James Franklin Outlines Key Position Groups Ahead Of Blue-White Weekend
James Franklin has already confirmed that this year’s Blue-White adaptation will be more of a practice than any sort of game.
The Nittany Lions won’t have the traditional split rosters face off against each other, but there will still be an opportunity for plenty of players to make important jumps. From two inexperienced, talented quarterbacks that need reps to a group of young running backs, there’s no shortage of storylines to watch out for when the team makes its return to Beaver Stadium Saturday.
This weekend’s practice won’t be televised, and freshmen will be the only fans in attendance. With that, let’s take a look at what Franklin had to say this week about some of his most talked-about position groups.
On Running Backs
It’s no secret that Noah Cain is the storyline of this group. After a promising freshman campaign in which the Louisiana native reached pay dirt eight times, he went down with a season-ending leg injury just a few minutes into the Indiana game.
Just a few days ahead of spring ball, Franklin and the rest of the coaching staff confirmed that Cain will get “some work” in these few weeks. As Penn State now approaches its final spring practice, Franklin said he’s pleased with the sophomore rusher’s progress.
“Noah has been able to go,” Franklin said. “Not full-go. Not in live settings. But he’s getting reps. In my mind, he’s probably a bit further ahead than I anticipated him being. The reps [that he’s been able to get] have been good.”
While Cain went down early and Journey Brown missed the entire campaign with a career-ending heart condition, the load fell to Devyn Ford, Caziah Holmes, and Keyvone Lee. As just a sophomore, Ford was suddenly the most experienced player in the group.
Lee ended up pacing the group with 438 yards on the ground and four scores, but Ford was close behind with 274 yards and three touchdowns. Now entering his third season in Happy Valley, Ford is expected to take the next step as spring ball finishes up.
“Devyn Ford has shown flashes, but I think as a group, in general, we still need to be a little more consistent,” Franklin said. “I think there’s still a lot left in the tank at that position, and even with Devyn…You could make the argument, that’s also exciting because they’ve shown flashes.”
“I’m seeing Devyn do good things more often and more consistently, but still not where we need it to be,” Franklin continued.
After a 2020 season in which Ja’Juan Seider’s group was forced to take its lumps, the Nittany Lions now suddenly have an embarrassment of riches at the position. Outside of a talented Cain, Ford, and two promising freshmen, Penn State also welcomes Baylor transfer John Lovett. After four seasons in Waco, the New Jersey native comes to Happy Valley with 1,673 rushing yards and 18 total touchdowns.
Penn State’s backfield is interesting at the moment, as a battle is also developing at the quarterback position.
Sean Clifford hardly had a grand sequel to his 2019 season this past fall, and with just two scholarship quarterbacks beside him, there’s plenty of chatter about the group.
Franklin and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich have already made it clear that redshirt freshman Ta’Quan Roberson and true freshman Christian Veilleux have a clear opportunity to battle for snaps. The head coach made the clear again Wednesday.
“Obviously losing some quarterbacks, it’s put Ta’Quan and Veilleux in situations where they’re getting a bunch of reps and got a lot of responsibility,” Franklin said. “That work, not only thing spring, but also going into the summer is going to be really important. Not only do we feel good about our starter, but also, clearly the backup.”
Franklin reiterated that the Nittany Lions will be open to grabbing talent in the transfer portal in what he sees as two more “phases” of activity.
“For us, pretty much at every position, we’re gonna be open to it,” Franklin said. “I think there’s gonna be two more waves. You’re gonna have a post-spring ball transfer portal situation as well, and you may have one even right before the season starts…We’re gonna constantly stay aware of it.”
On The Secondary
Franklin noted early in his post-practice availability that he’s been seriously impressed by the secondary as a whole.
“I thought we had a chance to be good, but the additions of Johnny Dixon and [Kalen King] have changed things,” Franklin said. “I think we got a lot more guys that we can play with and win with.”
Dixon comes to Happy Valley by way of transfer from South Carolina. Over the course of two seasons as a defensive back for the Gamecocks, Dixon made 37 total tackles, deflected five passes, and forced two turnovers.
As a recruit out of Tampa, Florida, Dixon even made an official visit to Happy Valley in 2018 for the White Out against Ohio State, according to 247Sports. The young cornerback now adds a ton of depth to a position group that already boasts talent in Keaton Ellis, Joey Porter Jr., and Tariq Castro-Fields, among others.
King comes to Happy Valley as an early enrollee alongside his brother, linebacker Kobe King. Franklin described the four-star cornerbcack as “probably the most advanced freshman” he’s seen at Penn State.
On The Offensive Line
After a lack of spring ball handicapped Phil Trautwein in his first season as Penn State’s offensive line coach, Franklin has been pleased with the group’s development this spring.
“A combination of how we’ve recruited, and I think Coach Trautwein’s just done a really good job,” Franklin said. “He’s got really strong relationships with those guys. They’re always at his house for dinner. They’re always going fishing.”
“I think a lot of his success was based on technique and fundamentals…Those same lessons that allowed him to play in the NFL, for probably longer than he should’ve, he’s able to use with the guys,” he continued.
With Will Fries and Michal Menet off chasing spots in the NFL, much of the onus will now fall on players such as Rasheed Walker and Mike Miranda to lead the group.
“I think they have a chance to take a step from last year and really start to develop into one of the strengths on our team,” Franklin said.
Other players who are likely being depended on to have impressive springs are Caedan Wallace, Juice Scruggs, Des Holmes, and Anthony Whigan. Franklin also noted that redshirt sophomore Bryce Effner has had an impressive spring and even showed out by getting some reps at center.
“The light has really come on for him. He creates position flexibility at tackle, guard, and center,” Franklin added.
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“If they make a mistake, it’s not a failure unless you don’t try again.”
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