‘All Those Guys Are In The Locker Room For A Reason’: James Franklin Confident In Penn State Football Wide Receiver Room

Just two weeks ago, Penn State football head coach James Franklin praised wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith for having a productive spring session while building relationships with offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki and wide receivers coach Marques Hagans.

“He’s had a good spring,” Franklin said on April 2. “We need him to have a big year and we expect him to have a big year.”

On Monday, the wide receiver announced he was entering the transfer portal.

Lambert-Smith was the Nittany Lions’ top receiver last year, leading the team in both receptions and receiving yards but saw his production drop off significantly toward the end of the season. The Nittany Lion recorded zero yards in two of Penn State’s last three games and only had two catches during the span.

During the media viewing session last week, Lambert-Smith wasn’t on the field with the team. Then, he was nowhere to be found during Saturday’s Blue-White Game after reports surfaced saying he was considering entering the portal. By the time Franklin got to the Beaver Stadium media room on Saturday, it appeared the coach had moved on.

“I’m really happy to talk about the guys that played in the game today and guys that are in the locker room,” Franklin said. “Besides that, I don’t have a whole lot to say.”

The next wide receiver on Penn State’s 2023 receiving list was Dante Cephas, who left the program shortly after the Peach Bowl. This season, it’ll be up to Trey Wallace, Kaden Saunders, Liam Clifford, and Ohio State transfer Julian Fleming to pick up the slack.

Last year’s wide receiving corps was a question mark, which ended up as a disappointing group that never established the passing game as a consistent threat. Now, Penn State will face the same uncertainty heading into the 2024 season.

Despite losing Lambert-Smith and Cephas, Franklin has the talent of four-year Ohio State veteran Fleming, along with Wallace, who only appeared in eight games last year after serving two stints on the injury report. Wallace had a strong Blue-White showing, recording five catches for 72 yards. Fleming only managed one catch for five yards but was the top wide receiver on a Blue squad led by quarterbacks Beau Pribula and true freshman Ethan Grunkemeyer.

Just like last year, Franklin is looking for more consistency out of his receivers. After spring practices, he thought the group was on the right track.

“I have all the faith in the world in our wide receivers in terms of talent and ability,” Franklin said. “We’ve got to take the next step and I saw them take the next step this spring.”

Since the start of the spring session, Franklin has been happy with the preliminary results from the group but noted he’s still waiting for someone to separate themselves from the rest of the room. Even though it was only a spring scrimmage, Wallace showed he has the potential to be a reliable threat in the air attack for the upcoming season — if he can stay healthy.

Regardless, Franklin believed that the room was in good hands. According to quarterback Drew Allar, Fleming has been a mature presence in the locker room and has pushed the position group to get better throughout the spring. As Franklin noted, though, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

“We’ve got to make plays against all the people on our schedule,” Franklin said. “All those guys are in the locker room for a reason. We have belief in those guys.”

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About the Author

CJ Doebler

CJ is a junior double majoring in broadcast journalism and finance. He is from Northumberland, Pa, just east of State College. CJ is an avid Pittsburgh sports fan, but chooses to ignore the Pirates' existence. For the occasional random retweet and/or bad take, follow @CDoebler on Twitter. All complaints can be sent to [email protected].

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