James Franklin Addresses the Media Prior to Idaho Game

It must be Week One when the depth chart comes out and when Penn State Head Coach James Franklin sits down to meet with the media. Here are some of the highlights of Franklin’s press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Dr. Lynch’s Lawsuit

Franklin opened up his media session by addressing yesterday’s news involving a lawsuit from Dr. Scott Lynch. As expected, Franklin rejected the claims by Dr. Lynch and stayed consistent with the message from the University, as well. Aside from that, Franklin had no further comment on the matter.

Injury Report, or Lack Thereof

– Franklin mentioned this year’s team is about as healthy as could be entering Week One. The only player mentioned as having any type of injury was offensive lineman Juice Scruggs. However, Franklin claims he expects Scruggs to mix into the offensive line rotation this season, so expect him to be back soon.

QB Competition

Sean Clifford won the quarterback competition this summer, beating out redshirt freshman Will Levis. Coach Franklin mentioned Levis handled the decision well, which is rarely seen in college football these days with the way quarterbacks transfer when they do not receive a starting role. But, there were several factors in naming Clifford the starting QB. Franklin mentioned his consistency in practice and his in-game experience as two notable factors in earning the job.

Finishing What They Start

– The 2017 and 2018 Nittany Lions had one thing in common, not finishing games strong. This has led to several close losses including both Ohio State games and both Michigan State games. James Franklin rattled off several ways he and his coaching staff have addressed this issue with the team. First, and foremost, they want their team not to play in close games by dominating from the start. But, if that is not the case, Franklin mentioned they have ways of mentally and physically preparing the team in practice for those moments. By recreating some potential late-game moments in practice, Franklin tries to build confidence in his team so they can handle the situation well on game day.

“Iron Sharpens Iron”

– Coach Franklin loves the way his offensive line is performing in practice, so far. He mentioned how he likes having a defensive line that he sees as one of the best in the Big Ten going against this group every day. Overall, he thinks the depth of the line is much better and that they have more linemen that are ready to play in games than last year, at this point. He expects the three guards, Steven Gonzalez, Mike Miranda, and CJ Thorpe to rotate and basically be interchangeable as starters. Then, although he has Rasheed Walker and Will Fries listed as firm starters, Franklin likes what he sees out of Des Holmes and figures he will play a big role this year, as well.

 

Running the Show

– On the depth chart, the running back group has four players with the “or” tag next to their name. Franklin confirmed Ricky Slade will get the start in the back field on Saturday, but all four running backs will play. Journey Brown and true freshmen, Noah Cain and Devyn Ford, will all split time in the back field. Coach Franklin insisted that whoever has the hot hand will play, and they will go by match-ups and styles when determining who will see the field.

Player’s Depth Charts

– Coach Franklin’s press conference went in a direction I am not sure he imagined it would go. When talking about his running backs, he mentioned a coaching technique introduced to him by cornerbacks coach, Terry Smith. That technique is having player’s create a depth chart. How it works is players have the ability to rank the players at their own positions. The player with the most first place votes is first string, the player with the most second place votes is second string, and so on and so forth. Each position group has different voting standards, as players may or may not vote for themselves. However, I would imagine since players can vote for themselves for team captain, that most position coaches will allow the players to vote for themselves in these rankings, as well. It is an interesting technique to utilize and Franklin mentioned more often than not that the players rankings align with the coach’s rankings. This talking point unexpectedly became the highlight of the press conference this afternoon.

Making Special Teams Special Again

– It is no secret Penn State struggled on special teams in 2018. Now, new special teams coordinator Joe Lorig will look to make major improvements in this aspect of the game. Franklin loves Lorig’s commitment to the job, citing he is a true special teams coach that is truly a special teams guy. The schemes from the past and the new schemes or Lorig have some subtle differences but more than anything, the management style of the special teams is different. Meetings and practices are a part of that may be the way the special teams group is better in 2019. Franklin also mentioned a slogan “CTG” which means “Change The Game” as a rallying cry of the special teams unit in camp. All in all, more experienced players playing on special teams should make a big difference this season, as well.

Green Light Players

Before turning it over to questions to the in-house media, Coach Franklin listed the green light players who could see playing time on Saturday.

  • Keaton Ellis
  • Adisa Issac
  • Lance Dixon
  • Brandon Smith
  • Caedon Wallace
  • Noah Cain
  • Devyn Ford
  • Jaquan Brisker
  • Jordan Stout
  • Weston Carr

“A Position of Strength”

John Reid in Pregame Warmups

– When talking about his secondary unit, Coach Franklin mentioned they were “a position of strength”. With the experience of John Reid and Tariq Castro-Fields, he has two starting corners he can trust. He also mentioned how with these two being so experienced, it allowed them to handle their reps in a certain way. These two took most of the reps early on in practice, but also allowed younger players to mix in, as well. Franklin added that he wants his defensive backs to be high-level wideouts and vice versa. With this group, he thinks that is certainly the case.

– A player he talked about at length was starting safety Lamont Wade. Wade did not play as much as he would have liked in his first two seasons in Happy Valley. This even lead to him exploring the idea of leaving as he entered the transfer portal. However, he came back and had a great summer camp. Franklin credits his confidence, comfort, and maturity as reasons for earning the starting safety job.

The Star Position

– John Reid is listed as the starter at the “Star” position, which is essentially a slot corner position. However, Wade and freshman Keaton Ellis are listed as his backups. Franklin would like Ellis to grow into that role. Then, he likes Wade in that role a lot, too. Wade will be in that role quite often based on defensive rotations and his ability to blitz.

“A Combination of Traits”

– James Franklin seems to LOVE Keaton Ellis. He referred to Ellis as a player with “a combination of traits”. Those trait include, length, ball skills, a “Big Ten body”, smart, and mature. A combination of traits sure seems like an accurate description for Ellis.

Going Deep

– In addition to his secondary, James Franklin seems to love his wide receivers group. He talked about Justin Shorter at length describing him as a player that “continues to get better”. Shorter will be a starter at wide receiver this year. Beyond him, he thinks this will be a deep group, as well. With KJ Hamler, Jahan Dotson, Shorter, Cam Sullivan-Brown, Mac Hippenhammer, and Dan Chisena all being players he think will contribute in big ways this year.

Protecting the Blind Side

– Redshirt freshman Rasheed Walker is slotted as the new starting left tackle for the Lions. Franklin knew Walker was talented when he stepped foot on campus last year and even mentioned how he could’ve played last season. But, Franklin loves his big frame and ability to stay light on his feet. Franklin cited Walker’s strong relationship with offensive line coach Matt Limegrover and his strong work ethic in his strong development.

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