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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Football is set to punctuate a competitive spring season with its annual Blue-White Game Saturday. In the culmination a 15-practice schedule, the Nittany Lions welcome alumni, fans, family and friends back to Beaver Stadium for a spring ball finale at 3 p.m. with live coverage on the Big Ten Network.
On the heels of historic season, Penn State reenergized its momentum in winter conditioning, channeling an unprecedented level of energy into a productive spring season. As Penn State head coach James Franklin noted earlier this week, the annual spring game will now bring one final look at the progress and development for the Nittany Lion staff before training camp arrives.
"There are going to be some young guys who are going into that stadium and there's going to be some experience that's going to help them," Franklin said.
also been key throughout the spring season, with the motivating results of a
successful season under the guidance of defensive coordinator and linebackers
coach Brent Pry and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Joe Moorhead, who's
new scheme helped guide the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten Championship and its
fourth Rose Bowl Game appearance in program history.
"As a group, we look a lot more confident and you can tell really just across the board, how much more comfortable we are and how we've been able take what we installed last spring, grow it in fall camp and through last season and then refine it coming into this spring," quarterback Trace McSorley said.
Much like the offensive side of the ball, the Nittany Lion defense has also continued to reload with younger Nittany Lions seizing opportunities to step up and make an impact.
"You have guys on the first, second, third, fourth string defense who can all really play and you can see that they're going to be really good players and that's the biggest thing," linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "It's all about executing when it comes down to the fall but guys are working to get their techniques better and you can see we're taking this time to really improve and each day we're making sure that we're getting a bit better every day."
For Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Running Back of the Year Saquon Barkley the success of spring ball only adds to the anticipation of what's to come.
"We had a successful season so I think these competitive practices with offense and defense, it's not just one sided when you're both going at it," Barkley said. "You truly get the experience of competing against each other and getting better as a team. I'm really excited to see how that translates to camp and how it translates to the season."
The work doesn't end for the Nittany Lions at the conclusion of the spring season. Finals are looming and then it's right back at it with summer strength conditioning. For now, it's all about finishing spring ball on a high note, welcoming back the Nittany Lion community for a fan-centered afternoon in game-like conditions in Beaver Stadium.
"We just want to go out, stay injury free, have fun and put on a good show for our fans," running back Andre Robinson said.
Penn State's Blue-White game features the Nittany Lion roster split into two teams (blue and white) with quarterbacks wearing the opposite jersey color of their team. With regular scoring, all four quarters will be 11 minutes in length with a running clock, and the final 2:00 of each half at game timing. Stoppages will occur for penalties and change of possession. Each team will have two timeouts per half at 45 seconds each, with an additional 1:30 timeout at the first change of possession after the 6-minute mark in each quarter. There will also be a 2:30 break at the end of the first and third quarters.
The ever-popular Penn State Football autograph session will return to the stadium gates at Beaver Stadium for another season, running from 12:15 to 1:05 p.m.
Fans may visit as many as five different gates with one item per person permitted. Team posters will also be available at the following gates. Stadium gates A,B,C, and E will officially open at 1:30 p.m. for fans to enter.
Halftime Kicking Contest
Earlier this week, Franklin invited members of the media covering the Nittany Lions to participate in fielding a few Penn State punts prior to kickoff. Select members of the media who signed up to participate in the challenge will all take to the field at Beaver Stadium for a unique opportunity to catch a punt from a Nittany Lion.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Its the final week before Penn State returns to Beaver Stadium for its annual Blue-White game. Just a few days separate the Nittany Lions from the culmination of the spring season.
Ahead of Saturday's spring ball finale, take one last look at who's exceeding expectations from the Penn State staff.
For co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Tim Banks, all of the Nittany Lion safeties have put together good spring campaigns.
Among the unit, Banks was quick to point out returning junior Nick Scott, who played in 13 games last year mostly on coverage units, while also making a few returns.
"Nick had a really good winter and he has really picked it up in the spring," Banks said. "He has done a great job taking ownership of our defense, communicating well, he has been physical."
Scott was also named one of three team captains this year, serving as the Nittany Lion special teams captain.
"I think he understands that now he can be even more vocal," Banks said. "He's a passionate kid, he always has great energy, and I think he understands it's a tremendous honor to be named a captain and he has taken it and run with it."
Banks' other picks for those who have stepped forward include former corner Garrett Taylor, who has made the move to safety, as well as veteran Troy Apke.
"Troy Apke has obviously played a lot of football around here, but he's now starting to play at a high level."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just a few days before Blue-White kickoff, head coach James Franklin along with punter Blake Gillikin and running back Andre Robinson all met with the media to preview the upcoming weekend. Through 13 practices, the Nittany Lions have nearly reached the end of the spring session, which culminates Saturday afternoon in Beaver Stadium.
