Joking that, due to his brief press conference last weekend he'd extend taking questions by a minute on Saturday, Penn State head coach James Franklin offered his thoughts on the Nittany Lions' progression through spring practice today.
Check out the transcript and video from the session on Saturday afternoon, below:
Lions Den or 'Oklahoma' drill:
It gives you a great opportunity just to evaluate them without any scheme. It's mano y mano. Can you get off a block? Can you make the block? Today, there were maybe some guys that are a little bit down on the depth chart, and give them an opportunity to show what they cna do. I was really happy with (Brian) Tomasetti. Went up there, put his hat on the guy, big hit. That's how you can earn a job covering kicks or something like that. It's just another opportunity to evaluate, another opportunity to step up in front of your teammates and show what type of football player you are. I think there's a lot of value in it, I really do. Because a lot of times when you're out there running offense or defense, their brains are spinning with scheme. Just go play football. So, that's been good for us. Plus it gets the juices flowing to start practice.
Gauging progress this spring:
We really don't approach it that way. We just want to come out every single day and get better. I think we've done that. I really do. I think they've got a pretty good grasp of what we're trying to do offensively, defensively, and special teams, we've laid a really good foundation and the guys have done a great job investing, coming in to watch film and those kinds of things. I don't really look at it from the big picture, it's just wake up every single morning, maximize that day and I think our guys are doing that. I've been pleased with it. I think the coaching staff is doing a heckuva job.
On the field evaluation:
The attitude, the work ethic has been great. I think that they're retaining a lot of the information. We're starting to play faster, which is going to be important to us. But there's been some guys that obviously have been doing some impressive things. I've been very impressed with Hackenberg. Everybody told me ahead of time, but until you see it live, I've been very, very impressed with him. I think Donovan Smith has had a really, really good camp. I think Mike Hull has played extremely well. He's handling the Mike linebacker position, making all the calls. Amos is an impressive guy as well. I could go on and on. I don't like to really point specific guys out, but I've been impressed with a handful of guys. Ficken, I've mentioned him before, I think he's had a great spring.
Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman:
It's still early. Mike Hull, like I mentioned, has jumped out to me. The other guys, it's still an evolution or wait and see right now. We'll have a better idea after watching the spring game to see how they compete, but I don't think those positions have been solidified at this point, and I would say that across the board. I want these guys to compete. At the end of spring, we'll look at it and see where we anticipate guys coming into fall camp, but there's very few spots that I feel are solidified at this point.
OL and WR holding team's progress back:
It's not going to hold us back. We're going to push forward. We're going to coach the guys that we have here. Those other things are outside of our control. The guys have done a good job. When we get to summer camp and the new guys come in, we'll coach those guys hard as well, and whoever is going to give us the best opportunitiy to win, I don't care if you're in-state, out-of-state, I don't care if you're a senior or a freshman, I don't care if you're a returning starter, I don't care if you're scholarship or walk-on, we're going to play the best guys. This is not Little League, politics, play your son type of deal. We're going to play the best guys.
Bringing walls down:
It's never anything that I've done. It's what we do as a whole family. I just think the more time that we get to spend together, they see the type of people that we've brought here, how we interact with them at practice, how we are at meetings, we're able to have these guys over at our house for dinner. The more interaction we get, it's trust. It's trust that's built up. It's trust that's built up with you guys, people in the community and all those types of things, and the consistency in our actions. I think it's naturally going to happen over time. I think it's getting better. I'm very, very confident that come the first game of the year, we'll have as good of chemistry as anybody in the country because that's a focus of our program.
Blue-White Game format:
The format is really dictated on where we're at in terms of depth and bodies by the time the game comes along. At this point, we still plan on having a true spring game. We'll see how this week goes and affects that. What you probably can plan on is the O-line will be in a different color, because we want those guys to be able to play on both teams if they need to be, and we're not changing jerseys on the sideline and stuff like that. So, we'll have a blue team, we'll have a white team, we'll break the coaching staff up, and then the O-line will all be in one color so they can run back and forth. Probably gray. I know everybody is so consumed by the uniforms around here. Gray, and it's not a new statement. We're not thinking about wearing gray next year. It's just for this situation for the Blue and White Game.
