James Franklin said versatile lineman CJ Thorpe will continue playing defensive tackle for Penn State this season following Wednesday’s practice.
The redshirt freshman was listed as the second-team right guard heading into the Ohio State game, but Franklin and defensive line coach Sean Spencer felt Thorpe could make a bigger impact on defense this year.
Franklin said the move isn’t permanent, but he also doesn’t expect Thorpe to be playing both ways like he did in high school. College linemen rarely do.
“It can’t be week-to-week,” Franklin said. “We could have some injuries, we could make some moves, but for this season, he’ll continue on the defensive side of the ball.”
The former Under Armour All-American from Glenshaw, PA won a state championship at Pittsburgh Central Catholic — the alma mater of offensive line coach Matt Limegrover — as a junior in 2015. Thorpe was ranked as the nation’s No. 6 guard prospect in the 2017 recruiting class, per 247Sports.
Thorpe was a four-year letterman for head coach Terry Totten, receiving Pennsylvania Football News 6A Lineman of the Year recognition as a senior. He entered the game on defense late in the 27-26 loss to the Buckeyes and has seen plenty of playing time on special teams during his debut season.
Thorpe, backup center Zach Simpson, and defensive tackle Antonio Shelton are Blake Gillikin’s primary blockers on the punting unit. Thorpe paves the way for KJ Hamler on kickoff returns, too.
“We talked about making a move this summer and decided not to, because we really feel like he’s got a very, very bright future long term on the offensive side of the ball,” Franklin said.
Thorpe’s father, Chris, played linebacker and running back for the Nittany Lions from 1985-88, so two-way versatility runs in the family.
Thorpe took great strides from a scheme standpoint in the days leading up to the Ohio State game, despite having less than a week to adjust to playing defense again. He finished with one tackle against the Buckeyes.
“It was pretty impressive on his part,” Franklin said. “We moved him on Sunday and he was able to play in the game and played pretty well. His role will continue to grow.”
Shelton was ejected for targeting following a late hit out of bounds in the third quarter of Saturday’s game, meaning he’s ineligible to play in the first half against Michigan State.
Thorpe could log significant snaps next week after appearing to leap Damion Barber and true freshman PJ Mustipher in the rotation. Both players didn’t see the field last Saturday despite Franklin saying they were available.
Penn State’s starting offensive guards, Steven Gonzalez and Connor McGovern, each have a year of eligibility remaining in 2019. It will be interesting to see how Thorpe performs on defense this season, but Franklin seems sold on his potential to be a dominant, multi-year starter at guard.
Redshirt junior safety John Petrishen, who was teammates with Thorpe in high school, described the 6’3,” 328-pounder’s bruising playing style during the team’s media day in August 2017.
“Oh, he’s really physical,” Petrishen said. “Sometimes he takes it to the echo of the whistle, even past that. He gets in defenders’ heads a lot. Some people get rubbed the wrong way by that, but that’s just the nature of the beast. That’s the way he’ll play forever.”