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Q. I just wanted to ask you about the way you've been able to address the challenge of upgrading the offensive line talent base since you took over at Penn State. In '14 I don't think it was a strength, and now going into 2018 with the latest additions even today, how you feel about that and how significant it was to get Penn State to this point?
JF: I'm really excited about it. All the coaches talk about how important it is to be really good up front on both sides of the ball. When we arrived at Penn State, the D-line was a real strength and the O-line we were lacking some depth that we needed.
We've worked really hard at that and I think we've really done a good job of recruiting guys that are good fits here and guys that have the measurables and athleticism that we're looking for.
So I'm a big believer in recruiting guys that create position flexibility across the offensive line. If you're going to recruit a guard, we would prefer the guard to be a guy that has the ability to be what we call a “swing guy.” So a guy that may not have exact offensive tackle measurables but has the athleticism and feel for the position.
So I think [Ryan] Bates is a really good example of that. Bates isn't your typical 6-6 offensive tackle, but he's got the athleticism and feel for the position. I think we've done a good job of that, recruiting tackles, and then guards that have tackle attributes and then you also have the variety of the swing guys inside. So a center/guard combination; a center who could play guard and a guard who could play center, type of deal.
I'm pleased with the length and I'm pleased with the athleticism and I'm pleased with the mentality of the position. I think [offensive line coach] Matt [Limegrover] has done a great job.
I think the addition of [tight ends coach] Tyler [Bowen] with an offensive line background is really going to help us at the tight end position but also is going to help us up front. Those two work extremely well together, not only on the field, but also in recruiting.
Q. What areas of your depth chart do you feel like you addressed particularly well with this recruiting class, and are there any others where you wish you had been able to do a little more?
JF: Kind of looking at it right now, I would say special teams, I think we really helped ourselves with a lot of different positions.
Guys that I don't think that I can necessarily talk about right now because of how they were recruited, but I still think we have an issue at punter for our future. We feel really good about Blake Gillikin but we have to continue recruiting and developing guys at that so we feel good about where our future stands. But really, everywhere else, I think we've done a good job of identifying some issues and going out and recruiting.
On defense, I think that we really helped ourselves up front on the defensive line with some guys, obviously with [Aeneas] Hawkins and [PJ] Mustipher and [Judge] Culpepper and [Jayson] Oweh, and then we got a guy like [Nick] Tarburton who creates flexibility with linebacker or defensive line, which is how he was recruited. I feel really good about that.
We have some challenges up front. We lost three defensive tackles, senior defensive tackles, so that's an area that's a concern for us. I feel really good about D-end, but D-tackle is an area that we're going to have to develop. And I think we tried to attack that in recruiting, but that's a position typically that those guys are not able to play early.
I love the two corners that we got in [Jordan] Miner and [Trent] Gordon, two guys with length and athleticism, having Gordon on campus, I've already been impressed with him. Same thing kind of D-tackle at linebacker, we've got some real needs there. So combination of a [Charlie] Katshir, [Micah] Parsons, [Jesse] Luketa and Tarburton really help us there, guys that have a chance to come in and compete.
And then obviously [Isaiah] Humphries at safety, we feel good about that, as well. And I think we've recruited some corners that have some flexibility to move to safety if we need to.
I do think we have some things that we've got to get resolved at D-tackle, some things that we've got to get resolved at linebacker, and I think this recruiting class showed that; a guy like PJ Mustipher is a guy that has the body type that you think he may be able to come in and play as a true freshman, which is unusual at that position and from what I'm hearing about Culpepper and Hawkins, they are approaching it the same way.
So we'll see. On the offensive side of the ball, you know, obviously losing some tremendous wide receiver production, but being able to go out and get [Justin] Shorter and [Jahan] Dotson and [Daniel] George, feel really good about those guys, having the opportunity to replace some of the production we lost, or at least help compete at that position.
You know, losing obviously [Mike] Gesicki, and going out and getting [Pat] Freiermuth and [Zack] Kuntz, who we are really excited about I think helped us with some of those losses.
And then obviously being able to go out and get another high-level quarterback to continue to develop our depth there for competition for the future when Trace [McSorley] leaves.
Obviously it's hard to ever say you're going to replace Saquon Barkley, but I think what you kind of do is you try to do it at every position to make up for the loss of Saquon. But [Ricky] Slade is a highly-regarded guy who was very productive in high school.
