2019 Michigan at Penn State Football

The Penn State drum major does a flip before kickoff of the Penn State vs. Michigan game at Beaver Stadium in State College on Saturday, October 19, 2019.

Penn State usually has at least one player who emerges, this time of year, as the “talk of spring ball.’’

Coach James Franklin nominated sophomore linebacker Curtis Jacobs for that title Wednesday.

Starting spots are rarely won in spring practice, but Franklin confirmed Wednesday that Jacobs, an elite recruit from the Penn State recruiting stronghold of Owings Mills, Md., has done just that.

"If we were playing this Saturday, (Jacobs and Brandon Smith) would be starting at either outside linebacker spot,’’ Franklin said while meeting with the media after practice.

Jacobs’ emergence, if that’s what it is, makes the first-string linebacker group, and the entire back seven of the defense, look a lot more coherent and solid heading into the summer.

Smith, a third-year sophomore, was a five-star recruit, and showed flashes of his enormous potential while starting at the Sam, or field, linebacker spot last season.

Smith is 6-3, 240. Ideally, he’ll be able to move to the Will, or boundary spot in the fall, play more “in the box,’’ against the run and match up with tight ends in pass coverage.

Veterans Ellis Brooks and Jesse Luketa would then compete to start at middle LB, or share the job.

Jacobs was the top-ranked recruit in Franklin’s recruiting class of 2020, the third-ranked outside LB in the class nationally. He played in eight of the Nittany Lions’ nine games as a true freshman, mostly on special teams.

He’s a smaller guy, about 6-1, 220, and played some defensive back in high school, an ideal fit for the field, or Will position.

“Right now, (Jacobs) is playing like a confident guy,’’ Franklin said. “That gives us the ability to put Brandon Smith into the boundary, which creates some flexibility, because Brandon can do a lot of things.’’

Blue-White, modified: Spring practice will conclude Saturday, April 17, in Beaver Stadium, but it won’t quite be the traditional intrasquad scrimmage and annual community event in State College.

Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf announced last month that outdoor events could be held with spectators up to 50 percent of venue capacity as of April 4. That would seem to permit a crowd of around 50,000 for the Blue-White game, not much smaller than that of a normal year.

Penn State is taking it slow, though, with the goal of being able to pack the Beav in the fall, when the games count.

First-year students, who have not had a chance to attend a football game as Penn State students, will be invited to attend. So will families and guests of players, coaches and staff, and limited media.

There will be no tailgating. The event is being billed as more a practice session than a scrimmage.

“Because of the pandemic, (first-year) students have missed out on this special tradition of cheering on the Nittany Lions, and we hope this will be a memorable way for them to gather together and celebrate,’’ University president Eric Barron said in a statement release last month.

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