Monday marked the first day of spring practices for Penn State.
Throughout the winter workout period, the new and returning Nittany Lions made strides in the weight room and are looking to translate that progress onto the field, according to James Franklin.
Heading into his ninth year at Penn State, Franklin discussed the competition among his players and improvements made to schemes while also touching on additions made to his staff.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Franklin’s press conference on Monday.
Newcomers provide challenges
Franklin touched on the impact the early enrollees have on the team and how they’ve progressed individually.
The 2022 commitment class and group of early enrollees contains quarterbacks Drew Allar and Beau Pribula, both of whom the Nittany Lion faithful continue to express a great deal of excitement over, some even calling for the 5-star recruit Allar to start over three-year starter Sean Clifford.
Franklin took note of the external noise and said it’s not necessarily a bad thing as it pushes every quarterback to perform better in addition to internal motivations.
“When you recruit well, there’s excitement, which I think that’s a positive,” Franklin said. “Competition is going to bring out the best in everybody. Internally, we want that type of competition. The external stuff, we can’t control.”
Nittany Lions fans also voiced excitement about freshman running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen following a pitiful showing from Penn State’s ball carriers last season.
The blue and white returns Keyvone Lee and Devyn Ford but lost Noah Cain to the transfer portal. Franklin said he’s “excited” about the running back group and looks forward to seeing how Singleton and Allen develop over their first spring season, though he’s “unsure” if they’ll get first-team reps.
“We’re excited about that group,” Franklin said. “[We’re excited about] the guys that are coming back, the experience they’ve gained and things they need to improve on and the infusion of two guys coming in that were very well-thought of nationally.”
Penn State’s rebuild of the defensive line added another piece in Zane Durant, and the early enrolled defensive tackle continues to stand out to Franklin, who said Durant is over 265 pounds and trending in the right direction.
“He’s really adjusted well in a short period of time,” Franklin said. “His testing numbers were really good. He’s been able to put on size already. If he keeps trending the way he is right now, I think he’s going to have a chance to compete for playing time as a true freshman at defensive tackle, which is unusual.”
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Penn State fans who can't make the midweek trek to the team's season opener can enjoy it on FOX.
Position group battles
Penn State dealt with depth issues in the Outback Bowl due to injuries and players declaring for the 2022 NFL Draft.
As a result, spots opened up for players down the depth chart to take up a bigger role in a postseason game and many of those players continued that trend into the offseason.
Jonathan Sutherland played linebacker throughout the game against Arkansas and continues to receive time with the front seven, according to Franklin, and Curtis Jacobs also received time at the Sam spot.
With Jacobs’ move, Kobe King and Tyler Elsdon are set to receive lots of reps in the middle along with true freshman Abdul Carter, according to Franklin, as the team prepares to replace two starters in Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith.
“I thought [Carter’s] senior film was as good as anybody we signed last year,” Franklin said. “Elsdon and Kobe will get every rep we can get out of them to evaluate and see where they’re at.”
Offensive line reserves saw extensive time in the Outback Bowl and while the team returns many of those reserves, Franklin doesn’t view the group as one with depth for the spring.
From left to right, Franklin defined his current starting offensive line as Olu Fashanu, Landon Tengwall, Juice Scruggs, Sal Wormley and Caedan Wallace. He also named Jimmy Christ, JB Nelson, Nick Dawkins, Golden Israel-Achumba/former defensive lineman Alex Furmanek, and Ibrahim Traore as the second unit.
“Those guys are going to get a bunch of reps,” Franklin said “We don’t have great depth there this spring, so it’ll be important that we do a great job of how we run practice so they get as many reps as they possibly can. We have a number of guys coming in this summer.”
Penn State’s staff experienced a tumultuous couple months, from the departures of Brent Pry, Joe Lorig and Dwight Galt III to the arrivals of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and special teams coordinator Stacy Collins as well as the promotion of Chuck Losey to assistant athletic director for performance enhancement.
But the Nittany Lions’ staff additions don’t stop there, as they’ve made improvements in the recruiting and analysis sectors as well, which Franklin justified by referencing his recently signed 10-year contract as well as the changing landscape of college football.
“It’s about manpower in terms of breaking down film and while we’re watching tape that we have enough perspectives and experience in the room,” Franklin said. “It also helps when it comes to game-planning and those types of things. There’s tremendous value in it.”
Franklin pointed out Dan Connor, Alan Zemaitis and Danny Rocco as three of the nine Penn State lettermen currently on staff.
Lettermen involvement with the program, particularly on staff, remains important to Franklin, who said he does his best at “tracking” former Nittany Lions in the coaching ranks that are interested in returning to their alma mater.
“I think that’s been really valuable and exciting having these guys back and involved with the program,” Franklin said. “I’m trying to develop these relationships. I’m trying to get to know these guys.”
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