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News & Notes From James Franklin’s Opening Spring Ball Press Conference

Penn State football head coach James Franklin met with the media Monday afternoon ahead of the team’s first spring practice to provide updates on his program for the first time in months.

With reporters back in the Beaver Stadium media room for the first time in over two years, Franklin started his press conference by congratulating Cael Sanderson and Penn State wrestling for their dominant weekend in Detroit. He later touched on several different topics, including the team’s quarterback situation, Mike Yurcich’s offense, and some newcomers who’ve arrived in Happy Valley.

On The Quarterback Situation

Unsurprisingly, Penn State’s quarterbacks were a hot topic at Franklin’s press conference. Sixth-year quarterback Sean Clifford is the Nittany Lions’ returning starter, and for the first time in his career as a starting gunslinger, he’ll have his offensive coordinator back for a second season.

Behind Clifford, there’s a plethora of young talent in the quarterback room. Redshirt freshman Christian Veilleux is the most experienced signal-caller other than Clifford, while true freshmen Drew Allar and Beau Pribula round out the group.

Evidently, there are only so many reps to go around when you’re rolling with three young quarterbacks, two of whom have never seen collegiate action. Franklin is aware of the rep issues the team may run into, as it’s often a reoccurring issue.

“When it comes to the young quarterbacks, that’s always the challenge in spring ball: How do you get everybody enough reps to be able to be evaluated, and also to be developed?” Franklin said.

However, Franklin outlined a general plan for how he expects the reps to be split up among the inexperienced signal-callers. Allar and Pribula are expected to go back and forth when it comes to getting reps with the third and fourth teams, which presumably leaves Veilleux with the second-team offense.

Additionally, Franklin left the door open for Allar and Pribula to earn reps with the twos in the future, with the same going for Veilleux with the ones.

Franklin also preached his usual slogans about encouraging competition within each position group, including quarterbacks. While fans may call for Veilleux or even Allar to start, Franklin said the team isn’t going to waste time worrying about external noise and will instead focus on getting better.

“I think the competition is going to bring out the best in everybody,” he said. “I think that’s going to be a really important part of this.”

Franklin did acknowledge that it’s “probably not” realistic for Clifford to be unseated as the starter, but he then turned his attention back to the excitement surrounding his young quarterbacks.

“Obviously, based on how we recruited them and the tools that they have, there’s a lot to be excited about,” Franklin said. “Whether that’s in the future or whether that’s sooner, that’s to be determined.”

On The Offensive Line

As spring ball gets underway, Franklin revealed the current starters on the offensive line, as well as the backups. From left to right, the starting line currently features Olu Fashanu, Landon Tengwall, Juice Scruggs, Sal Wormley, and Caedan Wallace.

All but Wormley, who missed last season due to injury, received playing time during the 2021 season. Wormley, however, was expected to start for the Nittany Lions last season before going down with the injury.

Jimmy Christ, JB Nelson, Nick Dawkins, Golden Israel-Achumba/Alex Furmanek, and Ibrahim Traore make up the current backup line from left to right. Furmanek, who’s listed as a defensive lineman on the official roster, was asked to move to the other side of the ball, and Franklin said he’s “super proud” of him for putting the team first.

Despite Franklin announcing his tentative starters, the situation is fluid and nothing is set in stone. After all, it’s still only spring ball. All the guys up front are expected to see an ample number of reps and compete.

“Those guys are going to get a bunch of reps,” Franklin said. “We don’t have great depth there this spring. So, it’ll be important that we do a great job of how we run practice so they get as many reps as possible, but we’ve also got to keep those guys healthy.”

On Mike Yurcich’s Offense

It’s no secret that Penn State’s offense struggled mightily at times during Mike Yurcich’s first season running the unit. An almost non-existent running game paired with an inconsistent passing attack plagued the Nittany Lions for most of the season.

When Penn State hired Yurcich in January 2021, the move was viewed by many as a home run hire due to his impressive resume and achievements at his prior stops. The expectations were high, and they simply weren’t met in season No. 1.

“Based on Mike’s credentials coming in and how the season played out, I think Mike [Yurcich] would be the first one to tell you that he had greater and higher expectations than the way things played out,” Franklin said.

