Penn State football held its opening press conference ahead of spring practice with an outlook for the weeks leading up to the Blue-White Game April 22.
James Franklin took to the podium to discuss position changes, replacing key players, and star participation in spring ball among other topics before the team hits the field for the first time officially in 2017.
Connor McGovern At Center
With the loss of 2016’s starting center and captain Brian Gaia, Penn State is searching for a replacement on a roster with either a lack of experience at the college level or a lack of experience at the position.
A similar position to what the team was in prior to last season, Franklin noted he’s looking to either transition a guard into the role — namely sophomore Connor McGovern — or Zach Simpson, a guard that already transitioned to be Gaia’s backup last season.
With an eye on getting returning starters on the field, Franklin might’ve tipped the edge to McGovern — who had nine starts last season.
“[W]e want to get as many returning starters on the field as possible [on the offensive line],” Franklin said. “So the best way to do that is by moving a guy like Connor McGovern in there to center. [Ryan] Bates is a guy that could do that, as well. I think what we’re looking at right now for the start of spring ball is having McGovern at center, having [Zach] Simpson at center. They are both guys that have done it before in practice and we feel like we can go out and practice well right from day one.”
The goal is to get guards and centers that can play both positions on the offensive line for Franklin’s squad.
Replacing Key Losses
Franklin iterated he’s not concerned with the team’s main losses, saying that his team is two-deep or three-deep on the depth chart in most spots. For the Nittany Lions, the departures are big names, but the number of returning players is what excites the fourth-year Penn State coach the most.
“Offensive stats kinds of returning: 99.2 percent of rushing yards returned. 72.8 percentage of receiving yards returned. 87.4 percent of scoring returns on offense,” Franklin said. “Defensively, 72.1 percent of tackles returned. 52.5 percent of sacks returned. 64.2 percent of tackles for loss returned. 71.4 percent of defensive turnovers returned. You know, so there’s a lot of returning production.”
As for the defensive end, Franklin’s excited to see middle linebacker Jason Cabinda emerge as one of the most experienced players on the roster with other returning stars Koa Farmer, and Manny Bowen — mentioning the opportunities created for guys like these with the injuries to Nyeem Wartman-White and Brandon Bell in recent years.
Offensively, there’s a solid core of experience and skill that can help fill the gap left by Chris Godwin’s departure.
“You look down the depth chart and you say, I’m really excited about these young players, and you want that at every position,” Franklin said. “You want a starter, you want a back-up that you feel like can get some reps and keep guys fresh, and also make sure that when he does play, that the production stays at a similar level.”
Saquon Barkley’s Spring Schedule
Barkley, similar to last season, will be limited during spring practice, along with Mike Gesicki, Jason Cabinda, and Marcus Allen.
“Now don’t get me wrong, they still need to get better,” Franklin said. “But they will probably have a little bit of a different practice model than other guys that are still trying to earn jobs and fight for a more significant role on the team. There’s a number of guys like that.”
Players Leaving The Team
Franklin named four players that are leaving the program to either transfer to another school — such as Noah Beh, who is reportedly heading to Delaware — or retirements — such as that from Adam De Boef and Brendan Bosnan. Also, the coach made it official that Antoine White left, which the defensive tackle tweeted with his intentions to transfer to Albany back in January.
“All those guys that are leaving left under good circumstances,” Franklin said. “They really have. There are different reasons for all of them and we are very appreciative of what they did with their time while they were here.”
Franklin originally predicted big things in his spring practice opening press conference last season, and is confident in what he has with this year’s squad, but with an added quality from last year’s success — experience.
“We have to take those experiences that we had last year, the Big Ten Championship game, the Ohio State game, the Rose Bowl,” Franklin said. “I remember going into that Big Ten Championship game last year, and that was a concern of mine, that Wisconsin had played in that game basically every year, and they had a bunch of players on their roster that had played on that stage and in that setting and in that type of game. And we had nobody.”
That won’t be the case for the Nittany Lions heading into this season. With a bulk of the roster returning, the pieces are there for success. However, Franklin acknowledged his team would have to rebuild some of its groundwork, as it does every season, and that all starts with spring practice.
“So now that we’ve had those experiences, to be able to use them, but also realize that none of the points from last year are going to carry over,” Franklin said. “None of the sacks are going to carry over. None of the wins are going to carry over. We have to recreate this team and there are some lessons we learned and there’s a foundation, but we have to recreate this team from the ground up.”