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Former Penn State football stars grind it out in the NFL preseason

Former Penn State football stars have been grinding throughout the NFL preseason. See how your favorite ex-Nittany Lions have fared.



Penn State Football, NFL
Green Bay Packers quarterback Sean Clifford (8) throws in the second quarter during a Week 1 NFL preseason game between the Green Bay Packers and the Cincinnati Bengals,Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati.

Believe it or not, we are in the latter half of summer. People have begun moving into their college dorms in preparation for the start of classes. The good thing about this time of year is that football is back. The hype for college football on campuses across the nation is almost palpable. Energy is in the air, the feeling of the calm before the storm. The wave of noise that is to come in the next couple of weeks. But beyond college football, the NFL is also starting back up. This time of year, we get to watch a lot of backups in the preseason. While the implication of this statement is that the games will be boring, we get a chance to watch a lot of former Penn State football players get their chance in the NFL. The first week of preseason games just passed. Here is how former Penn State football players fared in preseason week one:

Sean Clifford impresses in Packers debut

Sean Clifford has a very confusing legacy at Penn State. He is a Nittany Lion legend in terms of his statistics: all-time leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns, passing attempts, completions, and completion percentage. That said, some Penn State fans wanted Clifford benched multiple times for Will Levis and Drew Allar. But Clifford stood tall, fought off the critics, and led Penn State to a 2022 Rose Bowl victory. 

Sean Clifford was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round (149th overall) of the 2023 NFL Draft. In his NFL debut on August 11, Clifford faced his hometown Cincinnati Bengals. Clifford got most of the playing time for the Packers, where he was 20/26 for 208 yards and a touchdown. Clifford threw two interceptions, one of which went for a pick-six. The numbers don’t blow you away. But, Clifford made some great throws into tight windows, showed his ability to move in the pocket, and finished with an excellent completion percentage of 76.9%.

It should be easy for Clifford to clean up his two mistakes. One of his interceptions was jumped by a defensive back. Clifford said it was a mistake that should have never happened. His other interception was a pass that the wide receiver probably should have caught. 

If he keeps playing this well, Clifford can see time on the field this season. Jordan Love, the Packers’ current QB #1, is actually younger than Clifford despite being drafted in 2020. Clifford has more in-game experience than Love ever did in college. Clifford has a ton of knowledge by going through many different offensive coordinators and facing many different defensive looks. This experience could prove invaluable and lead to Clifford’s chance on the field this fall.

Here are some of Sean Clifford’s reps from preseason week one:

Jahan Dotson looking to explode in year 2

Penn State fans know how good Jahan Dotson was for Penn State. Dotson finished his four-year career with 183 receptions for 2,757 yards and 25 TDs. In 2021, Dotson caught 91 passes for 1,182 yards and 12 TDs. Dotson is one of the best wide receivers Penn State has ever had.

After testing well, Dotson was drafted in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Washington Commanders. In week one, Dotson caught two touchdowns and was named Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week. Dotson injured his hamstring in week four and missed five games in 2022. Despite missed time, Dotson finished the year with 35 catches for 523 yards and 7 TDs.

The talented route runner is looking to explode in year two. Commanders fans know that Dotson can be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL despite his small size. Dotson proved how great of a route runner he is in week one of the preseason. Dotson had a 26-yard touchdown reception where he made a great catch and evaded two defenders. The sky is the limit in year two for Jahan Dotson.

Arnold Ebiketie with an incredible sack

Arnold Ebiketie only played a short time with Penn State football. The Temple transfer made his presence felt at defensive end right away. In his first game against Wisconsin, Ebiketie blocked a crucial field goal. Ebiketie went on to have 18 tackles for loss, including 9.5 sacks. He also forced two fumbles.

Ebiketie was drafted in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. In year one, Ebiketie only started one game despite playing in 16. He finished with 2.5 sacks on the year. Hopefully, year two will be a big step up for the talented end. Ebiketie started 2023 with an impressive spin move sack, forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. 

Scruggs with an incredible opportunity

As previously reported, Juice Scruggs has a chance to start at center for the Houston Texans. It looked like Scruggs may never play college football because of a car accident. Penn State’s former center made an incredible turnaround. Now, the rookie center had a chance in the NFL, and he impressed early. An injury opened a lane for Juice Scruggs, and he may take the ball and run. Okay, maybe he is going to snap the ball and run. You get the point. 

Mitchell Tinsley also gets involved for the Commanders

Mitchell Tinsley had a great college career at the wide receiver position. Tinsley started his career at Western Kentucky. At WKU, Tinsley had an amazing 2021 campaign where he caught 87 passes for 1,402 yards and 14 TDs. Tinsley finished 2021 with the 8th most receiving yards in college football. 

After the season, Tinsley grad-transferred to Penn State. In his lone season in blue and white, Tinsley caught 51 passes for 577 yards and 5 TDs. There is no doubt that Tinsley has talent at the wide receiver position despite his excellent college career. Tinsley went undrafted.

The Commanders signed Tinsley as an undrafted free agent. In Tinsley’s first preseason game, he finished with one catch for 26 yards.

McSorley sees limited time 

Trace McSorley was one of the greatest Penn State football players ever. He could have been the best Nittany Lion to ever play quarterback. McSorley led Penn State to a 2016 Big Ten Championship title. 

McSorley spent time as a backup QB with the Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals. In the offseason, McSorley signed with the New England Patriots. McSorley is currently behind Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, and Malik Cunningham on New England’s roster. McSorley will have to prove a lot to make the roster. 

In week one, McSorley went 1/3 passing for only 4 yards. McSorley also ran the ball once for 3 yards. McSorley may see more time in week 2.

Who else got involved?

Parker Washington and Brenton Strange both got drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Washington had one catch for 16 yards, and Strange had two catches for eight yards. Punters Blake Gillikin and Jordan Stout averaged 38 yards and 50 yards on their punts, respectively. 

Penn State football transfers Juwan Johnson and Zack Kuntz had receptions, with the latter catching a touchdown despite running the wrong route. Pat Freiermuth had one catch for six yards for the Steelers. Jonathan Sutherland had three tackles, Oruwariye had two (against his former team), Castro-Fields had two and a pass defended, Mustipher had three, Luketa had two, Gross-Matos had three, and Brown had four.

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