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James Franklin Optimistic In Penn State Football Wide Receiver Room Heading Into Spring Practice

During Penn State football’s 2023 campaign, it was evident last season that the wide receiver corps was Penn State’s weakest position group on the team. The Nittany Lions, who struggled to consistently hit the deep ball and lacked explosive plays, ranked 97th in the country in plays over 20 yards.

With the start of spring practice for Penn State, James Franklin said that phenomenon was an issue of the past.

In Drew Allar’s first season as Penn State’s starting quarterback, he struggled to eclipse 2,500 passing yards and finished 55th in the country in that category. Wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith, who will return for his redshirt senior season, led Penn State in receiving with 673 yards, followed by tight ends Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren, running back Nick Singleton, and wide receiver Dante Cephas.

Cephas has since transferred to Kansas State, and with Johnson heading to the NFL, only three of the top-five pass catchers from last season are returning.

However, Penn State has a new offensive coordinator in Andy Kotelnicki from Kansas, wide receivers coach Marques Hagans is back for his second season, and the Nittany Lions have added depth and experience at the position through the transfer portal with the addition of Julian Fleming.

As a Buckeye, Fleming recorded 79 receptions for 963 yards and seven touchdowns in his four seasons in Columbus while surrounded by a slew of NFL talent like Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Marvin Harrison Jr.

“He’s brought an element of experience and maturity that I think has been really good. He approaches things the right way since he stepped on campus,” Franklin said of Fleming. “We needed to make sure we had enough competition at every single position to bring out the best, not only in [the wide receivers] but also us as a team. I think Julian’s helped with that.”

Franklin also said he’s satisfied with the talent in the receiver room as a whole, as was evident in Fleming being the lone transfer addition at the position.

“I didn’t really feel like we needed to go out and do a whole lot in the transfer portal,” Franklin said. “You look at our guy’s athletic numbers, testing numbers — I think it’s as good as anywhere in the country.” 

Mehki Flowers is another new face in the receiver room, as Franklin said he and his father decided at the end of last season to make the switch from safety to wide receiver. Flowers was recruited as a two-way player, and because of that, Franklin said he is comfortable with the position change.

“He was an explosive athlete on both sides of the ball with a ton of talent and ball skills,” Franklin said. “We were comfortable with it because we recruited him in a way that we felt like he can help and play either side of the ball.”

Explosiveness is what the offense needs, and with Kotelnicki as the new offensive coordinator, Franklin seemed optimistic about the Nittany Lions’ improvement from last season to the next.

“I think some of the things that we can do to complement the run game and the play-action pass is to create explosive plays to open the field up and make them defend the whole field,” Franklin said. “It’s a combination of…what they were able to do at Kansas and what we were able to do in the last couple of games. Play action pass, specifically, motions, chips, formations, bunches, stacks, and things like that to make it more challenging for people in man coverage.”

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About the Author

Mitch Corcoran

Mitch is a junior broadcast journalism major from Johnstown, PA. He is a big Pittsburgh sports fan and in his free time he likes to listen to music, play video games, and rewatch old football games. He also loves Seinfeld, Star Wars, bucket hats, and Dua Lipa. If you want Justin Herbert propaganda or random sports content, follow him on Twitter/X @MitchCorc18 or email [email protected]

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