And then obviously on the offensive line, getting Nana [Asiedu], who is at tackle; [Rasheed] Walker who is a tackle; [Bryce] Effner I would characterize as one of those swing guys, a guy who could play guard or tackle, and then a guy like [Juice] Scruggs who we think could play center or guard.
So I feel like we addressed a lot of our needs. Probably would have liked to have been able to take another safety in this class. Probably would have liked to take another wide receiver in this class. But besides that, I think for the most part, I think we did very well.
Q. Just wanted to ask you, now that you're through this new recruiting calendar, what stands out to you? Do you have some likes, some dislikes, as you kind of assess the process with the early signing period and the traditional signing period and how you had to handle those two new facets?
JF: I think we approached it like a lot of programs across the country and that was the first signing period was going to be the signing period.
If you look across the country, I think the number was pretty high, like 85 percent of the prospects signed in the first signing period. I think that's how it's going to be.
Most people were approaching it, if you didn't sign in the first signing period then you weren't really committed and they were going to move on.
So for us, we really didn't have a whole lot of question marks out there. We really only were hoping and waiting for one signature today and that's what we were expecting and it worked out that way. So feel really good about that.
The area that probably think there's a little bit of concern across the country and I know specifically in Happy Valley and there's some concern and issues is with the early visits. I get it and I understand why, and I think you can really make an argument being in the Big Ten country, being able to bring guys here when the campus is warm and flowers and all those wonderful things, I think you could make that argument.
But I also want to make sure that we're able to spend enough time with our current players and developing them and then also being able to spend time with our own families. I get the early visits. I wish the window was a little bit smaller. I just worry about how that's all going to play out.
Q. Could I have an overall philosophy, changes on the staff, how do you balance promoting people versus bringing people in?
JF: I think you always want to try to promote from within as much as you possibly can. If you look over my career, that's really how we've done it. Whether it's promoting from within or whether it's guys that have been with us and left and then we brought back; for the most part, we just kind of stayed in our circle and jump outside of that circle from time to time.
I think that's the ultimate model. It doesn't always fit or it doesn't always time up right. You look at Phil Galiano, he's one of those guys that we promoted from within. You look at Ricky Rahne, he's one of those guys that we promoted from within.
I think for the most part, we have followed that model, but it's got to time up right. It's got to make sense from a fit perspective, as well.
Q. How and when did you first identify David Corley and Ja'Juan Seider as candidates and what did they do in their interviews as guys you should definitely hire?
JF: David [Corley] is a guy very similar to how you guys have heard me tell my stories about how I've hired people in the past. David is a guy I identified about five years ago, I think it was. He interviewed for the receiver's job at Vanderbilt. The same [job] was the interview with (previous Penn State wide receivers coach] Josh Gattis. We ended up going with Josh Gattis, and I've stayed in touch with David ever since, tracking his career.
Joe Brady is a guy that was on our staff, really smart guy who is now with the Saints, and Joe always thought the world of David. So I kind of kept tracking him and when the job came open again, he was right at the top of the list because we had interviewed him five years earlier.
Like I said, I had followed his career, and the people that I'm very close with and I respect that he's worked with, a guy by the name of Kevin Rogers who I've known forever, got a lot of respect for, very respected coach in the industry and that's been like a mentor to David.
And then obviously Joe Brady, like I said, who is with the Saints; people that I trust and respect called, and gave him strong recommendations.
William & Mary is a school and program that I respect. Coach [Corley] had done a great job there for a long time. It's a great academic intuition. And I think you guys know, he fits a lot of the characteristics that I really like. He's aggressive, he's smart, went to an academic school, is passionate about coaching. Has got a background, played quarterback.
So a lot of things that I'm attracted to in coaches that I've seen those patterns be successful in the past, he had a lot of those attributes. So just made sense.
Ja'Juan [Seider] is a guy that I knew more about his reputation, and then there were some guys on our staff that he had a relationship with. We went through the interview process and guys had done a good job, but Ja'Juan kind of blew us away.
I think the other thing that was important to me was that both David and Ja'Juan really wanted to be here. Ja'Juan, his wife is from West Virginia. They have spent a good portion of their adult life in West Virginia, so this was able to bring them back closer to home, family, friends.
And I think the relationships with guys on my staff, and then me kind of following his career from afar and him following my career from afar, once we all kind of got linked up together, it made sense.
And no different than we talk about with the players having position flexibility, we had hired David originally for the running back job, but the fact that David had been a receivers coach for most of his career allowed us to hire Ja'Juan as running backs and move David to receivers.
Q. You mentioned Rasheed Walker. What specifically do you like about his game?
JF: Well, you watch his tape, he's got tremendous athleticism and length. But the thing that's amazing, he watches tape and not only is he good in space, which a lot of times you can find offensive tackles that are good pass protectors, but they are not very physical in the run game, and you watch that guy, and he is physical. He plays with a nasty streak.
I also make the comment that the guys that we're recruiting should be the best player on either side of the ball. And you watch him in high school, very similar to a Michal Menet, you watch his high school tape and you say to yourself, hey, this guy could possibly play defensive line for us.
So he's got the length, he's got the athleticism, he's a great kid from a great family, is a gentleman off the field but plays the nasty streak on the field. Has a finisher's mentality.
I think you take Nana [Asideu] at one tackle, you take Rasheed at the other tackle, you put Juice [Scruggs] at center and then you have a situation with [Bryce] Effner being a swing guy that could play either guard, possibly center or tackle, then I think we've put a hell of a class together.
Q. I don't think we had a lot of chance to talk about Jayson Oweh because of the way he played things out and kind of kept things quiet. How was that like from a coach's perspective? How are you guys able to kind of play into things and help him out with waiting to make his announcement in January?
JF: Well, he had actually signed on the first signing date but was waiting to announce it at the game. We were comfortable with that.
And then I think the other thing is we were just able to develop a really good relationship with Jayson and his family as there was trust there, and I think you guys have heard me talk about this before, you know, me coming back home and the relationships that I have, not only from high school, but also going to East Stroudsburg, a teacher's college, where all my buddies are high school coaches kind of all over the state, and in the region.
So Jayson's high school coach I played with at East Stroudsburg. Jason's defensive coordinator, I played with at East Stroudsburg. Jason's defensive line coach, I played with at East Stroudsburg.
So I would make the argument that we had a pretty good inside chance there because there were people there that could really vouch for me, not only as a coach, but as a man, and I think that gave Jayson and his family comfort.
Q. I'm wondering, what are the benefits for the early signing period, supposed to be that most of the teams get a jump on 2019 and beyond. Curious how you feel like the last month has gone when you look ahead, and is there a way to quantify how much further you guys are in '19 and beyond because of the signing period?
JF: I don't think there's any doubt. I guess the way we look at it, and I think a lot of coaches do, is this January period and February period really turned into almost like spring recruiting. So the old days, the head coaches could go out in the spring, and we can't go out anymore.
So for us, we were only waiting on one signature today, so we could really spend all our time recruiting essentially one guy, and then the rest of the time, go out in junior recruit, where in the old days, you were having to continue to visit at a high rate, guys that were already committed to you.
And we still did that, but it was more checking in. It wasn't the same type of urgency. It wasn't the same type of stress that it normally is involved with. We were able to really go see a lot of underclassmen, myself as well as the assistants and go by his school and pick up transcripts and talk to coaches and guidance counselors and teachers and things like that.
I wouldn't say that we're any further ahead than any other school in the country because I think everybody is approaching it the same way. Is everybody further ahead probably in the process? Probably. And we approached it in a similar fashion.
Q. You were mentioning about Ja'Juan. Can you tell us a little more about how he blew you away in the interview process and how important are his ties to Florida for you guys with recruiting and so forth?
JF: David [Corley] and Ja'Juan [Seider] are both former quarterbacks, are both guys that have coached multiple positions. Both guys that played after college, having opportunities in the CFL or Arena Football and things like that. Both guys got into the profession right after that and worked with really good people.
So you know, I think typically, quarterbacks are taught different than other positions where quarterbacks from the time you're a freshman, you're taught to try to see the big picture and understand what every position is doing.
Other positions, for the most part, you learn that position and try to become a master of that craft, and then maybe as you get to become an upper classman, you start to see more of the big picture.
I think when you're able to hire a coach that has got a quarterback background, they just typically see the world and see the game a little bit differently. So that came off in his interview process.
The other thing is, I'm attracted to people that are very comfortable in their own skin, and both David and Ja'Juan are that, and Phil [Galiano], as well. That's kind of who my staff is. Got a lot of different personalities.
But I would also make the argument that Ja'Juan was also kind of an interesting hire from a couple other perspectives. You don't hire Ja'Juan unless you're going to make a recruiting shift and you don't hire Ja'Juan and not recruit Florida, it doesn't make any sense.
We have recruited Florida in the past, but obviously, once you make this decision, you're going to recruit it harder. He's going to get us into some doors because of his relationships and his reputation that maybe we weren't involved in before.
Now you combine us finishing in the Top-10 the last two years, with Ja'Juan's relationships down there, and I think we can continue to make some progress. We've been able to get a few kids, but I think this can change some things. That's probably the first thing.
But the other thing I would say is, if you look, we haven't offered as many players in our state this year and in our region, and it's just a different year. It just hasn't been as many players. If you look, it hasn't been as many offers go out in our state, not just from Penn State but just from around the country.
There's going to be years where the state is really strong, and you're going to be able to sign 12, 15 players from a state and there's going to be years where you sign three or four or five.
So you have to be able to broaden your nets so that you're able to handle that. You're able to overcome what may be a down year in the state or a down year in the region.
Fortunately for us, the region typically is going to be strong. There's going to be enough to do what we need to do, but one year, one state may be down and another year another state may be strong.
So for us, we approach it as the region, but for us to handle the ebb and flow of this, there's going to be certain years that aren't as strong as others, and we're going to have to have a little bit more of a national approach to be able to handle that.
Year-in and year-out, our base and our bread and butter is going to come from this region, but we're going to have to be able to complement that a little bit nationally.
Q. You obviously emphasized offensive and defensive lines in this class. Why do you think line play is so vital and is that where you need to improve to take the next step in the progression of the program?
JF: Yeah, I think so. I think really that's where it starts up front. You know, the best teams in the country consistently win up front and when you consistently win up front, it's going to give you a chance to have the most consistent program.
Obviously to be able to win at the very highest level, you've got to be really good across the board. You've got to be great in coaching. You've got to be great recruiting. You've got to be great in scheming. You've got to be great in developing. You've got to be great in every position. That's the reality of it.
I think, you know, you can still have a very good year by overcoming some deficiencies that you have in a certain area, but you can't ever overcome deficiencies up front. It's just too challenging.
You're going to have to be really strong up front to win at the highest level. So we're committed to doing that. I think you guys have heard me saying it before; I think the thing that makes it so challenging up front is because when you do have problems, you can't solve them quickly.
Those guys need time to develop. A wide receiver, a corner, a safety, a running back, could probably play for you as a true freshman; it's hard to get those other positions because of the size and strength and maturity aspects that come with those positions.
Q. You talked about some of the concerns you have about spring official visits, but on the other hand, I feel like for you guys, it's easier to have a bunch of kids up on official visits for a Blue and White Game than as a regular game because as a staff you have more free time on your hands. Is that the case and is that something you'll try to take advantage of or not?
JF: Yeah, but you also have to remember, typically when you do official visits, you have official visits and that's about it.
For the spring game, we usually average about 200 to 250 unofficial visitors that need to have a good time. We have the game to coach. You also have the issue with hotels. For you to sit here and say you're going to be able to have a big official visit, and let's be honest, the Blue and White Game will be a big official visit weekend for us, but we still have to coach the game. We still have to entertain the guys that are going to come unofficially to Penn State, underclassmen and others, and then you've got your biggest probably official visit weekend of the year; it's going to be challenging.
It is what it is and we're going to have to adapt and we're going to have to find a way to overcome it. It does create a really good opportunity for us and that's why we want to sell the spring game out. I would like to have 107,000 fans there really enjoying themselves and have fun. The weather will be beautiful. I already looked at the Farmer's Almanac, it will be beautiful.
But it's a great opportunity for us to showcase our university on a lot of different levels, but there are major challenges that come with it.
I mean, think about how many staff members you need to entertain 200 unofficial guests, 25 official visit guests, coach the game and do all the other responsibilities that we have to do with the media, with our parents, with everything else.
