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

The sun is shining, the weather is warm, and Penn State football is back on the practice field.

After the completion of winter workouts, James Franklin took to the stand on Tuesday to give an update on his program ahead of the Nittany Lions’ first spring practice that afternoon. Franklin talked about a range of topics from the addition of new schemes to former Penn State star Saquon Barkley’s new contract.

On The Addition Of Three New Coordinators To The Program

With the departure of former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to Duke, the departure of former special teams coordinator Stacy Collins to Boise State, and the firing of former offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, Franklin was left with a complete overhaul of his team’s top assistants.

In their places, Franklin hired Tom Allen as defensive coordinator, Justin Lustig as special teams coordinator, and Andy Kotelnicki as the offensive coordinator.

Franklin said during winter workouts that the three coordinators were busy designing their new schemes for Penn State to work with during the upcoming practices. Ahead of spring practice, Franklin appeared pleased with how the process has gone.

“We’ve got a ton of work already put in up to this point but still a lot more work to do between now and West Virginia,” Franklin said. “But we can’t really look at it that way. We’ve got to approach it one day at a time and be as aggressive as we possibly can. All three have been awesome.”

During a media viewing period, Penn State’s new offensive scheme was on display. Franklin’s emphasized since Yurcich’s departure that he wants his new offense to focus more on explosive plays. During Tuesday’s practice, quarterback Drew Allar was seen practicing pitches to running backs as part of a run-pass-option play.

At this point, Franklin said, the team now has to learn the playbook and new styles of play.

“I think the most important thing is we have to get through the 15 practices, and the coaches and the players feel like we have a really good understanding of how we want to play, who we want to play in terms of our depth,” he said. “The issues are the same as they always are, but it’s magnified. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. We need to feel like coming out of spring ball that our players have a bunch of confidence and understanding of how we want to play in really all three phases.

“I do want to pat the coaches on their back because it’s been painstaking to go through the entire process.”

On The Wide Receiver Room

Throughout the 2023 season and after a loss to Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, Penn State’s wide receiver corps failed to produce for the team. Over the offseason, Franklin added Ohio State transfer Julian Fleming to his roster via the transfer portal, intending to boost the level of play in the room.

Franklin expressed confidence in his wide receivers on Tuesday and said the 2024 season would fare better for the group as a whole.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had really a talent issue at wideout,” Franklin said. “You look at our guys’ athletic numbers, testing numbers — I think it’s as good as anywhere in the country.

“I think Julian Fleming… He’s brought in elements of experience, maturity, that I think has been really good and has approached things the right way since he stepped on campus.”

On Abdul Carter’s Position Change

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the offseason has been the move for Abdul Carter from linebacker to defensive end. Carter earned starting reps as a freshman and a sophomore at linebacker but followed in the footsteps of former Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, who made the switch to defensive end in the NFL.

“I remember when we recruited Abdul, I thought he was a defensive end. And Abdul and [his] dad were adamant that he was a linebacker. The reality is we just wanted him in our program and knew he was going to be a really good player wherever he decided to play,” Franklin said.

Franklin noted Carter had been struggling to match a typical linebacker weight as he progressed through college, and he often weighed around 250 pounds, his present weight. Comparatively, most of Penn State’s linebackers are listed around 220-230 pounds on the team’s roster.

“This wasn’t really something from us. This was Abdul. He really wanted to make this move. I think for a number of reasons. We’re excited about it,” Franklin said. “I think this is going to be a win-win for everybody.”

On Drew Allar & Beau Pribula

While it wasn’t necessary, Franklin essentially confirmed on Tuesday that Allar would start for Penn State at quarterback next season, barring any major surprises.

Still, Franklin said there were things for Allar to work on, especially under Kotelnicki. The head coach said he was pleased with how Allar performed during the 2023 season, and he just wanted to see Allar put up strong numbers against every team Penn State plays and play with more consistency.

“It’s amazing. You look at his touchdown-interception ratio. I think it’s as good as anywhere in the country. Looking at the coverage, I don’t know if it necessarily felt that way,” Franklin said. “But I think for him and for all of us, I think it’s consistency — doing it week in and week out against all competition and being able to play that way the way we need him to play, the way he wants to play.”

Franklin also praised backup quarterback Beau Pribula, who played a significant number of snaps for Penn State as an alternative option on offense.

“I think we have a ton of respect in our program for Beau Pribula as well and what he’s going to be able to do,” Franklin said. “Not only to make our offense even more difficult to defend but also to be a complementary piece and a competitive piece with Drew.”

On Saquon Barkley

On Monday, reports emerged that Barkley, a former Penn State star at running back, signed a new, three-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles worth up to nearly $50 million. As Barkley’s collegiate head coach, Franklin said he spoke with Barkley on Monday night and offered insight as to what made Barkley worth $26 million in guaranteed compensation.

“I don’t follow it as closely maybe as some people do,” Franklin said. “I remember last year me, Saquon, and [my wife] having a lengthy conversation when he was going through the contract negotiation last year and was getting different advice and perspective on it.

“I think a lot of running backs are realizing this because you better bring more value than just as a running back you better be a leader in the locker room,” Franklin continued. “And as we all know, Saquon’s handled himself really well and has influence over the guys in the locker room. But then also in the passing game, you got to be able to make an impact in the passing game as well. I think he’s one of those backs that can be used in a lot of different ways.”

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a junior journalism major at Penn State and an associate editor at Onward State. He covers Penn State football and enjoys yelling on Twitter about Philadelphia/Penn State sports. He also listens to Mac Miller more than you. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. Please send all positive affirmations and/or hate mail toward him on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email ([email protected]).

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