James Franklin, Coaching Staff Address Media
James Franklin took the podium at Beaver Stadium Thursday to discuss expectations for the upcoming season and the start of fall camp. Entering his third year at the helm, Franklin touched upon the team’s offseason improvements across the board.
“Excited about looking forward, not back. We’ve laid a really good foundation the last two years,” Franklin said. “We’re in position right now to have true competition at pretty much every position on our team.”
Franklin noted a few key areas in which his team as a whole has made impressive strides — namely in the weight room under the watchful eye of Dwight Galt.
“Our team’s strength index is up 12 points from 604-616.”
The Nittany Lions bumped up their testing numbers this summer, with the team average bench press and squat hovering at 350 pounds and the average power clean being 315.
Former tight end Adam Breneman announced Tuesday that he would be coming out of retirement to give his career another shot at UMass as a redshirt junior grad transfer.
“[I’ve] talked with Adam multiple times since he left the program. Adam had a number of injuries, as we all know; felt like his career was over,” Franklin said. “He tried politics for a couple months. I think if there’s anything that’s gonna bring you back to college, it’s politics.”
Defensive line is obviously an area of supreme importance during camp, as three of last year’s starters — Austin Johnson, Carl Nassib, and Anthony Zettel — are now playing on Sundays. Franklin offered a few bullet-point updates on defensive line coach Sean Spencer’s Wild Dogs.
“Parker Cothren’s leadership and experience is going to be critical. [Garrett] Sickels and [Evan] Schwan are ready to emerge as leaders of the group,” Franklin said. “Excited about what [Kevin] Givens and [Robert] Windsor did this summer…Antoine White and Curtis Cothran need to have great camps for us. Interesting to see what Thrift and Chavis bring to the table.
“I think Windsor’s the biggest defensive tackle we have based on the latest weigh-in yesterday.”
Penn State is in terrific shape in the defensive backfield, with perhaps the deepest pool of talent back there in over a decade. Competition to round out the two-deep will be a major area of focus during camp.
“[We’re] strong in the secondary despite losing two guys to graduation and the NFL. We’ve got eight guys coming back with a decent amount of experience,” Franklin said. “Who is the fourth corner and who is the fourth safety?”
The Nittany Lions will look to guys like Koa Farmer, Ayron Monroe, and Nick Scott to provide competition for the starters at safety, while Garrett Taylor and Amani Oruwariye will battle it out for the lion’s share of the backup reps at corner.
New offensive line coach Matt Limegrover inherited a seasoned group of veterans who have been through a lot over the past two seasons, to say the least, but there’s also a nice crop of youngsters ready to compete for playing time as well.
“We’re still at a point where we have to figure out who the best five will be,” Franklin said.
Franklin noted a slight change from spring ball, though, as redshirt junior Andrew Nelson is headed back to his old position on the opposite side of the line.
“We’re gonna start camp with Nelson at right tackle.”
New offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead took the podium next to discuss his quarterbacks and what he’s most excited about for his unit as a whole.
“I think, quite honestly, they’re both very similar in their skill set — both smart guys, both understand the game, and have a great foundation of offensive football,” Moorhead said. “Both guys have strong arms and can make all the necessary throws and both guys are a threat to run the ball.”
Moorhead also touched on the special traits that make sophomore Saquon Barkley so electrifying and fun to coach.
“He has all the tools necessary to be a superstar,” Moorhead said. “He has small-back skills in a big-back body. He can run by you, he can make you miss, he can run over you, he can hurdle you.”
Next to take the podium was special teams coordinator and running backs coach Charles Huff, who was immediately asked about entertaining the thought of Saquon Barkley returning kicks — from the perspective of both a special teams coach and running backs coach. “This is something we’ve discussed all summer. When you have a player with his playmaking ability — regardless of position — I think you have to look at multiple ways to get the ball in his hands,” Huff said. He went on to cite Penn State’s history of giving talented players the opportunity to make plays at a number of different positions, saying it’s a “risk/reward scenario.” Simply put, expect to see No. 26 doing what he does in a variety of ways next season.
When asked about the possibility of kickoffs — an integral portion of Huff’s coaching duties — being removed from college football, Huff remained confident in his team’s ability to do what’s necessary. “Whatever rule they give us, we’ll adjust,” Huff said of the NCAA.
After Huff’s brief availability, new defensive coordinator Brent Pry took to the podium to discuss his plan going forward with his linebacking corps, which will gladly return senior Nyeem Wartman-White, along with how he’ll replace the gaping hole left by departures of Zettel, Nassib, and Johnson along his line.
“You can look at it two ways,” Pry said. “To me, we’ve got some guys in that room who’ve trained and worked day to day to become some great defensive players. I think we’ve got great depth, but unproven depth. The roster we have at that position right now is the best its ever been.”
Pry preaches intrinsic leadership, and says he’s got plenty of leaders ready to take that next step — especially in linebacker Jason Cabinda. “You look back at 2014 with the job Mike Hull did for us. That’s the model,” Pry said. “Jason’s got some of those strengths in his command of the defense, and the awesome thing is Nyeem’s got some of those qualities.”
The coach said he expects plenty of competition at the inside linebacker spot, and the same goes for the defensive line as well. Standout lineman Kevin Givens is still raw, and according to Pry, he’s “got a lot of work to do.” Redshirt sophomore Torrence Brown is an “old head” who Pry feels very excited about. He said he’s ready for some of that unproven line talent to materialize as the regular season draws near.