Just 10 days away from this year’s iteration of Penn State’s spring game, there are still many questions to be answered about the team’s prospects ahead of the 2021 season.
James Franklin answered a few of those questions in his weekly post-practice media availability Wednesday, touching on the development of his athletes, the coronavirus vaccine and more.
Here are the biggest themes from Franklin’s presser, which was followed by defensive line coach John Scott Jr.’s first availability of the offseason.
Franklin endorses coronavirus vaccines
Last fall, Beaver Stadium was a shell of its old self and hosted just the families of players in the stands.
In the emptiness of it all, Penn State was forced to create its own atmosphere in a season that saw the team get out to its worst start in program history.
But in 2021, Happy Valley Hospitality could make its triumphant return.
The spring game, for example, is allowing freshmen in for their first glimpse of the blue and white in person.
With the introduction of the coronavirus vaccine in the last few months, the Nittany Lions are preparing for a somewhat normal upcoming season.
And Franklin strongly approves of the vaccination efforts.
“I’ll get any vaccine they give, I’ll take them all,” Franklin said. “I’ll take the Moderna, I’ll take the Johnson & Johnson — I’ll take them all if they help us get back to normal and if they’ll help me get back to my family.”
Not believing a vaccine mandate is possible in a country with hundreds of millions of people, Franklin errs on the side of education when it comes to the coronavirus vaccine.
“What I think you can do is educate,” Franklin said. “You can educate on why it makes sense.”
Defensive line development
A couple of weeks ago, Penn State’s Jayson Oweh completed the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.36 seconds in hopes of parlaying his measurables into becoming a first-round selection.
Someone who didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school, Oweh made leaps and bounds in his three years donning the blue-and-white.
And now his successors on the defensive line will look to do the same.
One of those players is Zuriah Fisher, who made the switch to defensive end from linebacker earlier this offseason.
MORE SPORTS COVERAGE
After two seasons at Iowa State, former Penn State guard Rasir Bolton will be entering the t…
“I’ve been really pleased with Zuriah coming over, he’s got really good athleticism,” Scott said. “He’s learning how to play defensive end, but he has all the physical tools.”
Fisher was one of 16 true freshmen to play for Penn State in 2020, making his sole appearance in the season finale against Illinois.
The second-year defensive line rookie isn’t the only one making strides, though.
Two transfers on the line, Derrick Tangelo and Arnold Ebekitie, have come out firing in their first offseason with the program.
“I’m so excited about them, I don’t think we could’ve gotten anyone better from a personality standpoint,” Scott said. “I’m really glad they’re on our football team.”
Rasheed Walker’s increased stock
Losing veterans like Michal Menet and Will Fries to the NFL Draft, offensive line coach Phil Trautwein had some spots to fill this offseason.
But he doesn’t need to worry about Rasheed Walker’s position at left tackle.
Walker started all nine games for Trautwein’s unit last season in his third year with the Nittany Lion program.
Having now made 22 starts in his college career, Walker has impressed many with his consistency and impact as the blindside blocker for quarterback Sean Clifford.
Among those impressed is Franklin himself.
“I was doing my old man walk, my workout, and I saw Rasheed coming out onto the field and I stopped him,” Franklin said. “I said that I’m just super proud of him in every area — how much he’s grown, matured and his approach. He’s just been fantastic.”
According to Franklin, part of Walker’s development, at least recently, can be attributed to his relationship with his position coach.
“I know him and Trautwein have a really good relationship,” Franklin said. “Those guys [the offensive linemen] are at Trautwein’s house all the time, they go fishing.”
And Walker’s stature as a stout offensive lineman isn’t lost on the blue and white’s defense, either.
Coaching opposite Walker in every practice, Scott has noticed a trait about Walker that he sees similar to that of NFL talent.
“He reminds me of some of the tackles, with his foot quickness, that we had with the Jets,” Scott said. “He’s super athletic.”
MORE SPORTS COVERAGE