However, Franklin is optimistic the Nittany Lions will right the ship offensively in the future.

“Moving forward, I am comfortable and I am confident. I know [Yurcich] is as well,” he said. “I think we can make significant strides this year.”

Improving the offense as a whole starts with developing a respectable run game. Franklin believes kickstarting the ground game will make the team more explosive and also take pressure off the offensive line and the quarterback.

On Penn State Football’s Newcomers

There will be plenty of new faces when Penn State football takes the field against Purdue on September 1. Quite possibly the most notable of the group is transfer wideout Mitchell Tinsley.

Tinsley posted a dominant 2021 season for Western Kentucky with 87 catches for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns. Franklin said Tinsley’s maturity and experience have been on full display early on in his Penn State career. Although Tinsley just arrived, Franklin thinks he can already be someone the young players can learn from.

“You’re talking about a guy who’s played a lot of college football,” Franklin said. “He’s got a pretty good understanding of not only offensive schemes but defensive schemes as well. He’s comfortable in his own skin, not only as a person but also as a player.”

Penn State’s two highly touted running back recruits from the Class of 2022, Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen, are with the team for spring ball, too. Franklin said Penn State is going to rotate running backs all spring, which should allow the two youngsters to get their feet wet early on.

“For me to say they’re going to get reps with the ones before practice No. 1, I’m not sure,” Franklin said. “We’ll just see how it goes. But, they’ll have some opportunities in live work to rotate in there. We’ll see how it plays out as the spring goes on.”

On the other side of the ball, Franklin raved about four-star Class of 2022 defensive tackle Zane Durant. Franklin said the Florida native hasn’t shown any signs of homesickness and has adjusted well in a short period of time.

“In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Kevin Givens,” he said. “Maybe not the biggest guy in terms of height, but powerful and strong and explosive. His testing numbers were really good.”

Additionally, Franklin said Durant has done a good job putting on weight and has a chance to push for playing time at defensive tackle as a true freshman, which the coach called “unusual.”

Defensive Updates

One of the forgotten storylines of Penn State football’s 2021 season was Adisa Isaac’s injury prior to the start of the season. The defensive end was set to step in and play a huge role, and his presence was badly missed.

While Isaac is still not back to 100% participation, the Nittany Lions expect him to do “a lot” this spring, and they think he’s close to being fully back.

“I think Adisa has a chance to be an impact player for us,” Franklin said. “I think he’s got a very, very bright future and long future.”

Another defensive lineman who didn’t play last year, Hakeem Beamon, will be called on this year to step up and make an impact. Back in September, Beamon was declared “unavailable” for the rest of the 2021 season by Franklin for an undisclosed reason.

Franklin expressed his satisfaction with Beamon’s offseason progress and is hoping he continues to make strides.

“We’ve seen tremendous things from Hakeem, and I’m proud of Hakeem,” he said. “He’s really growing up and maturing. I try to hug him and love on him as much as I possibly can. But, it’s also one of those fine lines, too. I want to make sure that Hakeem stays on the trajectory that he’s on right now.”

After playing safety for the majority of his Penn State career, Jonathan Sutherland enters his sixth and final season as a linebacker. He got a taste of the linebacker position at times during the 2021 season, and Sutherland will now start the “field backer” position for Manny Diaz’s defense, which will allow Curtis Jacobs to move over to the “Will” linebacker position.

“When we kind of looked at Sutherland and his career, he has played his best football when he’s been closest to the ball…I think, right now, Sutherland gives us the best ability to get our 11 best guys on the field,” Franklin said. “But, it also allows us to come play with what I think in 2022 works more times than not, which is more of a [defensive back] with linebacker traits than the opposite.”

The third linebacker spot is one of the big question marks of spring ball, according to Franklin. Sophomore Tyler Elsdon and redshirt freshman Kobe King will likely battle for the middle linebacker spot.

“It’ll be interesting to see what they both are able to do,” Franklin said. “They’ll get a ton of reps, and obviously, there’s tremendous opportunity for them to be evaluated.”

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is suddenly Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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