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VIDEO: Spring Practice Sights and Sounds - Wide Receivers

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion receiving corps is filled with young talent. Led by the Big Ten's leading receiver from 2014, rising sophomore DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State will field a deep group in 2015. Among some of the most improved individuals since the offseason began, true sophomores Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall highlight a corps of young, talented players to go along with veteran returnees Hamilton, Geno Lewis and Matt Zanellato.

Head inside spring practice for a look at drills led by wide receivers coach Josh Gattis. Penn State is now halfway through spring practices for 2015. Take a look.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Spring Football: Progress Highlights First Half of Practices

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10958526.jpegSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions have reached the mid-way point of spring practices.

With 14 opportunities to take the practice field, head coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lions have 14 chances to get better before the spring practice period culminates with the 15th session of the spring on April 18 in Beaver Stadium at the Blue-White Game presented by AAA.

Seven practices in to the spring ball, the Lions are confident in the progress being made on both sides of the ball and on special teams. Year two in the staff's systems certainly plays a role in the team's overall step forward and comfort level this spring, but the players' workmanlike approach to winter conditioning, meetings and practices have all contributed to the step forward in 2015.

"There has definitely been a lot of progress," senior cornerback Trevor Williams said. "Our chemistry is a lot stronger. The coaches do such a good job of putting us in positions to be successful."

Spend two minutes around a Penn State spring practice and one can't help but marvel at the level of competition from everyone on the field. It starts with Coach Franklin, but each position coach, graduate assistant and player relishes in the opportunity to compete with one another on the field. As Franklin says, iron sharpens iron.

"It's so much fun to be in a competitive environment like practice," senior defensive end Carl Nassib said. "When guys are going around making plays and yelling, it psyches everyone up. No one wants to go out for practice and be dragging, so while you are out there, you want to have fun and get better. It's all about getting better."

On offense, the leader of the unit is a guy who is no stranger to the starting spot. A rising junior, Christian Hackenberg now has 25 games of starting experience under his belt. Working through spring practices for the second time in his career, the Virginia native is excited about the growth and development of each offensive grouping around him. With the offense's continued development on a unit-by-unit level, Hackenberg has spent more time this spring focused on refining specific areas in his game.

"Last year, I had my mind spread out across a lot of different things within the offense to help everyone get better, but I think now with everyone coming along and taking those steps, I can sort of focus more on myself and areas that I need to improve in," said Hackenberg. "There are always things I can do there. That's been a big focus for me. Whether it is Mondays where I focus on mechanics and footwork and then Wednesdays I work on my reads and my 'Mike' (linebacker) pointing to make sure those are sharp and on point and then on Saturday it's making sure I have everything on point with pre-snap reads, post-snap confirmation and then going out and executing."

Defensively, the mantra is clear - championship level. Yes, the Nittany Lions had a superb season on defense in 2014, but this year's unit wants to be even better. As coordinator Bob Shoop urges, the next step is for the defense to become championship-level. How does the defense get there? It starts with hard work, but confidence plays a big role.

"It's a lot of intensity. A lot of guys fly around," said Williams. "Every day, we challenge each other to make plays, create turnovers, put the offense in better spots and just work to make this defense a championship defense."

With five months separating the middle of spring practice and the first game of 2015 (Sept. 5 at Temple), the window of opportunity for continued growth is a big one. And the combination of confidence, competition and an unrivaled work ethic set forth this spring has the team and its individual units on the way to a strong start to preparations for the 2015 season.

"We are really focusing on a lot of things that we learned last year, taking the things we did well and building on them, and then taking the negatives and working on them," Hackenberg said. "I think it's a development of the process. It's been going really well."

Penn State will practice seven more times between Saturday and April 17 before wrapping spring ball up with the Blue-White game at 4 p.m. on April 18 (BTN). As has been the case in previous years, admission and parking are free for the spring game.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Spring Practice Sights and Sounds - Special Teams

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Competition within the Nittany Lion roster has been the theme of spring practice since the Nittany Lions took the field on March 20. One area head coach James Franklin singled out in particular as a spot where open competition will take this spring is at placekicker.

At the end of each spring practice, the team turns to its specialists (kickers, punters, snappers) for a competition that puts conditioning on the line. The competition changes each day, but on day earlier this spring, the Nittany Lions needed kicker candidate Joey "Big Toe" Julius to deliver. Take a look.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Spring Practice Sights and Sounds - Tight Ends

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With six practices complete, the Nittany Lions are in the heart of spring practice for 2015. Penn State completed its sixth session of the spring on Monday afternoon inside Holuba Hall. Teams are allowed to practice 15 times during the spring period. Penn State will have eight more practices between Wednesday and April 17 before spring drills culminate with the Blue-White Game Presented by AAA on April 18 in Beaver Stadium (4 p.m.).

