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Penn State Spring Football

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The first year of Coach James Franklin as head coach for the Nittany Lions began March 17, and with that he brings a revamped mentality to Happy Valley.

With Saturday's Blue-and-White game wrapping up the first chapter of Franklin's story, it's become clear that things are different under the dynamic Franklin.

Stephen Jones, Penn State’s play-by-play announcer, said the biggest difference between Coach Franklin and his predecessor Bill O’Brian are the management styles. “James Franklin oversees every phase on the practice field,” Jones said, “while Bill was offensive coordinator so a good portion of his practice field focus was there. They both work long hours, they both have great loyalty from their staff, and both have great senses of humor and personality. Each believes the players come first.”

“We are a process oriented organization, not a goals oriented organization,” Coach Franklin said in a press conference before the start of spring practice.  “What I'm worried about is [the players] 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. I just want to get the most we possibly can out of every single day.”

This fresh outlook on Penn State football with the Franklin era may be just what the team needs after a tumultuous couple of years with NCAA sanctions limiting the number of scholarships to 55. Attitude only goes so far, however. Though quarterback Christian Hackenberg is set to be the starter for the 2014 season, many other positions, tough decisions must be made at several positions.

Jones weighed in on the outlook for the upcoming season. “I think some people think because they received extra scholarships that all was well again,” he said.  The sanctions did damage to the depth of this team in certain spots.  Two years ago Bill O'Brien could only bring in 10 players.  He had to cut the roster down to meet a 65 limit.  That affected the depth especially at linebacker and offensive line.” 

“Penn State's first team group is really good but at the moment they are short on tackles and short at one linebacking spot in terms of depth.  James Franklin's recruiting passion is quickly changing that but the impact won’t start to happen until 2015.”

Jones also cited two areas that the coaching staff will have to overcome in the next couple seasons: “Getting to know what your players can and can't do, and getting to know the tendencies of the opposing teams.” 

“There is only one opponent this staff has seen before—UMass,” Jones said. “The second year you have a feel for the individuals on the opposing team.  You are always looking for mismatches; once you see it in person you know where they are.”

Eugene Lewis is the team’s leading returning wide receiver with 18 receptions for 234 yards and 3 TDs as a redshirt-freshman. He will be leading the corps in 2014. He undoubtedly has big shoes to fill replacing one of the best receivers in PUS history in Allen Robinson. Behind him, though, there is even less depth and experience.

Sophomore Richy Anderson had a relatively insignificant season last year with 13 receptions for 111 yards. Playing in the slot, he will have to make significant progress this spring to up his production. DaeSean Hamilton was sidelined his freshman season due to wrist injury sustained in high school, but he could have significant impact when he is healthy. “This is an area where I expect incoming freshmen will have an impact as game breakers and important depth,” Jones said.

This lack of depth will be a problem in several positions, but Coach Franklin seems to have a remedy, albeit a temporary and risky one. “Where our issues come is depth,” Coach Franklin said. “Our issues in the secondary, if you're going to play some young guys, that is the position to do it. I think wideout, corner, things like that, you can get away with it.”

The Nittany Lions are going to make up for this lack of depth in receiver with excellent tight ends. Adam Breneman, Kyle Carter, and Jesse James are all returning for the 2014 season, combining for 741 yards off of 58 receptions with 7 touchdowns last year. These numbers should only go up now that they will play a bigger role with an untested group of receivers.

The battle for starting running back will prove to be interesting as the spring continues. Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, and Akeel Lynch will all be battling for the leading role and all saw significant action last season. All have strengths they bring to the position, and also weaknesses, making this an ongoing and intriguing position battle.

Jones said about the running backs that “All are experienced and very good.  Each brings a different skill set to the table.  I can see all three playing which would keep a fresh back on the field constantly.”

Regardless of the position battles almost everywhere but quarterback and left tackle, Coach Franklin feels optimistic about the future of the program. “You've heard me say before we're going to sell out every single game next year,” he said. “I truly believe once we get everybody pulling the rope in the same direction that we can build something really special here.”

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