State of State: Spring Practice

With eight spring practices in the book, Penn State head coach James Franklin reflected on what his team has accomplished, and where its at, with two weeks of drills to go.

STATE COLLEGE -- Last Saturday, Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo estimated 1,000 people packed Holuba Hall to watch Penn State's fourth spring practice.

The number wasn't matched this Saturday, where Franklin and his team completed its eighth spring practice. Numbers were a topic of discussion again, though. This time, however, the focus was on there not being enough of them.

"I think we've got good football players and great kids here, we just don't have enough of them," Franklin said following the practice. "That's the reality.

The head coach continued by praising his starting defensive unit. But, concerns about the depth behind it abound. Offensively, the areas of concern are receiver and offensive line, the head coach said.

Both were evident Saturday morning during the 25 minute portion of practice open to the media. Receiver DaeSean Hamilton practiced sans a previously present wrap on his left wrist, but still didn't catch passes during position drills. Franklin noted the unit is still seeking starters, a fact lost amid concern over offensive line and linebacker starters.

In the trenches, January enrollee's Tarow Barney and Antoine White continue to look the part, but the other side of the line has plenty of question marks. During position work with offensive line coach Herb Hand, Penn State's line worked without senior guard Miles Dieffenbach, sophomore tackle Andrew Nelson, and center Angelo Mangiro.

Asked about what he's seen from Dieffenbach and Nelson this spring, Franklin said "not enough."

Such is life for the still sanctioned Lions. Franklin said moving players from one position to another has helped, but added that some positions "are hard to solve right now."

"We have a long ways to go in a lot of different areas," Franklin said. "Attitude and our effort has been great, and that's really what I'm concerned about more than anything.

"We're laying a foundation this spring and we'll come back in the summer ready to go."


Lining up

Hand barked instruction and shifted technique throughout the open portion of practice. Though most of the line are natural to the position, two are not.

Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia both swung to the offensive trench after suiting up on the defensive line last fall. Franklin said he would defer an evaluation of the line's progress as a whole until after the season, but did shed some light on the duo's transition.

"I feel for them, because we put them in a tough position," Franklin said of Dowrey and Gaia."Two days before spring ball starts I say ‘hey, you're offensive lineman, go at it.'

"They're tough guys and they're smart guys. That's a tough transition but they've handled it extremely well," he continued. "They're team first guys and I've been very pleased and impressed with them."


Watchful eye

Before the spring began, the Penn State head coach said a new group of observers could be on hand for drills: parents.

The head coach estimated five sets of families were on campus for Saturday's workout. He added that the decision allows for something he's so often spoke about since arriving in January: relationships.

"One of the things I know that our players have really appreciated is their parents coming to practice," Franklin said. "We have five sets of current players' parents at practice today, which they're excited about.

"Now, they can come up and see their son practice Saturday then take him out to lunch. That's something that's very important for us."


Early Directions

Many things have changed the way recruiting works and the methods coaches have to communicate not just with prospects, but player's already committed, too.

While speaking on depth, and the challenge Penn State's current numbers present, Franklin said he's already sending a clear message to Penn State's class of 2014 members.

Be ready from the beginning.

The head coach said he's sent Twitter direct messages to members of the class of 2014 instructing them to be ready as soon as they arrive at University Park in June. Redshirts are a valuable part of college football, but at least this fall, it doesn't appear that the Lions will use many of them.

"Some positions are hard to solve with what we currently have on the roster, so that will be where the recruits will help with that," Franklin said.

"Another thing is we're going to need to play a lot of freshman. We would prefer not to do that but I've already been direct messaging these guys and telling them that they need to come in with the mentality that they're going to play."

The message may have been intended for the class as a whole, but it was clear a few members in particular will absolutely adhere to it.

Penn State signed four offensive linemen in its class of 2014, and while Wright is already on campus, Illinois' three-star tackle Brendan Brosnan, Ohio three-star Chance Sorrell, and Pennsylvania three-star tackle Noah Beh could all see playing time in 2014.

The same applies to receivers', where State did quite well in Franklin's first class. The Lions already have North Carolina three-star De'Andre Thompkins on campus (Franklin called him the fastest player on the team) and Pennsylvania three-star Troy Apke, Delaware four-star Chris Godwin, and New Jersey four-star Saeed Blacknall could each inject a fusion of talent into the position.

"Typically, there are certain positions, like offensive line, you would like to redshirt. Really, you're where you're at as a program when really good offensive linemen are playing by their sophomore year.

"We're going to have to play all these guys as true freshman and just grow with them."


Final Thoughts

The key to the spring always has been, and always will be, health.

Franklin has declined to discuss injures, but said Saturday he wants his team to stay healthy and grow confident throughout the rest of the spring. By doing so, he said they can "start playing fast and violent."

Just two week separate Penn State from its annual Blue-White game April 12. To listen to Franklin, there is plenty to accomplish in that time.

"We've put a lot on them and so that when we come back in summer camp their not hearing things for the first time," Franklin said. "We're installing everything; offense, defense, special teams."


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