During the next two weeks, we will take you inside practice with sights and sounds from spring ball. Today, offensive coordinator and tight ends coach John Donovan gives the fans a taste of a day working with the Nittany Lion tight ends..

Penn State will practice in full pads on Wednesday afternoon and again on Saturday morning.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: James Franklin Spring Practice Update - March 28

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Spring Football - Versatility, Depth Highlight Linebacker Corps

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin updated the media following Penn State's fifth of 15 spring practices on Saturday inside Holuba Hall. The Nittany Lions practiced in full pads on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday this week. Saturday's session included several periods of live scrimmaging. The team will return to the field on Monday to begin week two of spring ball. The Blue-White Game presented by AAA will kick at 4 p.m. on April 18.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Spring Football: Versatility, Depth Highlight Linebacker Corps

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Replacing a guy like All-American Mike Hull is no small feat, but the future of the linebacker position is in great hands thanks to increased depth and a corps of versatile athletes.

With more depth at each position than in recent seasons, Linebacker U hasn't skipped a beat during the first week of spring ball.

Returning junior starters Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman highlight a group looking to make a big impact on the Nittany Lion defense in 2015.

"We have more depth, and that's the special part about it," Wartman said. "We have more guys who can get on the field and play."

In addition to Bell and Wartman, graduate senior Ben Kline returns after missing all of last season with an Achilles injury, and rising sophomore Jason Cabinda is back and primed for a bigger role than he had in his rookie campaign. Additionally, juniors Gary Wooten and Von Walker, along with sophomore Troy Reeder, are among a long list of guys battling for playing time. While each guy plays to his strengths, the unit is unique in that most of the personnel can fill a variety of the positions.

"I think with this group, you have a bunch of versatile guys," Wartman said. "You have Brandon (Bell), who can go out there and play in the field and then also come in the box and play with us as a 'Will' or 'Mike'. Then you have me, and I can play 'Will' or 'Mike'. (Ben) Kline can play 'Will' and 'Mike'. Gary (Wooten) can play 'Will' or 'Mike'. I think year's group is just a lot more versatile."

Head coach James Franklin often uses the "iron sharpens iron" mantra to talk about how one side of the ball can play a paramount role in the growth of the other side of the ball. The same can be true within a unit. With increased depth at linebacker comes increased competition for playing time.

"It pushes you because you know you have someone behind you," said Wartman. "Everybody wants to play, so there is going to be someone behind you. But you can learn from him. When you have quality competition, the first guy is learning from the second guy, the second guy is learning from the third guy and the third guy is learning from the first guy, just from watching film and practicing. You can learn from everyone. All together, the linebacker corps has more quality from top to bottom since I've been here."

Assistant head coach, co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Pry is a big reason for the unit's seamless transition into spring ball following the graduation of Hull, who will go down as one of the program's all-time best. Pry expects a lot out of his players, but the mutual respect between the student-athletes and position coach creates an environment conducive to both learning and progress.

"He's the type of guy that when he talks to you, you know he is going to shoot you straight," said Kline.

"Coach Pry has this type of passion in his voice when we are on the field," Wartman said. "He is a serious guy, but at the same time, he is easy going. He's the type of guy who is going to demand your attention, but he's going to have fun. Guys aren't feeling pressure to be perfect. Guys know to do their job on the field. Don't think, just play. He's helped us all out a lot by telling us to just go out and play."

Pry and the linebackers are always on the same page. Sure it has a lot to do with the talent in place on the field, but the buy-in from players stems from Pry's ability to teach the unit and put the players in the best position to be successful within the framework of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's scheme.

Another factor in the unit's ability to hit the ground running this spring is the return of Kline, who is a respected voice in the locker room and an undisputed leader of the unit.

"Ben brings a positive attitude and plays the way a Penn State player should play," Wartman said. "Even when he and I were fighting for the same spot and he got hurt, he still stood there on the sideline and cheered me on. And that had to be one of the hardest things to do. Then I remember when my playing time went down and he went in, I cheered him on. I just think he brings the team-first mentality. That's what this game is all about, team-first guys like Ben Kline."

It's been a long road for Kline to get back onto the field following a pair of injuries during the last two seasons, but he's excited to return and ready to go to work.