Measuring Spring Game Success -
With the annual Blue-White game quickly approaching, Franklin and the staff aren't necessarily focused on measuring success from just what happens Saturday afternoon. Rather, the truly gauging improvement comes within the results of the entire body of work that is spring practice.
"It's more about what they have been able to do over the 13 practices and the film that we've been able to watch," Franklin said. "I'll have all the coaches grade this just like a game, they'll be going on the road recruiting, but I'd like for them to kind of get that done so we have it."
Looking further ahead, coaches will set up individual meetings to address which areas different guys have improved and which areas will be targeted for more work in the time between Sunday and training camp.
Robinson Right On Track -
When asked about his progress toward reaching his spring ball goals, Robinson noted that he's right on track when it comes to meeting those goals, settling into the offense with increasing confidence. Before each practice, running backs coach Charles Huff has his unit write down two or three goals going in to practice to go back and watch after practice.
"I think that's helpful," Robinson said. "Thinking about that during practice and then going back over and being honest with yourself after practice and how you did."
Brown Maturing -
Franklin mentioned that linebacker Cam Brown has also made progress, noting his spring ball performance only benefited from his work in the weight room during winter condition, leaving an opportunity to come training camp.
"I do think that he has an opportunity now to go back and watch the film, take some of the comments from the coaches and be able to make a big jump and put it all together now," Franklin said. "He gained experience on the field last year probably before he was ready and then he was able to have a great offseason for the first time and then come out here this spring, still gain some experience and then kind of put it all together in fall camp, which is really the next step for him."
Gillikin's Goals -
Following a successful true freshman season in the Blue and White earning ESPN.com true freshman All-America honors with a record-setting 42.8 yards per punt. Among all the success though, Gillikin is still focused on continued improvement in the offseason headed toward the fall. in
"I think something I want to pride myself on this season is location of my punts," Gillikin said. "Especially with all of the good punt returners we play, I think location helps limit the return and kind of helps our coverage guys to know where its going to be and make the best play they can."
Franklin Challenges Media Members -
To pair with spring game festivities, Franklin issued a bit of a challenge to the Nittany Lion media contingent in attendance Wednesday evening. Franklin invited members of the media to head down to the field to partake in a few fun challenges, catching punts and kicks in front of the Beaver Stadium crowd.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - To this day Saquon Barkley still watches the tape from the Rose Bowl game. Soon after returning home from Pasadena, California, the time he spent home with friends and family away from Happy Valley brought time for Barkley to reflect, to move past the sting of the heart wrenching loss, but never forget.
While the bitter end of the historic season is still imprinted into the minds of the Nittany Lions, its now taken on a new shape, working to fuel the motivation that's driving the future, evident right now in spring practice.
"The motivation that we have is in ourselves because of the standard that we have as a program, and the confidence that we have in each other," Barkley said. "We believe in what we can accomplish."
For Barkley, part of the internal process to reaching the type of player you ultimately want to be, begins with watching some things you might not be good at. Pouring over clip after clip of the Rose Bowl game to go back and learn from mistakes is all part of the motivation.
"I just take that to my work," Barkley said. "Keeping that in the back of my head, like alright, third-and-1 you didn't get that, maybe this rep in the weight room is the reason why you can get that. You have to go hard on this rep or that set, push yourself a little bit in running, push yourself in practice. Whether you're taking 90 reps or one rep, try to be a leader, try to be focused and locked in so when situational football comes up that has happened in the past, you're preparing yourself for it."
It's a truly humble approach for someone who climbed through the Nittany Lion record books at a staggering pace last year, often painting headlines with eye-popping plays that left defenses dumbfounded, with even a hurdle or two mixed in.
Setting the sophomore single season record, he rushed for 1,496 yards, adding on another record-setting 402 receiving yards by a running back, also in just a single season.
The postseason awards piled up for Barkley, who earned both Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Running Back of the Year honors last year, as one of just 17 running backs to win Offensive Player of the Year honors in Big Ten history.
When asked about his conference honors though, Barkley was quick to direct the credit to his offensive line, just another honest reflection of how he has managed success with poise and maturity, just two seasons into his career in the Blue and White.
On the brink of his junior season, Barkley isn't finished with his pursuit, rather focused on embracing a mindset that he set back in his junior year of high school.
"I went through my high school record book and I saw all the records and I said, when I leave here, I want to leave my legacy," Barkley said. "Everywhere you go you want to leave your legacy, and here, I want to leave my legacy. I want to be known as one of the best players to ever play at Penn State."
It isn't all about the records for Barkley, who noted that leaving behind his legacy isn't going to happen just by having his impressive numbers printed in a record book.
"It's going to happen by my work ethic, by continuing to try to grow as a person, to be a better person every day," Barkley said. "Whether it's in football, whether it's someone outside asking for a picture, it's the little things. Being a great teammate, pushing my guys, being there and being supportive of them but also being critical of them."
There's an old saying that part of being great is making others around you better. For Barkley, part of making those immediately surrounding him in the running back room better, is showing up.
"I challenge the running backs by competing," Barkley said. "That's one of our core values and that's one of the things that I bring to this room and that we all bring to this room, that we compete against each other. By us competing, it brings out the best in us and we're really critical of each other."
Outside of the more physical aspects of competing, Barkley's role has shifted a bit in spring ball, now with added responsibility to guide others based on his own success and experiences.
Whether its extra work with younger guys or simply showing the ropes to a few new faces in the room, Barkley noted that in order to reach the highest level in 2017, its on the players to take on the leadership and cultural role to bring out the best in each other.
"I think I've grown in that role just talking to the guys and saying hey, you could try this or try this and see how it works out or this blitz helps give it away," Barkley said.
That type of leadership isn't just paying off for the rest of the guys lining up for each rep in spring practice though.
"Even though I'm not taking those physical reps, I'm taking mentally reps every single time," Barkley said. "Being locked in, I'm seeing stuff that I probably would not have seen and I'm growing, getting better as a player."
As spring ball steadily approaches an end, there's no doubt in Barkley's mind that the level of competition is unlike that of last year's.
Among the things that excite him the most though, his first is of course, the offensive line.
"Just when the play just works perfect," Barkley said. "JoeMo calls it right, the offensive line blocks it right, Trace [McSorley] makes the right read and the running back makes the right read, it makes me really excited."
Perhaps what's most exciting for Barkley as he looks toward what's in the future though, is truly the progress the team has made competing against each other, returners included.
"The way we are handling it right now, obviously anything can change, but nobody has a big head right now," Barkley said. "Nobody thinks they are above the team or above anyone. We all see each other as equal and we all compete and try to get each other better. We all have one goal in mind. That goal is to compete at the standard."
Reach Arielle at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As week four of Penn State spring practice winds down, the Nittany Lions will cap off the final week before Blue-White weekend with a practice inside Beaver Stadium.
As the Nittany Lions draw closer to the end of the spring schedule, continue catching up with the Penn State staff for a closer look at who's exceeding expectations.
For assistant head coach Terry Smith, his group of Nittany Lion cornerbacks are led by a pair of veteran returners in Grant Haley and Christian Campbell.
"Both of those guys have played a lot of football for us and we consider both of those guys returning starters, they are having great springs and getting better," Smith said.
Smith noted that both Haley and Campbell are both putting together strong spring campaigns, as returning starters only building their experience from a year ago. Earlier this week, Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin noted that Campbell is in the midst of his best offseason ever, mentioning he'll be getting a few more reps come fall.
A steady and oftentimes clutch contributor for the Nittany Lions, Haley made headlines when he became the first player in school history to return a blocked field goal for a touchdown in a dramatic victory against Ohio State, going the distance for a 60-yard score off a Marcus Allen block.
Mid-year enrollee Lamont Wade is another Nittany Lion, who Smith said has jumped on the scene since arriving in Happy Valley just about three months ago.
Adding to his top performers, Smith also highlighted Amani Oruwariye, a returning upperclassman who played in 11 games last year. Oruwariye made 23 stops last season, while also recording his first career interception against Kent State, returning it 30 yards for the Nittany Lion touchdown.
"We have four guys I'm feeling really good and positive about who are having great spring balls so far," Smith said.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Week four of spring ball practice is nearly complete, drawing the Nittany Lions just days away from Blue-White weekend in Happy Valley.
For Penn State tight ends coach and passing game coordinator Ricky Rahne, his group has continued to make smooth progress throughout the spring season.
Highlighted of course by standout returner Mike Gesicki, who is coming off of a record-breaking season, Rahne noted that he has only continued to elevate his game, keying in on details this spring.
Aside from individual progress though, Gesicki has also continued to progress as a leader among the unit, blending a few qualities to shape his style.
"His other way of leading is making a play when the team needs it," Rahne said. "I think that's important and having a great attitude, going out there when guys need a play, he's going to make a play. He's also very good at knowing, hey, that was my fault and I messed that up, taking responsibility for things and that trickles down to the rest of the group. "
A few more Nittany Lions have also stepped forward from the group too.