It's just a lot to juggle and that's why you also see these athletic departments and these football programs and their staffs growing and growing and growing because how do you manage that many people and make sure they have a good experience when they are on your campus?
Q. How much do you think Jake Pinegar factors into the kicking battle this summer? And when you're looking to fill that spot, how much did his overall athleticism, being an all-state player at a different position draw you to him?
JF: Yeah, he's going to have to factor in. We're going to have really good competition at that position. You look, Carson Landis is a guy who is returning, that's got a strong leg and we're excited about.
Blake Gillikin kicked in high school, but I'd prefer to leave him focused on being the best punter in the country.
You've got Jake Pinegar coming in who is long and athletic and like you say, got a strong leg and then we've got some other guys that I'm not allowed to talk about that we're really excited about coming in, as well and it's going to be an open competition.
The best guys are going to have an opportunity to play. I think you guys also know that we'd like to have a guy handle the kickoff and another guy handle field goal. I think that's when you have a chance to be the best.
For us, obviously, if one guy can do both at a high level, great. But if we can have two guys specialized and be the best in the conference or the best in the country, that's what we'd prefer to do.
We're excited about it. I do think the point you made is a good one. The guy has played other positions and been successful and is an athlete and comes from an athletic family. You know, we were able to watch him kick live in one of our satellite camps. He was crushing the ball. So we're excited about it. But it's going to be a true competition no different than any other position.
Q. I'm wondering if you can give us an update on how some of the early enrollees have made that adjustment, and if I can follow-up quickly, who is the best former small college quarterback on the staff now?
JF: Well, yeah, it's clear that James Franklin is the best small college quarterback on the staff. I mean, that's -- there's no argument there. But part of that is because I'm really the only small college quarterback on the staff. I-AA and I-A, which is what those two guys (newly hired assistant coaches David Corley and Ja’Juan Seider) played, clearly beats a Division-II guy. Although, the Division-II guy was a badass.
The newcomers coming in, haven't really seen a whole lot. We had one winter work out and the strength coaches have had them. But from first impression, is good. Trent Gordon's been a pleasant surprise. We had high expectations, and his first impression was probably higher than what we expected. He kind of blew us away in the first morning workout and was really competitive and really smooth and really efficient with his movements.
[Jesse] Luketa is a big, raw, athletic guy who is very competitive and been really impressed with him and how he's approached everything. His body is already starting to change. He's going to be a monster.
[Micah] Parsons is what we thought. He's strong, he's explosive, he's fast, but again, all these guys are being very supportive of one another. They are asking a lot of questions. They have humbled themselves and the morning workouts typically do that, and I know the older guys have been impressed with them.
[Nick] Tarburton is another big, strong guy that' come in here. His body is already changing. I think he's already lost 10, 15 pounds; is moving really well, is very competitive, is very conscientious. Been very, very impressed with him.
[Isaiah] Humphries, you know; what you would expect from a 4.0 student, very mature, very smart, very analytical and right now, obviously is doing a great job in the morning workouts in terms of his approach and his willingness.
Again, it's hard because we've only had one, we were supposed to have another one this morning, and the school got shut down with the snow obviously, so we weren't able to do it -- we cancelled it. Hard for me to have a strong opinion after one day.
And then the other guy is obviously [Zach] Kuntz. The thing I'm probably surprised about with Kuntz is how strong he is. Typically when you've got a guy who is built like him at 6-7 and 220 pounds, it's going to take them a long time to develop the strength and power needed to play, but I already see him packing it on and he came in stronger than we anticipate. So he's already put on muscle mass. He's already getting stronger in the weight room. We already knew he ran well because he ran so well in camp.
But all those guys are really competitive and are working really hard and have been really supportive of one another and so far, so good.
Q. My question was about John Reid, just wondered how he was looking in the winter conditioning and workouts and what's his timetable for returning in the spring?
JF: Yeah, we are expecting him to be full-go for spring ball. He's participating in the morning workouts right now. Obviously there's no rush to bring him back. He's played a lot of football for us. But I know the coaches are excited about working with him. I know John is excited about getting back on the field.
But yeah, so far, so good. We're expecting him to have a huge role on our team, not only as a player but also as a leader. You know, should be pretty excited to get him back.
He's got so much respect from our players and from our coaches. It will be exciting to get him back full-go in the spring and the summer camp.