"It just feels good to get back out there with everybody, running around and playing some ball. It's been a lot of fun," Kline said.

Like Wartman, Kline is excited about the unit the Nittany Lions will put on the field at linebacker in the fall.

"We have a lot of guys who just work really hard," Kline said. "We have good depth, and everyone wants to work hard. We are young and athletic. The way Coach Pry has been coaching everyone up is awesome."

Granted there is a long way to go until the season commences on Sept. 5 at Temple, but Wartman said he feels like everyone on the roster is more comfortable within the framework of the daily routine, and it has carried over into productive meetings and practices this spring.

"It's another year. We all feel strong, faster and have more confidence," Wartman said. "As a defense, we have high standards for ourselves. Guys know that last year was good, but we want this year to be even better."


Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Spring Practice Sights and Sounds

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Competition has been the name of the game for the Nittany Lions as they work through week two of spring practice. Head coach James Franklin noted during his pre-spring press conference that with it being year two for the team in the coaching staff's system, he expects a competitive atmosphere every time the team sets foot on the field. With three practices complete, including one in full pads, the Nittany Lions are living by the program's No. 1 core value - compete in everything you do.

"We're making an emphasis on our four core values, which you have heard over and over again," Franklin said. "Last year there was some memorizing the positive attitude, great work ethic, compete in everything you do, willing to sacrifice, but we weren't really living them. I want to make sure that we're living the core values, not just reciting them, [and] thinking what they mean to you and the program. That's been an emphasis for us."

During the next three weeks, we will take you inside practice with sights and sounds from spring ball. Today, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop gives the fans a taste of what it's like to work through a drill on the practice field with the Nittany Lions.

Penn State will practice in full pads on Wednesday afternoon and again on Saturday morning.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: James Franklin Spring Practice Update - March 21

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin updated the media following Penn State's second of 15 spring practices on Saturday. The Nittany Lions practiced in Holuba Hall on Friday and Saturday. The team will return to the field on Monday, which marks the first full padded practice of spring ball. The Blue-White Game presented by AAA will kick at 4 p.m. on April 18.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Spring Practice Preview with James Franklin

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Football returns to Happy Valley on Friday with the first of 15 spring practices. Leading up to the start spring drills, talked with head coach James Franklin to preview what is ahead between now and the Blue-White Game presented by AAA on April 18 (4 p.m.).

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Depth Key as Nittany Lions Set to Begin Spring Practice

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10901770.jpegJames Franklin Press Conference Transcript - March 17

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Football returns to Happy Valley on Friday afternoon when the Nittany Lions take the field for their first of 15 spring practices.

With the Blue-White Game 32 days away (April 18 at 4 p.m.), head coach James Franklin previewed the start of spring drills on Tuesday afternoon in Beaver Stadium.

Following a strong winter conditioning period, the Nittany Lions are primed to take another significant step forward during spring practice.

"It's amazing to think just year two in general how much different it is in every aspect," said Franklin. "From last year where they haven't even done that yet to now, going out on the field and having a foundation laid on offense, defense and special teams, expectations, how we do things, morning workouts, Coach (Dwight) Galt's program. We got the majority of our team now that have been through these things. That experience counts and is important."

Franklin detailed a number of areas during Tuesday's press conference. Take a look below at a few highlights as the Nittany Lions kick off spring practice.

Legitimate Two-Deep
What a difference a year makes for Penn State's depth heading into spring drills. The Nittany Lions will enter the first practice of 2015 with a two-deep of scholarship players at virtually every position. The benefits of added depth are plentiful, but added depth means added competition for every spot across each position. Added competition circles back to core value No. 1 for the program - Compete in everything. Franklin wants to see the team live by that motto each time it steps on the field.

"We just had much more depth across the board," said Franklin. "That's in general. Offense, defense and special teams. We have pretty much a legitimate two deep at every position, which we did not have last year."

Depth Up Front
No spot will reap the benefits of increased depth more than the offensive line. The Nittany Lions could not fill a legitimate depth chart at all five offensive line positions at this time last year. This spring, Penn State enters spring ball with a two deep at each position up front.

"The fact that we're going to have two deep of scholarship players is exciting," Franklin said. "We had a bunch of guys that have had some experience. Last year I think at this point we had two returning starters in the beginning of spring ball... We have five or six guys now that started a game."

Increased depth will play a paramount role in quarterback Christian Hackenberg's growth this spring, but the impact a deep offensive line can have on a team stretches far beyond one position. As Franklin noted on Tuesday, a strong group up front helps the other units on offense, in addition to the defensive line.

