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James Franklin talks offseason schedule, potential of bringing in transfers for Penn State football

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Football vs Iowa, James Franklin and Chris Stoll (91)

Penn State head coach James Franklin high fives long snapper Chris Stoll (91) after a successful PAT during the Big Ten football game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 41-21.

For the first time in 2021, James Franklin spoke to the media for nearly an hour on Monday and touched on a wide range of topics.

With the football team’s student-athletes returning to classes this week and early enrolled freshmen arriving on campus, the look-ahead to spring ball and other key dates of the offseason has begun — but there isn’t a lot of clarity in that regard.

“Right now we’re planning to play spring football but we haven’t really been told that’s a ‘go’ yet,” Franklin said. “We don’t really know where recruiting is going to go, when some decisions are going to be made by the NCAA and when some decisions are going to be made by the Big Ten.”

Last year’s spring practices were interrupted by the initial outbreak of the coronavirus but this year, all indications point to a more complete offseason schedule.

Franklin put an emphasis on flexibility as the uncertainty could continue through the next few months.

“What we’re going to have to do a good job of is being flexible,” Franklin said. “I think that’s something we probably did a better job in the second half of the season than we did early.”

One area where the Nittany Lions have gotten some clarity is in terms of the personnel they will have at their disposal for the 2021 season.

Since the NCAA’s deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft has passed, Penn State received some exciting news from one of its most productive players from last season.

Junior wide receiver Jahan Dotson announced that he would return to Happy Valley for his senior season after leading the Big Ten in receiving yards in his breakout year as the blue and white’s top wideout.

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“I feel like I have a really good relationship with Jahan and his mom and dad, and we had some very direct, honest and transparent conversations with just the three of us that I thought went well,” Franklin said. “At the end of the day, I’m going to support whatever decisions these guys make.

“I want to make sure that they’re making educated decisions and have as much information to be able to do that.”

Franklin didn’t downplay how big it is for the program that Dotson will be returning, and he recognizes that his presence will help build upon what the team developed in the second half of the season.

“Having Jahan back is really important for us and gives us a really good building block,” Franklin said. “And there’s a number of other guys: obviously Parker [Washington] did some good things as the season went on, KeAndre [Lambert-Smith] too, but we got some other guys like Cam Sullivan-Brown who had some injuries this year as well that limited him.”

The wide receiver room is one that has arguably grown the most over the last year, and now that room is crowded with potential options for the upcoming season with second year position coach Taylor Stubblefield at the helm.

Having multiple threats at the receiver position is always a good thing, and Franklin wants to use the surplus of talent to spread the ball around and make the offense more dynamic.

“I want to get more guys touches, I want to get more guys’ hands on the ball,” Franklin said. “I think it makes you more difficult to defend when the ball can go to a number of different people and you can get a bunch of different people involved in your program.”

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The idea of adding more quality players to the roster is one that always seems to be on Franklin’s mind, and that is especially true this offseason with the added year of eligibility for players and the ability to access the transfer portal.

Franklin didn’t downplay the idea of bringing in a grad transfer at quarterback, or any position for that matter.

“We’re going to be as aggressive as we have to be at every position to help our football program,” Franklin said. “If there’s something that makes sense and clearly makes us better, then we’re going to look at it.”

This new, free agent-like system of adding players in college football is something that Franklin and his program are still getting used to.

One concern for Franklin is the educational aspect of transferring and how it can impact a players’ chances of graduating.

“The only other thing that I would tell you I am a little uncomfortable with is the college football I got involved with, every decision that was made from an NCAA level and from the universities I worked with — every decision started with educational decisions,” Franklin said. “I just see less of that right now, every time a guy transfers his likelihood of graduating goes down — you lose credits through the transfer process.”

A new reality in college football--players being consistently on the move-- is still something Franklin is coming to grips with.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say anyone is comfortable with it, but it’s where we’re at and you need to embrace it and move forward.” Franklin said. “I’m very pleased with how our players have handled it, I’m very pleased with how our staff has handled it.”

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Evan Patrick is a football and basketball reporter for The Daily Collegian. He is a senior studying digital and print journalism with minors in business and liberal arts and labor employment relations.

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