Many know the spring season for its resurgence of warmth and sunlight hidden over the course of the winter months. Like a budding flower, the spring season serves as a developmental period for the members of the Penn State football team.
To have a successful fall season, a spring filled with growth in every positional category is mandatory.
After a disappointing 4-5 season for the Nittany Lions in 2020, this year’s spring practice was all the more important.
Following his team’s final spring practice on Friday — an event that welcomed some level of general attendance — James Franklin spoke on his spring expectations and surprises as the blue and white enter the summer.
When it comes to team captains and multi-year starters, a good spring season doesn't necessarily mean those are the guys who will show the most improvement come fall.
“I think (Tariq) Castro-Fields had a really good spring, but he's also at a point in his career where you expect that from him,” Franklin said following Friday’s practice. “So a lot of times with me, it's the guys that either took significant steps from their freshman to sophomore year or it's guys that we didn't know as much about.”
According to Franklin, one player who made gains this spring is second-semester freshman linebacker Tyler Elsdon.
“The thing I thought [Elsdon] did so well this spring was running sideline to sideline making plays,” Franklin said. “He’s the guy that probably jumped out and probably made as many strides as anyone.”
Playing in only one game last season, Elsdon is a guy looking for a boost in opportunity as the fall slowly approaches.
Along with Elsdon, there are a handful of soon-to-be sophomores who have been making strides of their own this spring.
With nearly 500 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions last season, Parker Washington has already made a name for himself in Happy Valley.
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However, Franklin has seen Washington continue to build on his impressive true freshman season, calling him a “guy that he thinks has flashed.”
Aside from Washington, there are other underlooked starters from last year’s roster who have improved through the spring.
“Keyvone Lee is just so much more confident right now going into his second year,” Franklin said. “And I think Mike Miranda has the chance to have a really good year for us.”
Lee, another true freshman, started three games at running back for the Nittany Lions in 2020. If Lee is just now finding his confidence after compiling 438 rushing yards and four touchdowns freshman year, he could be in line for a sizable jump.
If Franklin’s prediction for Miranda, a junior guard who started all nine games in 2020, is correct, a “really good year” from him would critically improve Penn State’s offensive line. The unit could use it too, losing two key pieces to the NFL Draft in Michal Menet and Will Fries.
In addition to the young returners, a popular storyline from the spring has been the decisions to return by many of the elder statesmen in the program.
Names like Jaquan Brisker, Rasheed Walker and Jahan Dotson will be bypassing their first shot at the NFL Draft and returning for a final year of eligibility in 2021.
For Brisker and Walker, Franklin has seen a will to win in both and a fire to be better than they were last year.
“I think with Brisker, it’s obvious that he came back for a reason,” Franklin said. “He's so positive right now. He's so coachable. I've been very, very pleased with him.”
“Rasheed is another guy that came back for a reason and his maturity, his positive attitude and his perspective now is much different. I'm really proud of him.”
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