CHICAGO - Signaling the start of the season with training camp on the horizon, Penn State Football made its annual trip to the Big Ten Conference Media Days, wrapping up the two-day event with a packed Tuesday slate of media obligations and interviews.
From photos and on-camera interviews to autographs and time with media members, seniors Marcus Allen, Jason Cabinda and Mike Gesicki joined head coach James Franklin for the trip, covering a broad variety of topics and storylines to look forward to headed into training camp, which begins in just a few weeks in Happy Valley.
Penn State kicked off a loaded day with breakfast at 7 a.m. before hitting the circuit for a full day. Check out 10 takeaways and storylines to keep an eye on from Tuesday's media sessions.
Built on Buy In
Franklin noted that some of his staff's best coaching came in the first two years of arrival, all setting the foundation for a year three buy-in fostered by success and a balanced sense of confidence that he says has his team in a pretty good place ahead of a highly anticipated 2017 season.
"I think one of the things that is significant is the relationships and the chemistry that we have in the locker room," Franklin said. "When you take over a new program, for us, we've all talked about this before - I was the fifth head coach, if you count interim, in 27 months. When you're asking players to buy into your system and they've had four other head coaches come in and tell them the same thing, that's not easy to do. We were able to work through those things and we're at a really good place right now where most of our locker room has only really heard one message and has bought into that message and I think there's so much value in that."
While there's certainly anticipation and excitement for Penn State's powerhouse duo of Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley, Franklin noted that he's also excited for the progress that has been made by those in front the two, having invested time and resources into the strength and maturity of a much improved offensive line, with veterans in Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon expected to return to lead the unit.
"We have depth and talent at that position that we're able to create a good situation," Franklin said. "When you're able to take a guy like Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley and combine their talents behind an offensive line that has a chance to be physical, athletic, with depth, it's a good situation to be in."
On The Set with BTN
Penn State's three seniors hit the Big Ten set for a live segment looking back on a historic 2016 season, giving a quick glimpse at what's ahead in 2017. Check it out below.
Replacing Chris Godwin
Penn State didn't lose much from its unprecedented and explosive offense from last year, but the Nittany Lions will look to replace the production of NFL Draft pick and 2,000-yard receiver Chris Godwin, who is beginning his pro career in Tampa Bay.
"I don't think that you can sit there and say year in and year out, you're going to hang your hat on being as explosive as we were last year," Franklin said. "You look at the 50-50 balls, that was kind of Chris Godwin's deal. He was as good as any guy I've been around, him and Jordan Matthews are probably the two best guys I've been around in terms of winning those 50-50 balls. If I had to guess, we may dip a little bit in the 50-50 balls, but I think we have a chance to be more efficient on first and second down."
Don't Count Out DaeSean
Across the board, Franklin and all three seniors unanimously agreed that DaeSean Hamilton is a proven veteran who Penn State could lean on for significant contributions this year. Called dynamic and explosive by Allen and primed for big season by Gesicki, Hamilton was abuzz when it came to who the Nittany Lions are excited to watch this year.
"He's one of the better workers on our team in terms of preparation, physically and mentally," Franklin said. "He has seen the highs and seen the lows and matured and grown through those things."
Both Franklin and Cabinda had high praise for defensive end Shareef Miller, who could potentially step in to fill gaps left behind by graduation and NFL departures from Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan.
"He's very similar in a lot of ways to Saquon Barkley in that since the day he showed up on campus, he has embraced everything that we've asked him to do," Franklin said. "He has gotten bigger, he has gotten stronger."
A Complete Tight End
We've all seen the upward trajectory of All-Big Ten second team tight end Mike Gesicki, most notably highlighted by way of some jaw-dropping catches. For Franklin, the next step is adding in the physical component, improving as a downfield threat as well as a viable option in the passing game.
From adversity to prosperity, he's continuing to work toward more progress headed into his final season in the Blue and White.
"Outside of play-making and big catches and touchdowns, I work extremely hard in blocking and I've come a long way in my opinion in being a more physical player and embracing the role of being a blocker," Gesicki said. "I'm excited for another training camp to continue to stay after practice and continue to hit the blocking sled until one day, I'm hoping that thing breaks."
Barbour Meets with the
By midmorning, Penn State Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour took time for a question and answer session. Following a few contract updates for a pair of Nittany Lion head coaches, Barbour touched on the success of the 2016 Big Ten Championship season as well as giving an update on the success of Happy Valley Jam and the future of concerts in Beaver Stadium. Listen in below.
Franklin: "It's a Fast Class"
With NCAA rules and regulations, Franklin noted that it's hard right now to have a strong opinion on the progress of the freshmen class, who arrived on campus earlier this summer. He did note though that from what he can take in, it's a class with some serious speed.
"I've been doing this 23 years and I don't know if I've ever had four guys who clocked on six watches, under 4.4," Franklin said.
While we'll have to wait for camp to see the newest Nittany Lions in action, Franklin noted that the current members of the roster will have to bring their best game with no doubt that the freshmen are expected to content for significant roles.
"The exciting thing is that we don't really need any of these guys to come in and play as freshmen but if they do, it's because they obviously are going to bring value and make us better," Franklin said.
Accessories on Point
From a Big Ten Championship ring to a colorful bowtie, Penn State's senior trio represented the Nittany Lions showcasing some of their best style in Chicago. Take a look.