James Franklin Talks New Offense, Quarterback Competition
The temperature is rising in State College, and you know what that means: spring ball.
Practice has officially commenced for the Nittany Lions, and James Franklin is looking to the positives while coming off a year with losses like Christian Hackenberg, Carl Nassib, and Austin Johnson. At Wednesday’s practice, Franklin delved into some tell-tale signs regarding where the team is headed as it prepares for April’s Blue and White Game.
Here are some of our biggest takeaways:
Franklin’s new offense is fast-paced.
Franklin is prepping his team for a new offensive system, which he admitted has looked a little sloppy at first. But that is expected going up against a strong defensive scheme that hasn’t changed much — and besides — practice just opening for the spring.
If the offense had to be described in one word, “fast” comes to mind. Franklin enjoys the versatility it brings to the team’s play and believes it will be an efficient way to test Big Ten defenses.
The up-tempo style also intrigues Franklin since it gives his players great conditioning and forces defenses to keep up with this stamina. “The other day in the indoor facility, Robert Windsor threw up all over the place in the middle of a series. I saw all the offensive guys eyes light up like ‘exactly, we got you know.’ I think its been good for everybody,” he said.
Junior wide receiver Daesean Hamilton also talked about the quick pace of the offense and the mentality it takes to execute it well. “As soon as that play is over, the whistle is blown and the referee spots the ball, the signals are going ahead and they’re signaling the next play. Now we’ve got to get back to the line of scrimmage as fast as possible and know what our assignment is. Like right then and there, be able to read coverages,” Hamilton noted.
The starting quarterback competition is In full-force.
It’s no secret that Franklin wanted the starting quarterback position to be a battle since Hackenberg left. As of now, there are two main players in the running for the starting job — redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley and redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens.
The new system supposedly fits the skill sets of McSorley and Stevens, who are both relatively versatile quarterbacks. The two have enjoyed equal reps with the first team, but Franklin did suggest that McSorley has looked more comfortable so far.
“I think Trace is a little bit more consistent right now. That’s expected because he’s been here a little bit longer and played a little bit more football. Although it’s a new system, he’s still more of a veteran, been on a college campus, understanding concepts, talking about concepts, talking about coverage, you know. Tommy’s still playing catch up in that perspective,” Franklin dished.
Carl Nassib might be gone, but defensive end is still a strength.
There is no shortage of quality on the weak side of the ball according to Franklin. He’s pleased with depth in this department and doesn’t see Nassib’s absence as a major problem moving forward. “Defensive end and safety are probably two of the positions on the defensive side of the ball that we feel really good about in terms of depth,” he said, “You look at [Garrett] Sickels has played a lot of football here. [Evan] Schwan’s played a lot of football. Torrence Brown’s played a lot of football.”
Franklin is confident about his offensive line.
The offensive line, arguably one of the most scrutinized areas of the team last season, has improved according to Franklin. He feels younger backups are pushing the veterans, and he said most of the positions are going to be battles, with the only real player standing out above the rest being tackle Andrew Nelson.
“I would say the rest of the positions are still pretty much a battle. But the good part is, kind of like we have a center, two guys we have playing football competing for a job. Or a guy that we thought about pulling the redshirts at the other positions, fortunately we were able to hold the redshirts. Now they’re able to play and legitimately push guys for their jobs,” Franklin said.
He expressed concerned about the mix of veterans and young products that could be lining up opening day against Kent State. “There is still a considerable age gap, you have a redshirt senior with a redshirt freshman behind him. You prefer to have a step in between of that, but it’s not a situation where guys are looking over their shoulders and no real threat is behind him.”
Penn State’s experience at running back and wide receiver will help young quarterbacks.
Saquon Barkley and co. came into camp looking pretty fresh and ready to make an impact. While concerns surround the inexperience at quarterback fester, Franklin looks to the veterans playing at running back and wide receiver for support.
“I think anytime you can hang your hat on something, that’s helpful. I think our receivers, they’ve gone from really young guys to vets. They play a lot of football now. At the running back position, Saquon obviously has made a bunch of plays. You feel like those two positions, it helps if you’re going to have a young quarterback.”
Wide receiver is a position Franklin feels there is great depth and many guys can fill in those slots. He wishes there was more depth in the backfield, but feels overall there are three guys who provide a different look yet still mesh well with the new offense.
Penn State still has a few weeks to work out the kinks of its new offensive system before the gates at Beaver Stadium open once again for the Blue and White Game. As far as Franklin is concerned, his team is right on schedule.