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Franklin Addresses Quarterback Competition, Managing Expectations At Spring Practice Press Conference

On the rainy Monday following spring break, James Franklin sat down with the press to offer insights on spring practice, including a look at the impending competition over who will fill the starting quarterback spot this fall. Regarding spring practice, Franklin said “these 15 days will give us a really good opportunity to see how much progress [the team has] made.”

Winter Workouts Mark Weight Improvements

Winter workouts provide time for players to work on their overall athletic abilities, focusing more on their bodies than their gameplay. With the assistance of “Bod Pod,” players are able to compare detailed analyses of their body compositions at different stages of the training program. Franklin highlighted the gains key players have made this off-season:

  • Saquon Barkley — 12 lbs. of muscle
  • Mark Allen — 5 lbs. of muscle
  • Ryan Buchholz — 10 lbs. of muscle
  • Christian Campbell — 12 lbs. of muscle
  • Irvin Charles — 16 lbs. of muscle
  • Alex Gellerstedt — 20 lbs. of muscle
  • DaeSean Hamilton — 20 lbs. of muscle
  • Shareef Miller — 17 lbs. of muscle
  • Brendan Mahon — 20 lbs. of muscle
  • Antoine White — 12 lbs. of muscle

“Bod Pod is something that we’ve really embraced with our training staff,” Franklin said, “in making sure that we’re not just gaining weight, but that we’re gaining the right type of weight.” Barkley made waves earlier this offseason when he set a program record by power-cleaning 390 lbs. and established himself as the team’s fastest player with a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash.

The Fall’s Starting Quarterback

With Christian Hackenberg on to the NFL, perhaps the biggest question for the upcoming season is who will become Penn State’s next starting quarterback. Although Trace McSorley had the opportunity to showcase his skills in the TaxSlayer Bowl, it’s still unclear whether fans will see McSorley, Tommy Stevens, or early enrollee Jake Zembiec at the helm of the Nittany Lions this fall.

Franklin indicated that coaching staff has not yet made any preliminary decisions, explaining “Coach Galt has matched Trace and Tommy up in everything and they are fiercely going at each other. They have a lot of respect and really like each other, but they are truly competing in everything…Jake Zembiec is right there with them as well trying to prove his opportunity.”

“The bowl game was important for Trace because he actually got into a game at a point where it hadn’t already been decided and made some plays,” Franklin said of McSorley. “He showed some fire on the sidelines and had fun doing it.”

“From a leadership standpoint, the guys really like [Tommy] on our team,” Franklin added about Stevens. “If you talk to our players, he plays as fast as Trace on the field…he’s handled everything really well, and has embraced his role and his opportunity.”

Many factors will play into this decision, especially the player’s ability to lead the team. “Leadership is really important for us,” Franklin said. “We’re in a situation where we still don’t have many seniors, so we’re still working through that…the guys that have had the most success have taken ownership.”

Comparing the two older quarterback contenders, Franklin explained that Stevens and McSorley have a lot of similar traits, and they are both extremely productive on the field, but they have two different body types.

Regarding a timeline, Franklin described that the ideal situation would be to make a decision by the end of spring, allowing the quarterback to “take a hold of the team” throughout the summer, but made it clear that the coaching staff does not want to make a rash decision just because of that. “It wouldn’t surprise me if that goes to camp,” Franklin said, asserting that he wouldn’t hesitate to keep fans waiting for a decision until before the first game if necessary.

Offensive Line Potential

“If you look at the guys, to me, there is reason for hope,” Franklin said of the future of the Penn State offensive line. “This combination of player experience and coaching will bode well for us.” There were similar feelings around the line before last season, but this will be another year with a few returning starters and a new offensive line coach.

Franklin also emphasized the importance of having competition for top slots at every position throughout the program. “It changes things when you’re looking behind you and that guy has a legitimate chance to take your job if you don’t come to work every day,” Franklin said. “We have guys that have been marinating and waiting for their time.”

Next Steps for Saquon Barkley

When asked about the next steps in Saquon Barkley’s development as a player, Franklin asserted, “I think it’s the knowledge. Physically, you look at his size and strength and speed numbers, and they’re as good as anywhere in the country.”

Franklin described a common situation when players test faster than they play on the field simply because they think too much. “All of these testing numbers are wonderful, but how can we make sure that that translates onto the field with him and the scheme and the improvements that we’re making on the offensive line,” Franklin said. “It’s about really becoming a student of the game and mastering all those things so he can become fast and aggressive.”

Barkley rushed for 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns last season as a true freshman, and with a hopeful offensive line and his first spring practices, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for his sophomore year.

Odds & Ends

  • Franklin emphasized the progress of sophomore defensive end Colin Castagna, who “went to play volleyball first, transferred in, and is blowing up right now.” With a 10’4” broad jump and a 465 lb. bench press, Castagna has impressed Franklin, who weirdly said Castagna “looks like a Greek God. If I had a body like [Castagna}, I’d show up to the press conference with no shirt on.”
  • Franklin and the coaching staff will hold a Chalk Talk this Friday and Saturday with high school football coaches.
  • Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Ryan Monk is “the guy who I’ve got a man crush right now,” according to Franklin. “His work ethic, his attitude, his demeanor are unbelievable, and I’m really proud of him…he’s as driven and motivated as anyone I’ve been around.” Franklin is no stranger to man crushes, formerly professing his love for his Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews (currently with the Philadelphia Eagles), and he offered similar praise before last season to Carl Nassib. We all know how that turned out.
  • Franklin also mentioned that Ryan Bates’ “beard game is strong right now,” alluding to Bates’ maturation over winter training. “There’s a lot of excitement about what he’s going to bring to the table.”

Managing Expectations

“I love the fact that we have such high expectations,” Franklin said when asked about managing the expectations that fans have for the program. “It’s still our challenge moving forward because there’s still work to be done. It’s something to embrace when you’re at a place like Penn State.”

Franklin spoke of the challenge to create a balance between “building excitement for the direction of the program” and “educating about where we’re at, where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there.”

“Everybody’s ready to get back after all we’ve been through over the past five years,” Franklin stated. “We’re going there, but it doesn’t always happen at the pace we want it to happen…the only way we’re going to get where we’re going is all of us together.”

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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