Franklin Exudes Confidence At Big Ten Media Day
Year one: 7-6.
Year two: 7-6.
After two years of exceeded expectations given the circumstances, James Franklin’s clock begins now. Entering a pivotal year three, Penn State’s head man understands the importance of the coming season — pertaining both to him and the future of the program.
Franklin wasted no time selling his program as he took the podium in Chicago for Big Ten Media Day. “Obviously right now at Penn State, just finishing up spring ball and summer workouts, really really proud of our players,” Franklin said. “Right now there’s an excitement for the season. All the hard work and the preparation that they’ve put in, there’s an anticipation and a confidence.”
Considering the turbulence the program endured, and seeing how those within weathered the storm, it’s easy to see why the ever-optimistic Franklin would speak so highly of his guys ahead of 2016. But there are also some tangible reasons for the coach’s brimming confidence; James Franklin has his scholarships back.
After beginning with nine scholarship linemen, Franklin says he’s up to 17 — proving just how far the program’s come since his arrival in Happy Valley. The team’s total number — which has been the primary scapegoat for Penn State’s recent failures — is up to 85. This might be Franklin’s third year at the helm, but the coach sees it as “year one” given that he finally can work with a full roster. “Across the board — running back is a perfect example of the competition and depth that we’re starting to build,” Franklin said. “Everyone talks about Saquon Barkley — and people should be talking about him — but I think Mark Allen’s another guy we have a lot of confidence in. Andre Robinson is another guy we have a lot of confidence in, and then obviously Miles Sanders coming in.”
Questions surrounding redshirt senior linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White were the first to be asked, and with good reason. While Jason Cabinda filled the role of “defensive quarterback” admirably, the Lions were clearly missing a key component of its front seven, both from a physical and a leadership standpoint. “Having him back is going to be significant for us…is he going to be limited in camp? Yes, because it’ll be his first live action since the opening game last year,” Franklin said. Easing Wartman-White “back into the process” will be key for the linebacker’s health and will ensure that he returns to the lineup without a hitch.
JF on Moorhead: “It’s one thing to have one year where your numbers are impressive [as a HC]. It’s another to do it a few years in a row.”
— Onward State (@OnwardState) July 25, 2016
After discussing his relationship with new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, Franklin touched on his plan of attack in terms of improving on the 7-6 number he’s averaged during both season at the helm, along with the work he’s done with damage control after more Sandusky allegations surfaced within the last few months.
“On defense, I feel really good about linebacker and the secondary, but obviously we lost three big time defensive linemen to the NFL,” Franklin said. The three players in question — Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson, and Anthony Zettel — played a big part in maintaining the program’s success on the defensive side of the ball, and replacing their substantial production will be a challenge moving forward.
Franklin was rather colloquial when discussing his plan regarding Sandusky damage control on the recruiting trail, primarily because he’s already used to it by now. “You have to be prepared and you have to have a plan,” Franklin said. “It’s kind of a unique situation because you’re having conversations about things that you, your staff, and your players had nothing to do with, and happened over 40 years ago.” Franklin said that transparency is the key, both with recruits themselves, the families, and whoever else may have questions for the man tasked with leading the program past the darkness that still casts its shadow with every new report. “You get on the phone, you reach out to people, and you answer questions.”
Franklin may overuse the term “excited,” but between him and the fanbase, the feeling’s mutual. He’s got a stable full of dynamic running backs, a deep receiving corps, and the depth that’s evaded him since he took the job. Nobody truly knows how successful Franklin will be in year three, but there’s no reason not to feel a little excitement.