“Protect the football!” James Franklin screamed over and over again at the first practice of his Penn State career. “The ball is the program.”
The mantra was in many ways a reflection of how Franklin runs his practices: intense and fast-paced with no letup and no rest.
The football team opened up its spring practice schedule this afternoon at Holuba Hall, giving Franklin and his staff their first chance to see the players in action outside of the film room. While addressing the media on Monday afternoon, Franklin expressed excitement for the coming months, looking forward to implementing his system and working with the roster.
“Just like I told the coaches and the players, we need to go out there with the mindset that we’ve been here for three years,” he said. “We know how to practice. We know what the expectations are. We can’t allow the fact that this is our first practice as an excuse to not go out and fly around. We need to go out and practice like a veteran team, like a veteran staff, and like a veteran organization.”
They did just that on Monday afternoon at Holuba, running an extremely organized practice that featured non-stop action all over the field. The staff got right to work in its first chance to coach the Nittany Lions, pointing out mistakes, teaching techniques, and generally yelling their heads off as much as possible.
“They understand that when they hit the field they’re running,” Franklin said. “There is no walking on the field ever. I told them the first day that if you don’t know where you’re supposed to go or what you’re doing when the horn blows, then sprint in a circle until you figure it out.”
Unfortunately, the players didn’t literally run around in circles at today’s practice, but every drill seemed to feature plenty of running and the coaches were quick to point out players that weren’t going at full speed.
“Culture is about creating great habits and eliminating bad habits,” Franklin said. “That’s academically, socially, that is on the football field. So that’s what we’re really looking for. We’re looking for guys that are going to run around and compete and have fun. That’s one of the things I think is so important to find, players that can work extremely hard but can have fun and enjoy themselves.”
Ahead of the practice, Franklin again stressed his four core values, something that his staff had previously implemented while at Vanderbilt. Those values include a positive attitude, unrivaled work ethic, competing in everything that you do, and being willing to sacrifice.
“I hope you see [the core values]in practice today. I expect it to be the most competitive practice and environment you’ve ever seen,” Franklin said.
At his press conference, Franklin told the media that there have been some number and position changes on the roster already, despite having not yet seen the team in practice. The most notable changes were in the trenches as Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia have been moved from the defensive line to the offensive line. Franklin said that he noticed a lot of depth on the defensive side of things but that the team was thin up front on offense, prompting the switch.
Franklin also brought up his stance on contact in practice, essentially choosing to go the same way as Bill O’Brien, who used “thud” tackling. Penn State will now refer to it as “tag off” tackling, which he said is basically two-hand touch, “but in an athletic position. You’ve got to be able to legitimately say when you watch the tape that the guy would have made the tackle.”
Another notable topic came when Franklin was asked about the Blue-White game. He told the media that he’d “like to have a true game,” implying that the system that O’Brien implemented in which the offense and defense were pitted against each other on the scoreboard would be eliminated. “It’s hard to say that at this point because we’ll see where we’re at in 15 days,” he said. “But I think it’s more fun for the players [to have a true game]. I think it’s more fun for the fans.”