UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just three practices remain before the Nittany Lions return to Beaver Stadium for Blue-White weekend in Happy Valley. With spring ball well underway, head coach James Franklin quarterback Trace McSorley and cornerback Grant Haley all took time to meet with members of the media follow practice at the Lasch Football building.
Gauging Spring Progress
As Franklin has mentioned in earlier sessions, early enrollees and an increase in depth have all factored in to spring ball progress this year. With spring practice also presenting a variety of opportunities for competitions at various positions and younger Nittany Lions to step up, Franklin still notes that as much as evaluation is on an individual level, it's also on a team level too.
"When somebody can't practice for whatever reason it may be, then the next guy goes in and it's are you able to stop people on defense with substitutions in, are you able to move the ball on offense," Franklin said. "I think overall it's been good, we've have more depth than we've had in the past."
More Praise for Johnson
Wide receiver Juwan Johnson has been a spring ball top performer pick on numerous occasions for the Nittany Lions. For McSorley, Johnson has been looking to step in and fill the opening left behind by standout wide receiver Chris Godwin, taking extra time in the weight room to get in more work.
"I think for the team to see him doing that and it paying off on the field, I think that's why you're starting to see and hear his name more and more because it's something that you love seeing guys who put in all the work and it comes to fruition on the field," McSorley said. "On top of that he's big, fast, strong, he's running routes clean, he's getting separation, so he has just done a tremendous job in each period continuing to get better and better."
Who's Snapping and Who's Holding
Who's snapping and who's holding are questions Franklin noted he isn't asked often, but happy to see Penn State getting closer to sorting it out following the graduation of Tyler Yazujian, who handled snapping duties for the Nittany Lions for as many as 40 games.
"Right now, [Kyle] Vasey's done a tremendous job for us snapping the ball, I've been very pleased with him and then there's a battle right now between Blake Gillikin and Billy Fessler for the holding job," Franklin said. "I think we all know that our kicker can knock the ball through the uprights but I think people under appreciate the importance of the long snapper and the holder."
Investing in Turnovers
Franklin noted that just like the receivers and tight ends learn to get comfortable catching on the jug machines, he'd also like to see Penn State's entire defense building confidence in going straight for the grab for an interception at just the right time to increase opponent turnovers.
"I think you can take a good defense and become great or take a great defense and become elite by just making that change," Franklin said. "If we did nothing different but increased our turnovers next year, it would have a dramatic impact on our defense and it would have a dramatic impact obviously on our offense as well.
Campbell Stepping Up
Both Haley and Franklin noted that cornerback Christian Campbell has been making steady progress, with Franklin noting he's having perhaps the best offseason he has ever had. Campbell played in 12 games last year, making a pair of starts. Bringing tremendous speed, Franklin also noted that Campbell spent time getting bigger and stronger heading into spring ball.
"Christian is playing unbelievably confident right now," Haley said. "He's feeling healthy, now that he's healthy, he's a long guy, a fast guy, he's athletic and he can jump out of the roof so I think he's feeling more comfortable in the defensive system and more confident in himself. At cornerback you're going to get beat but it's the next play mentality and I think he's taking a step forward with that.
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