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March 17, 2014

Notes: Franklin sets spring agenda

Process-oriented, not goal-oriented.

Holding a press conference as the unofficial start of spring practice Monday afternoon at Beaver Stadium, Penn State head coach James Franklin wanted to reiterate a distinction he believes provides important context to viewing his team's development in the next four weeks.

In the process, Franklin elicited memories of a certain former Nittany Lion head coach.

"We're going to focus on doing the little things extremely well, and by doing that, the big things will take care of themselves, so every detail is important," he said. "Every detail is significant in what we're trying to do. I hope you guys get a chance to see that at practice."

Welcoming the media to watch and video approximately 45 minutes of the opening of practice Monday afternoon at Holuba Hall, the product on the field is unlikely to provide many of the biggest questions lingering after the Nittany Lions' 8-4 and 7-5 seasons in Bill O'Brien's two-year tenure at Penn State.

Depth on the offensive line, less than two-deep with scholarship players according to Franklin, prompted the moves of both Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia to guard. Special teams improvements - a key area Franklin intends to build by featuring his best players in any of the four special teams phases - won't immediately show themselves. Injuries to the likes of Ben Kline, DaeSean Hamilton, Brad Bars and Brent Wilkerson, won't be detailed by Franklin and his staff.

Even the format of this year's Blue White Game, after a proposal by O'Brien to change due to concerns regarding injury in these NCAA sanction years, wasn't given a firm commitment by Franklin, opting instead to suggest he'd prefer a game but might need to adjust his expectations based on available bodies.

The commitment, instead, presented itself as a fundamental way of thinking that Franklin hoped to bring to the Penn State football program this spring in advance of his first season at the helm.

"What I'm worried about is them waking up every single morning and being the best they can possibly can be, academically, athletically, socially and spiritually, and the rest of the stuff will take care of themselves," Franklin said. "So I don't have any goals for how much offense, defense or special teams we want to put in. How many points we want to score in the spring game, any of those types of things. I just want to get the most we possibly can out of every single day."

Centering his focus on chemistry and organization - not just among the coaching staff and players, but also with parents, family and the community as a whole - Franklin said they've already made it clear to the players how important relationships are to their joint future success.

With great chemistry, he said, "You can maximize their experience here and maximize their potential. But it starts with that. It starts with trust. It starts with the relationships."

As a result, Franklin is planning to open practices to players' parents for the first time in the program's history. Though, he joked, dads of players who played at rival institutions might not be granted admittance.

Without the benefit of recruiting the vast majority of the Penn State players he'll be coaching this season, Franklin said it's important to build and sustain that level of support beyond the immediacy of the team itself.

"So it gives me an opportunity to get to know these parents because I haven't been to their homes and broke bread and home visits, and school visits and things like that, and we want to do this together," he said. "We're going to need their support, the parents support as well, so that's going to be a big part of it.

"Like I said, we're not a goal oriented team, but if I had to say one goal, it's about the relationships and the chemistry, and the trust with the kids."

Notes:

- Franklin described the moves of Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia to the offensive line as a decision based on need, more than anything. And, though Franklin has firmly embraced a positive outlook on the program he has inherited, some of the unpleasant realities of the NCAA's sanctions against the Nittany Lions were brought into sharper focus Monday afternoon.

"We basically look at the overall roster positions of strength, positions of weakness, based on numbers, based on talent," he said, noting the moves of Dowrey and Gaia. "A big part of that is when I looked at the defensive line, we had a four deep of scholarship players on the defensive line basically, four deep at defensive end, about three and a half deep at defensive tackles, nose guard and D‑tackle. Offensive line, we did not have a two deep of scholarship players. Not even a two deep. So, just felt like we needed to make some moves."

Citing the obvious excitement of both fans and media for quarterback Christian Hackenberg's continued development and future performances, Franklin again stressed the importance of a complete team to be able to win.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm excited about him as well. But it takes a lot more than a quarterback to be successful on offense," he said. "So we want to make sure that the game of football is not played from the ground up from a fundamental standpoint, but the game of football is also played up front, on the offensive line and on the defensive line, and we'll make sure that we recruit well at that position, develop well at that position no different than anywhere else."

Additionally, Franklin confirmed the moves of Adrian Amos back to safety and the transition of Anthony Zettel from defensive end to defensive tackle this spring.

- The NCAA sanctions' effects on the program notwithstanding, Franklin described the physical nature he'd still like to see implemented this spring.

Though the terminology is slightly different, Franklin's description of what he calls 'tag-off' sounded vaguely familiar to the concept of 'thud' that O'Brien tried to implement at Penn State.

Said Franklin, "I think we can get a lot of work done with tag off, which is basically two‑hand touch, but you're doing it in an athletic position.You've got to be able to legitimately when you watch the tape say that guy would have made the tackle. He was in an athletic position. He was down in a football position, bent down, good bend in his ankle, knees and hips, and was able to tag palms up with two hands on the ball carrier. If not, they're going to run. They're going to keep running to the ball carrier until they're able to do that. I think you can get a lot of work done if you do it the right way and you demand the fundamentals and the technique in an athletic position.

"So we'll do it, but it's not necessarily from an injury prevention standpoint… I also believe during spring ball is a time to develop toughness as well. So sometimes it's hard to do that during the season because if you do get some tweaks or some pulls or some issues during the season, it's going to affect you on game day. Right now everybody wants to talk about the Blue and White game. We're not trying to win the Blue and White game. We're trying to win today's practice. The more good days we put together like that, the Saturdays will take care of themselves."

- Finally, on a team that features just 23 combined juniors and seniors this spring, Franklin was asked about the types of leaders he is looking for and who specifically might have emerged as fulfilling those responsibilities for the 2014 iteration of the Nittany Lions.

Saying that he isn't looking for anyone to change who they are, instead preferring everyone around him to be true to themselves, Franklin acknowledged a group that includes Hackenberg, Miles Dieffenbach, Mike Hull, Jordan Lucas and Amos as having already stepped into those roles.

- In future springs, Franklin will hold his practices on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, but based on the calendar this year and the schedule of the prior staff, practices will be held on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays this year.



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