"It stunts everybody's development when you're struggling up front, let alone with a second team and first team as well," Franklin said. "We're real pleased. Those guys have been awesome. I could go on and on about a number of these guys, the improvement they've made, how dramatic it has been, almost to a man, to every single guy there that has really made some really good strides in so many different areas."

One starting spot the Nittany Lions will be looking to replace when the season begins is at left tackle. Donovan Smith will be playing football on Sundays come the fall, which leaves a void at a critical spot on the offensive line. Franklin noted junior Albert Hall, freshman Sterling Jenkins, junior Paris Palmer and redshirt freshman Chance Sorrell as candidates to replace Smith. Additionally starting right tackle Andrew Nelson could move to the left side if it is necessary.

Position Changes

Senior Jordan Lucas headlines a list of position changes for Penn State this spring. Lucas will move from corner to safety. Additionally, redshirt freshman Amani Oruwariye will move from corner to safety. With the team's depth at corner, Franklin and the coaching staff feel like Lucas has the chance to be special at the safety position with his skillset and number of experienced players at corner.

In addition to the two moves at safety, Franklin noted that running backs Adam Geiger and Jack Haffner are moving to the defensive side of the ball (Geiger at safety and Haffner at linebacker). Geiger and Haffner are two team-first student-athletes with a desire to be special teams aces in 2015. Moving to the defensive side of the ball grants the duo opportunities to tackle every day at practice, while staying at the running back position would not.

Strength at Special Teams
Building on season one, Franklin is expecting big things from the special teams units in 2015. The team's overall depth increase will pay big dividends for the special teams units (kicking, punting and kickoff).

"Really excited about special teams and what we're going to be able to do there," Franklin said. "I think it can become a strength for us."

Despite the added depth across the board, Penn State will enter spring practice without a player at a specialist position on scholarship. However, that does not mean there is a lack of talent or competition for starting spots. Sophomore Daniel Pasquariello and redshirt freshman Robby Liebel will compete for the punting spot this spring.

Joey Julius and Chris Gulla (who moves from punter) headline the list of candidates working towards handling the kicking duties. Both spots will be an open competition this spring.

"One of the things we're talking about doing with the spring game is opening the spring game with a kicking competition before the spring game gets started just so I can make sure that these guys have got enough kicks in front of a crowd," Franklin said.

"We're thinking about doing the same thing at halftime with the punters.  Do a competition with those guys, because you just don't know through the spring game if you're going to get enough live reps and see how they're going to react in that environment."

Development at Quarterback
No one is happier to see Penn State's growth and development at each position on the offense than junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Following a record-breaking effort in the Pinstripe Bowl, the veteran signal caller is eager to take another step forward.

"I want Christian to be able to work on his development and his role in this offense, fundamentals, technique, understanding of the schemes, being demonstrative with other offensive players about how specifically he wants a route run, what we're doing in protection and why, checking out a runs into passes or passes into runs," said Franklin. "Not just during spring, but during spring and then being able to do that all offseason."

Press Conference Quote Book
- Expectations for the Defense
"Defensively, much more competitive depth across the board. Excited about that. Our focus this spring is going to be about techniques, not tactics. Really try to get to our fundamentals, things like that. It's our goal to identify playmakers and put them in position to be successful...Although you guys know we have base philosophies, we want to find our playmakers and put them in position to be successful, then develop our schemes around that. Our challenge is replacing Mike Hull. I think that's clearly our challenge on defense, not just because of the football player Mike Hull was, but also his leadership and also the position he played, being the quarterback of the defense, making all those calls."

- Expectations for the Offense
"Offensively, improve on our fundamentals and techniques. Same thing. Back to the basics. Gain a better understanding of concepts, not just the plays themselves, understanding the big picture. Cultivate depth. Competition with redshirt players I think is really going to help us. Our challenge, continue to develop the offensive line. You have heard me say this before. You really should not play defensive tackle or offensive line until your redshirt sophomore year. We have way too many redshirt freshmen in our two deep still, but I think we have a chance for great improvement."

- Expectations for Special Teams
"All our specialists are a year older. If you look from 2013 to 2014, we actually improved in punt return average, kickoff return average, touchbacks on kickoffs, kickoff, touchdowns allowed and punting average. Although we have to get better in that area, there were some improvements made. We played nine true freshmen and we had 12 true freshmen and first-year players combined play on special teams."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony