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Key Takeaways From James Franklin’s Week One Press Conference

James Franklin met with the media for his extended availability Tuesday ahead of Penn State football’s season opener at Wisconsin.

During his 40-minute presser, Franklin discussed everything from personnel changes, depth chart “specifics,” and the Nittany Lions’ talented week one opponent. As he and the rest of the group prepare for the most highly anticipated season opener in recent memory for the Nittany Lions, here’s a look at some of the key points of the press conference:

On Not Releasing A Depth Chart

For the first time in his tenure at Happy Valley, Franklin and his staff will not publicly release a week-to-week depth chart this season. The team announced this decision in a media advisory on Monday, but the head coach cleared the air during his presser the following day.

According to Franklin, it’s really as simple as the fact that “it didn’t make sense” for the Nittany Lions to do it this season.

“We’ve always released a depth chart. I really don’t have a strong opinion either way,” Franklin said. “There’s been multiple schools in the conference that haven’t been  releasing it for a number of years. This year, we found out that Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Purdue either were not releasing it or were  thinking about not releasing it, so it just didn’t make sense for us to do it if others weren’t.”

Franklin added that if any opponent does already have a press release out, it may save some time for the coaching staff when they begin the early stages of preparations. With this in mind, the Nittany Lions decided not to give out any extra information this season.

On Key Position Battles/Changes

There won’t be a depth chart, but Franklin did manage to clear up some high-profile position battles Tuesday afternoon.

As for the situation under behind center, the expectation over the last few months has been that Ta’Quan Roberson, not true freshman Christian Veilleux, will be Sean Clifford’s back up. After being pressed on that roster spot over the past few weeks, Franklin finally cleared up that question.

“There really hasn’t been a whole lot of conversation,” Franklin said. “I sit in the quarterback meetings every  single day and one guy is taking 90 percent of the reps with the ones. Ta’Quan is taking 90 percent of the reps with the twos and Christian [Veilleux] is taking 90 percent of the reps with the threes.”

The head coach added that Roberson, who only has one pass attempt over two seasons in Happy Valley, “has done some really nice things” in camp.

“For a while there, his attempts without an interception was ridiculously high,” Franklin said. “He had thrown a bunch of balls without turning the ball over. The ball jumps off his hand.”

The challenge for Roberson is now to become more confident with his pre-snap routine. That will best be taught during in-game situations, something Franklin and the coaching staff would love to get more of this season for the third-year signal-caller.

As for who will block for those quarterbacks, the left guard spot has been a highly discussed position along the offensive line. On Tuesday, Franklin stated that redshirt senior Anthony Whigan and Harvard transfer Eric Wilson will split time at the spot.

“Whigan has been with us for a while and has really had the right attitude and the right approach and has worked his tail off,” Franklin said. “Eric is a young man who transferred in and I think  it was an adjustment when he first got here but continues to get better. They will both play. They’ll both play on Saturday.”

On defense, the head coach noted that after being a “rotational guy” as a true freshman, sophomore Curtis Jacobs will be a starter at linebacker. Franklin also confirmed that Jesse Luketa will split time between defensive end and linebacker.

Franklin noted that there will be weeks where Luketa will play more defensive end than linebacker, and vice versa, but he’ll be needed at both spots throughout the year.

“He has shown that he’s able to handle it. He’s extremely smart, extremely football smart,” Franklin said. “I  think Coach Pry does a really good job of teaching concepts, the big picture at the linebacker position, which I think helped his transition to defensive line.”

On Noah Cain’s Return

There’s plenty of talent in Penn State’s running back room, but it’s hard for any of those players to match the hype that Noah Cain carries entering his junior season.

The Louisiana native burst onto the scene as a freshman alongside Journey Brown in 2019, but fans were well-aware of his absence in 2020 after a lower-body injury cut his season short before it even started. However, Cain is now ready to go after nearly a year’s worth of rehab.

“Noah played really well as a freshman and come the end of that season was playing maybe as efficient as maybe any running back in the country,” Franklin said.

That player is still there despite the injury, however, as Franklin feels Cain’s injury only made him mature even more as a player.

“I know when the game is taken away from you, you appreciate it even more, Franklin added.

The head coach expects Cain to have a “really good game” for the Nittany Lions this weekend along with an impressive season.

On Opening At Wisconsin

Wisconsin will clearly be the toughest season opening test of James Franklin’s career at Penn State. The Nittany Lions haven’t opened with a Big Ten opponent during his tenure here, let alone one that’s ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll.

This isn’t Akron or Kent State, and the Nittany Lions understand that.

“Obviously having Wisconsin as an opening game is different than I think the way college football normally starts out. I think that was a big motivator and driver for us all offseason,” Franklin said. ” We don’t typically put a countdown clock up of our first game… But we thought it was important to put that up in our facility all summer and all training camp. So that’s been up there ticking down.”

Outside of playing against a rowdy Badger crowd at Camp Randall Stadium, the Nittany Lions will need to deal with a challenging defense all day. Wisconsin’s unit allowed just 17.4 points per game last season, and led the Big Ten with just 299.9 yards allowed per game.

If nothing else, Penn State will learn a lot about its offense this weekend. Franklin explained that he’s got plenty of respect for defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and the Badgers, but is also excited about some of the playmakers on his end.

“I think with the experience that we have up front, with the experience  that we have at tight end, running back and quarterback, that we have some opportunities to take advantage of some things,” Franklin said

More specifically, he mentioned Jahan Dotson, Parker Washington, and KeAndre Lambert-Smith as players that could seriously open things up against a tight defense. However, the most important battle will be up front, as Penn State’s offensive line will be tested all day.

“It’s interesting that they’re not overly high when it comes to sacks, but you feel them,” Franklin said. “They do  a great job of pressuring the quarterback and feeling him in the pocket.”

Outside of scheme preparation against a capable conference opponent, the Nittany Lions have tried to model each and every step of this weekend’s contest. According to Franklin, no stone has been left unturned in how his team is preparing for Camp Randall Stadium.

“Last week, we scrimmaged at the exact same time as it will be at Wisconsin. We just try to  cover as much as we possibly can. We spend a lot of time talking about situational football,  overing all those topics in detail,” Franklin said. “You don’t ever truly know until you step out into that environment.  The more veteran players you have helps with that.”

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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