role for us."
Defensively, Marcus Allen, Grant Haley and linebacker Jason Cabinda were all cited as performers who have stood out this preseason "at positions that we need."