"Jon Holland has done a great job. I think he's coming in with a new focus ever since the winter and he has been ready to go and has made a lot of plays," Rahne said. "His blocking has gotten a lot better and I just see a kid who is really maturing and ready to help us on the field in much more substantial level."
A recent addition to the Nittany Lion roster, Joe Arcangelo (Clarks Summit, Pa./Abington Heights) has arrived in Happy Valley after spending a year at Bucknell playing in six games for the Bison.
"He has done a great job, he's made a bunch of plays for us and I'm excited to have him too, a local kid who's doing a nice job," Rahne said.
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.
Reach Arielle at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent
PARK, Pa. - It's been a while since All-Big Ten linebacker Jason Cabinda
announced his decision to return to Penn State for his final season of eligibility
in 2017. His decision, coming just days after tight end Mike Gesicki announced
he'll return, also fell a little more than a week prior to safety Marcus Allen's
decision to remain at Penn State for the 2017 season.
For Cabinda, the decision wasn't one he spent much time agonizing over, noting that he was actually about 90 percent sure of his choice come time to make the call.
"I wanted to make sure that I had my degree, that's what I came for at the end of the day, so leaving with a degree was very important to me," Cabinda said. "My mom's a teacher so academics have always been the number one thing, that's just how it's always been."
Coupled with his passion to walk across the stage at graduation though, the economics major saw what nearly every Nittany Lion would also attest to not only seeing, but feeling too - that something truly special is happening in Happy Valley.
Nearing the end of Penn State's 15-practice spring season, Cabinda has dialed up the intensity along with the rest of the team and it's no secret that practices are fiercely competitive in a very welcome change of pace.
"We've seen a lot of guys grow up, be mature and make a lot of play that they weren't making before," Cabinda said. "A lot of guys are standing out, there's a lot of talent so it's awesome and really cool to see the guys grow and make plays."
For Cabinda, spring season is a time for the senior captain to continue to grow as a leader. Just before the start of spring practice, Cabinda, along with Trace McSorley and Nick Scott were all named 2017 team captains.
"It's so special," Cabinda said. "I think to me, being an athlete, the biggest honor you can get is having the respect of your peers, teammates and coaches to be able to lead."
A naturally vocal leader who doesn't shy away from what needs to be said, Cabinda noted that part of leading in spring ball is simply setting the tone, showing younger members of the team how to practice and continuing to set the standard and example for an environment rich with competitive drive.
"You have guys on the first, second, third, fourth string defense who can all really play," Cabinda said. "You can see that they're going to be really good players and that's the biggest thing." Knowing that everyday in practice I'm going to be going up against the best running back in the country, the best route running tight end, the best tight end in the country period, that motivates you."
That competitive drive is also what's sparked perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from spring practice.
"Guys are coming off the field and they're talking, they're talking about what happened in that play and what might have gone wrong because they want to be right so bad," Cabinda said. "When you see that, I think that's something that's different as well because guys want to be right, guys care so much about doing well and being good players that they constantly want to know. I think I've been seeing the overall investment and sacrifice of the team go up and it's paid off."
Through all the progress that's being made across the board and managing both a broader and larger leadership role, Cabinda is also keenly focused on what's happening among his own unit.
For Cabinda, that starts with himself, noting that among other reasons, a piece of returning to Penn State for another season also meant another year to continue to develop into a compete linebacker, mentioning last week reshaping his body to maintain the perfect balance of optimal speed and physicality.
With the departure of All-Big Ten linebacker Brandon Bell, Cabinda noted that matching that level of production is a top priority, but one he's confident that experienced Nittany Lions Manny Bowen and Koa Farmer, can also help to fill. Those aren't the only two that Cabinda noted could step up, reflecting on a rash of injuries last season that thrust a variety of Nittany Lions on to the big stage, even on the fly.
"Being able to have a second deep, a third deep, backups who can play just as well as the starter, that's really important," Cabinda said. "I think coach Franklin does a really good job making sure the third and fourth guys are really preparing themselves as if they are starters because that's the mentality you have to have."
More than anything though, the sting of the Rose Bowl loss is still something that crosses Cabinda's mind headed into his final season in the Blue and White. As Blue-White weekend quickly approaches, the end of spring ball might be in sight, but for Cabinda that's when planning begins.
From workouts to meetings and prep, it's often hard from the outside to see just how much hard work and dedication goes into each and every day working toward training camp. That type of commitment focused on getting right to work, is exactly what's driving the legacy that Cabinda hopes to leave behind, one he describes as a Penn State team that's gritty and blue collar in its approach, but now with a freshness about it, or as he puts it, some Swagger.
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