I think the defense typically is ahead. That's just the case. Line and assign and then run to the ball. We've done a good job of that. It's obviously a little bit more complicated than that, but the defense is usually a little bit further ahead. I think our defensive staff and Coach Shoop do a great job. I think if you look across the board at every position, we're in pretty good shape. The starters on the defensive side of the ball, linebacker is the one issue that I think we gotta get resolved, and we have some depth, especially on the defensive line. Offense, we don't necessarily have that at every position in every unit. You break it down to O-line, tight ends, quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, but on defense I feel pretty good about the D-line, I feel pretty good about Mike linebacker and I feel pretty good about the secondary. The other thing I think, with defense, you can solve some of your problems. So say you don't feel as good about all three linebackers, you can go nickel and dime and do some things like that. On offense, if you don't have five offensive linemen, it's not like you can choose to play with three. It is what it is.
Developing backup QB:
Obviously, depth at that position is going to be very, very important. How we call the game will be affected by our depth situation and the quarterback situation and the quarterback position as well. I think O'Connor, I'd like for him to get a little bit more confident that he can drive the ball a little bit. He's got a pretty strong arm. What I've been very impressed with is just his knowledge of the game. It comes pretty natural to him. He knows where to go with the ball. He doesn't panic. I've been impressed with that, I really have. But we just gotta get him more confident with his footwork, with his arm strength so he can make some of the more challenging throws. I think Crook has done a nice job for us as well. Whip, he does a great job as well, but it's going to be interesting to see how that thing plays out, and then you've got McSorley coming in as well and he was here today.
Speeding up development of young offensive linemen:
Obviously, time. Time and reps, but we only get so much time with them and you only get so many reps. That's the challenge. Getting those guys to commit to coming in and watching a bunch of film, not only from practice but all last season and the season before. Even if it's a different team, it's still the same plays, and being able to grind, and each play kind of pausing the film pre-snap and say, 'How would I call this front? What blitz are they bringing? What is my assignment going to be?' and really approach it that way. Get guys to invest in coming in to watch film, talking ball and going through situations like that is going to help them take mental reps. There's a perspective of it, yeah, they gotta get the physical part of it as well, but being able to prepare mentally is a huge part.
Hack helping speed development of younger WRs:
I wouldn't say this. It's hard for him to do that at this point because he's learning, but what I think we will see, I think you'll see Christian taking all the wideouts and the tight ends, coming in watching film with them all season, going out and throwing individual routes, going out and throwing seven on seven. You've got a much better chance to improve your passing game between the end of spring and the beginning of fall camp than you do your running game. It's hard to go out and work on the running game in the summer in shorts and t-shirts, but the quarterbacks and receivers and the DBs, they can go out and work all summer long and get a lot of work done.
Two-teams of OL for BW Game:
At this point, we'll go two different teams, but again, if you get one guy that gets banged up then we're going to have to start running guys from sideline to sideline unless you feel like you can step in there on Saturday.
Learning from Coaches Clinic:
I think it's been great. We had good numbers. Considering we didn't have a whole lot of time to get the clinic put together, I thought the administrative staff did a great job. I think the high school coaches were very appreciative. We had great speakers come in as well who did a great job for us. It's been good. But it's a process. I think the clinic will be much bigger next year. We had good numbers, we got a lot of work done, and as much as we got work done talking Xs and Os, it was also kind of just sitting around building relationships and getting to know guys. So it's been fun for me. A lot of my buddies, a lot of the guys I played college ball with or high school ball, being able to come back and the same with the rest of our coaches. It's not really recruiting, it's not really work for us, it's hanging out with my buddies.
That's the one position I think we've got as good of depth at any position on our team. Defensive end as well as defensive tackle. The move that we had to make, moving guys to the O-line affected us a little bit at defensive tackle, but we did that because we have a lot of confidence in Tarow Barney and Antoine White. We have a lot of confidence in those two guys and they're going to have to play for us. The fact they're doing a good job allowed us to move those two guys over to defense, and we still have pretty good depth. We got about two and a half to three deep at defensive tackle we feel pretty good about.