UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coming off a productive winter conditioning period, Penn State football is ready to put the pads on again. The Nittany Lions return to the field Monday to officially kick off the spring season.
As he does every year, Penn State head coach James Franklin met with member of the media to preview the 14-practice spring session, which culminates in the annual Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions will host Blue-White weekend Saturday, April 21 with action beginning at 3 p.m.
Check out a few storylines from this afternoon's session with Franklin.
Among a few critical areas of spring ball development, Franklin noted that a top priority is developing a two deep at middle linebacker as well as a two-and-a-half to three deep at defensive tackle. With obvious departures in Jason Cabinda, Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran.
"I think [Robert] Windsor and Kevin [Givens] we're excited about what they were able to bring to the table," Franklin said. "Really kind of the guys after them, it's excitement based on potential. But they haven't played enough. You know, when you graduate three D-tackles and you had two D-tackles coming back, you're typically only going to play about five, maybe six guys at that position in the game."
While it's still too early to make any final determinations, based on potential Franklin noted he was pleased with Nittany Lions like Antonio Shelton, Ellison Jordan, Fred Hansard and Damion Barber.
"Still too early for me to say at this point," Franklin said. "Promising excitement based on potential but I haven't really seen enough to know."
On the special teams side of things, Penn State will have a major gap to fill when it comes to replacing the consistency of kicker Tyler Davis. Franklin made specific note of walk on kicker Carson Landis in terms of the opportunity he has this spring.
"He's going to get a bunch of reps in this camp," Franklin said. "He's got a strong leg. I think the biggest thing for a high school player trying to transition into the Big Ten and football at this level is the consistency aspect. He shows flashes of being really good."
Franklin highlighted Penn State's positional changes, but when asked about sophomore Lamont Wade's move from cornerback to safety, it mostly came down to filling needs at safety, with the cornerback position shaping out to be both deep and experienced headed into 2018.
"We feel really good about the depth we have and are creating at the corner position," Franklin said. "We have a little bit more question marks at safety, and Lamont is a football player and although he's not the longest guy in terms of height, he's put together. He'll hit you and we just felt like it probably played to a little bit more of his strengths."
It goes without saying that finding a way to replace the production of Saquon Barkley is certainly something the Nittany Lions will have to address this spring. For Franklin, it's obvious that replacing his production won't be falling on one individual.
"We need to replace Saquon Barkley with the running backs that we have," Franklin said. "And when I talk about "replacing Saquon," I talk about his production, but replace it with the group of running backs that we have -but also with the growth of the offensive line and the development of our tight ends, and still be a team that's difficult to stop because of the firepower that we have at wide receiver and the mobility we have at the quarterback position."
First things first though, Franklin noted that the running backs are going to surprise some people in terms of what they're able to do.
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For Franklin, there's the clear benefit of a potent running back group, but there's also the benefit of the offensive line reaching perhaps its best point to date. With Penn State seeing a scholarship two deep, he noted the offensive line has grown bigger, stronger and more experienced with increasing depth.
Among the Nittany Lions he's pleased with, Franklin noted Alex Gellerstedt has gone from someone who came in with about a year of experience at offensive line and has only taken positive steps.
"He's big. He's strong," Franklin said. "Even just getting into stance now, he never looked comfortable his whole freshman year in his stance and now he's comfortable and he's athletic."
That bodes well for the Nittany Lions, who return a majority of starters along the offensive line including Connor McGovern at center.