Players, Coaches Agree: Extra Practices Benefit Present and Future

Less than two weeks before Penn State’s Bronx showdown with Boston College, James Franklin hasn’t started specific pregame preparation in practice.

Instead, he’s more focused on developing players, referencing a “spring ball mentality.” Franklin’s not worried; the preparation will come shortly. Now, it’s time to rest up, and refocus on the fundamentals.

“We haven’t gotten to the point where we’ve started game-planning,” said Franklin at Penn State’s Pinstripe Bowl Media Day at Beaver Stadium. “Now we’re in program development, which is like a spring ball mentality where we’re going good against good in practice and let the young guys get reps in practice.”

This philosophy is similar to one that Franklin applied earlier this season as he juggled concluding preseason training camp and transitioned into Central Florida preparations. Ten days before the Croke Park Classic, Franklin also said he hadn’t truly started tuning up for the Knights. It worked out just fine: The Nittany Lions outlasted their foes in Ireland, while collecting 511 yards of total offense.

Franklin listed numerous benefits to the extra practices, of which he said he would allot 80 percent at home and the rest at Yankee Stadium. “They’ve been very productive,” he said. “It’s been great to see guys on scout teams to now get legitimate reps in practice. We’ll go five reps with the first teams, four reps with the [second teams], three reps with the [third teams].”

Senior linebacker and team MVP Mike Hull echoed similar sentiments, suggesting the practices not only help now, but pave the foundations for a successful immediate future. “I’ve seen a lot of young guys get a lot better and really confident,” he said. “I think its going to be great for the future of the program.”

Franklin also noted that Penn State only had 41 scholarship players available for its regular season finale against Michigan State, due to injuries and redshirts. This new-found time allows the hobbled Nittany Lions to recover physically. “Getting some of those guys healthy into the game plan has been real helpful as well.”

While the extra reps will aid Penn State into the next season, it provides logistical challenges for Franklin, who is in the middle of prime recruiting season. “I’m trying to balance two full-time jobs,” said Franklin — one handling his team in State College, the second searching for new talent to join his program in the next several years.

Earlier last week, Franklin was in Connecticut in the morning visiting recruits’ high schools, then flew back in the afternoon for practice. Following practice, he again hopped on a plane to Connecticut to complete in-home visits. “It’s been fun,” he said. “It’s been exciting.”

As Franklin navigates the Northeast, coordinators and graduate assistants have taken the responsibility of leading practices back at Holuba Hall. It’s given them a good chance to reinitiate themselves with talent that’s redshirted this season and couldn’t benefit from significant reps during the time constraints of the regular season.

Special teams coordinator Charlie Huff noted that freshman Joe Julius will likely take over Sam Ficken’s position as placekicker. “He has done a good job of getting better each day,” said Huff. “The biggest thing for specialists, as you know, is consistency.”

Bob Shoop’s defense is swimming in talent, and extra repetition has only reinforced that notion. “To watch Amani Oruwariye have a good practice out there, and Daquan Worley, watching those guys, it’s exciting,” he said. “Refamiliarize yourself with how good those guys really are.”

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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