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July 31, 2014

Concepts key to Franklin approach

During Penn State's visit to Chicago for the annual Big Ten Football Media Days, head coach James Franklin was asked to evaluate some of the attributes that are necessary of a successful quarterback, specifically in this conference.

The thrust of the question, that different weather conditions and possibly more consistently hard-nosed defenses can affect a quarterback's performance, didn't align with Franklin's philosophies for the position though. In fact, quickly asserting the need for "the total package" out of the quarterback position, Franklin digressed into a lengthy soliloquy actually explaining what that total package is and how a quarterback can arrive with that skill set.

Arguably, it was more interesting than anything Franklin could have offered on playing quarterback in cold weather.

Lamenting the increasing emphasis on reconstructing quarterbacks' delivery, Franklin instead said footwork and concepts are two of the primary elements to his teaching of the position.

"I'm not a big believer in delivery. You hear all these quarterback gurus that are going to change a kid's delivery in two months over the summer," he said. "That kid's been throwing with his mom or dad in the back yard since he was four years old. It doesn't happen, because as soon as times get tough, they're going to go back to what they know and the muscle memory they've developed over the last 20 years."

Granted, Franklin's starting quarterback for the 2014 season is just 19 years old in true sophomore Christian Hackenberg, but the point remains.

Growing up with a father, Erick, who played the position and coached, Hackenberg has had the benefit of a lifetime's experience of learning technique at home, a significant amount of time developing under former head coach Bill O'Brien and, now with the new staff, an offensive coordinator who has coached the position in John Donovan, a position coach who excelled at Cornell in Ricky Rahne, and Frankin's own playing experience in college, he said. Bringing a philosophy of teaching concepts that doesn't deviate far from what O'Brien taught, Franklin suggested that the transition for Hackenberg has been a smooth one.

And, noting Hackenberg's own instincts for conceptual learning, Franklin said his stud preseason quarterback is already "pretty far ahead" in the process.

"That's the way I like to teach. Me and Billy have very similar backgrounds and belief systems, so I think that's helpful," Franklin said. "I think when you bring somebody in that runs a completely different system, it's hard, especially when a kid has had success in one and he believes that's the right way to do it. Now you come in and you're trying to teach him something completely different. As we all know, there's a lot of ways to be right, but when you've had a lot of success in something, you're more inclined to want to continue to build on that foundation you already got."

Laying out the many scenarios a quarterback can face - needing to understand defenses' strengths and weaknesses, holes in coverage, strategy, pass defense schemes, and run defense schemes, among others - Franklin explained just how beneficial that breadth of knowledge can be in a matter of just seconds before a play begins.

"Trying to get the quarterback to get as many pre-snap indications of what's going to happen post-snap, those things are invaluable," Franklin said. "He can anticipate what's going to happen before the ball snaps. If they're trying to figure it out on the fly, it's too fast.

"That's when you hear guys say the game has slowed down for them, because he knows his system inside and out and doesn't have to think about it and he can anticipate what the defense is going to do by film study and by knowing what their indicators are."

For Franklin to bring that mindset to his coaching technique of Hackenberg is one thing. To have a complete synchronization between coach and quarterback, however, is another.

Studying film to the point that Hackenberg said he'll casually watch re-aired games on the BTN and, rather than enjoying it for what it was will critique his own performance, the Nittany Lions' signal-caller stressed concepts that align directly with Franklin's.

Said Hackenberg, "Once you eliminate the thinking, then it's just playing football and it's just this thing that you've been doing since you were this tall. So when I eliminated that and started going and when the ball snapped, I knew where the ball was going, you just build up so much confidence.

"It's one of those things where you get in a rhythm and then you're looking forward to the next series. You're looking forward to what you guys are going to do. For me, this year, I'm really excited about the season because the guys that we have, the season that we had last year, especially with the younger group of guys that played, the guys that are going to battle now, a year or two in, I'm really excited about that because we've all had those learning curves. We've all had those experiences.

"You can almost see a different level of confidence. Even in things like seven-on-sevens. Little things like that, everyone has a lot more confidence in what they're doing because, 'Oh, I've seen this.' And you can just go and it's just playing football. So that's the thing I think we're embracing the most."

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