News & Notes From James Franklin’s Opening Spring Ball Press Conference
Spring ball is here.
Penn State football has begun its preparation for the 2023 season with the start of spring practices. There’s definitely a buzz around the program among fans, as many anxiously await to see former top-ranked quarterback recruit Drew Allar finally take the reigns of the Nittany Lions.
Still, there were plenty of other topics that James Franklin covered in his spring ball press conference, including depth at multiple positions, the hiring of a defensive line coach, and more.
On Hiring Defensive Line Coach Deion Barnes
Franklin had nothing but good things to say about Barnes during Tuesday’s press conference. The team announced Barnes’ promotion to defensive line coach Monday night, a decision that was made earlier that day, Franklin said.
“That literally was decided yesterday,” Franklin said Tuesday. “Deion found out yesterday, our team found out yesterday. So that’s not like an old videotape that you guys are just getting.”
The head coach raved about some of the things that stuck out to him about Barnes’ coaching ability, such as his relationship with players and alignment with team values. Franklin told the media that his collegiate and coaching experience at Penn State are strengths of his, among others.
“He’s played for really good D-line coaches,” Franklin said. “He’s coached for very good D-line coaches, his time with Brent Pry I think was valuable, his time with Manny Diaz was valuable. And then I think the other thing, that kind of goes into this as well, is his time of being a trainer.”
On The Quarterback Situation
Many are expecting Drew Allar to be QB1 by the time the season rolls around, but Franklin clarified that there will still be an open competition at the quarterback position. He also emphasized the importance of giving each of the three quarterbacks equal reps throughout spring ball.
“I think that’s really important in spring ball, that not just at the quarterback position, but at all the positions that everybody’s getting an opportunity to compete and develop, just like we try to do at the beginning of training camp,” Franklin said.
He even said that there could be some situations where Beau Pribula gets more reps than Allar to be able to “take advantage of [Pribula’s] skill set. But, for now, there will just be three reps split evenly between the quarterbacks.
On Depth At Defensive Line
Penn State lost PJ Mustipher on its defensive line, but Franklin still feels good about the depth the Nittany Lions have at that position. Hakeem Beamon, Zane Durant, and Dvon Ellies will all return at defensive tackle, while Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaac, and Dani Dennis-Sutton will return at defensive end. With those types of names highlighting Penn State’s front seven next season, it’s hard not to feel good about it.
However, Franklin said that he would like to work on the defensive line’s size.
“I would like us to be a little bit bigger at D-tackle,” Franklin said. “I think there are some games where we’re able to get away with it because of our athleticism and our quickness, but to win the way we want to win, we need both, we need size and quickness and athleticism.”
Similar to his postgame press conference after getting blown out at Michigan this past season, Franklin said that many players “think they’re Aaron Donald” and repeatedly stated that getting size is important for that position group.
On The Tight Ends
With Brenton Strange departing for the 2023 NFL Draft, all eyes will shift to Tyler Warren and Theo Johnson at tight end, but Franklin mentioned that fans can see Khalil Dinkins and Jerry Cross get some playing time, as well.
On the other hand, it’s unclear where freshman Mega Barnwell will play, as he is currently listed at 269 pounds on the roster.
“We were very transparent with Mega from the beginning,” Franklin said. “We had conversations about position flexibility, whether it was D-line, whether it was tight end, whether it was O-line, and he was open to that as long as he was going to be given the opportunity to come in and compete at tight end.”
However, Franklin is still satisfied with the chance to create depth at tight end, unlike last season.
“One of the things I do really like about this group is we got a chance to have more depth where last year if we had an injury or two at tight end, we had to really get away from some of our packages,” Franklin said. “I think these guys are going to allow us to have the depth that we’re not really worried about losing a package based on not having enough proven versatile tight ends.”
On The Wide Receivers
One position for Penn State that doesn’t have as much depth is wide receiver. Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley’s departures certainly created a few holes. Franklin said he thinks there’s enough talent in the room, but it’s not clear who has separated himself as the No. 1 wide receiver yet, or even the No. 2 or No. 3.
“I think the potential is there,” Franklin said. “We’ve got to go earn it and we’ve got to go show it… I think the biggest word for me is consistency. And that’s not just at wide receiver, that’s at every position. Pretty much everybody in that room is there for a reason. They have the ability to do it and they have shown flashes. It’s about consistency.”
KeAndre Lambert-Smith headlines the returning wide receivers, along with Trey Wallace, Omari Evans, and Florida State transfer Malik McClain. It is possible that redshirt freshman Kaden Saunders can break his way into the starting lineup, or even Liam Clifford. We probably won’t know who will be starting at wide receiver until the team’s first game against West Virginia.
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