NITTANY NOTES: Dialing It Up

As the Penn State football team progresses through drills this spring, James Franklin and his staff continue to dial up the intensity of practice.

When it comes to contact and intensity at practice, new Penn State James Franklin and his staff are described as "insane" and "out of their minds." As one observer shared, "[The coaches] get so into everything. They are in the drills and showing guys how it's done. They scream and jump. If someone screws up they yell, if someone nails it they scream. They love it. It's awesome."

Not unlike what was seen under Joe Paterno, James Franklin's crew has gradually dialed up the intensity over the past six practices, particularly once the squad got the mandatory non-contact sessions out of the way.


Head to Head

Working 1v1, 2v2 and unit vs. unit drills, everything is "all out" and "competitive." The staff is focused on "evaluating physical and mental abilities."

One drill they have used to evaluate this of this is the "pride" or "swarm" drill (as some on the defensive side referred to it), which lines up different looks in 3v3, 4v4 or 3v4 sets. The offense has three linemen (who can vary between OL, WR, TE, RB), a quarterback and ball carrier, who can be a running back, wideout or tight end. It's basically a goal-line set situation.

The offensive and defensive linemen saw a lot of work in these drills. Although players throughout the depth chart participate, the drills have seen various lineups of key players like Andrew Nelson, Angelo Mangiro, Miles Dieffenbach, Donovan Smith and Anthony Alosi on offense against variations of Anthony Zettel, Austin Johnson, Tarow Barney, Tyrone Smith and Antoine White on the interior and ends like C.J. Olaniyan, Deion Barnes, Garrett Sickels and Brad Bars.

"Defense often has an edge in closed-quarter drills, but the offense, particularly with the (offensive) line lineup, has gotten some nice wins. Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch handle getting through the tight spaces well."

The drills mix up the lineups where, aside from your traditional OL vs. DL they line up wideouts and defensive backs and tight ends against linebackers.


Head and Heart

"These drill isn't about position play, it's all about developing mental toughness, aggression and intensity — and camaraderie among the players and coaches. It's a lot like what [former strength coach Craig Fitzgerald] would do with his "tug" workouts. Those weren't great strength workouts, they were about competition and competitiveness."

As another observer said, "The coaches are looking for players with heads and hearts. Meaning, how do they think and how do they compete?"

It's been mentioned a few times that "toughness is as critical as technique" to Franklin and his coaches. "Every coach says that, but he focuses on this in every aspect of the team's prep."

Aside from 1v1-style drills, the defensive units have run tackle circuits working technique with varying scenarios.


Ground Game

As mentioned in earlier reports the staff likes the different dimensions Zach Zwinak and Belton provide. They particularly like "Bill's ability to run effectively inside or out." Belton has shown more patience with set blocks and "seems to see openings better."

Not surprisingly, Zwinak's power has seen work in short-yardage and red-zone drill, although "the coaches are aware he's not a one-trick back and can break things open." Although there is concern with the staff about Zwinak's ability to hold onto the ball given his fumbling issues last season, "that doesn't seem to be an issue so far (this spring)."

The interesting dimension of the ground game is with Lynch. Whereas Zwinak had 210 carries for 989 yards (4.7 YPC) and 12 touchdowns and Belton has 157 carries for 803 yards (5.1 YPC) and five scores, Lynch got 60 carries for 358 yards and one touchdown. Lynch, like previous spring sessions, has shown speed as well as the ability to "hit a hole and shift in traffic."

As one observer explained, "He's continually worked on his ability to pick up and hold a block. It's been a process; as soon as he nails that down the coaches will have to figure out how to work him in more."


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