Franklin on His Game at Media Day

Penn State's first-year coach dove (and drove) headlong into the first official press conference of the 2014 season.

James Franklin came hurtling into his first Media Day as Penn State's head coach on a golf cart, speeding into Beaver Stadium's South tunnel on Monday afternoon at “about 83 miles an hour” (his estimate) and screeching to a halt behind an unsuspecting reporter, who catapulted six feet into the air (also according to Franklin's measure).

It is the same headlong approach the new boss has taken to all matters since his hire in January, and one that seems certain to continue. He is naturally effervescent, ceaselessly upbeat, endlessly energetic.

As a result he has galvanized the roster and fan base and (perhaps more importantly) struck gold on the recruiting trail, hinting that the Lions will contend at some point in the not-too-distant future. The present is far less certain, given the team's transition to yet another new coaching staff, a sanction-addled depth chart and the difficulty of Big Ten play.

But the 42-year-old Franklin is, as always, unbowed. He treated the 100-some reporters who gathered for Monday's news conference graciously, greeting the group when he entered the media room, asking that each member of the Fourth Estate identify him or herself and needling questioners when the opportunity arose.

“Isn't this nice, how we're doing this, guys?” he asked at one point.

It was a fine little ploy, one that will play as well in living rooms as newsrooms -- and one that will likely earn him the benefit of the doubt during tough times. But if everyone in the room was being played like a Stradivarius on Monday, nobody seemed to mind. The guy is that smooth.

“Have a great day,” he said into the microphone before leaving the room.

No response.

“Have a great day,” he said again.

There was mumbling acknowledgement, and some chuckling. James Franklin had won the day again, and can only hope to do the same when the season begins on Aug. 30, against Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland.

Here is what Franklin had to say about various matters during Monday's presser:

On beginning preseason drills: “I guess it's been seven months since we arrived, and we've gotten a lot of work done in a short period of time, and (we're) excited to get going and work with these guys, day in and day out. There's also part of me that wished we had another seven months.”

More on the preseason: “One of the things that's a little bit challenging this year is the way the calendar fell. Usually I guess there's been a week of school that has gone with camp. This year, the way the calendar fell, we actually have two weeks of school for the first two weeks of camp.”

On the approach of his staff: “This staff, probably more so than any staff I've been on, we spent a lot of time focused on chemistry and morale. I think chemistry and morale are as important, if not more important, than the Xs and the Os and the toughness. … We'll start out really aggressive, and then we'll start to cut back as things go.”

“This staff, probably more so than any staff I've been on, we spent a lot of time focused on chemistry and morale. I think chemistry and morale are as important, if not more important, than the Xs and the Os and the toughness.”

On the recent arrival of his wife and daughters from Nashville: “Both (daughters) executed really impressive form tackles. … It's really been strange, because my wife and kids have been such a big part of our programs. The fact that none of these kids (on the team) really know my daughters and none of these kids really know my wife is weird, because my wife and kids are there, every single day. What was great is yesterday we were able to have two meals with the players. They came and had lunch and dinner with us. My daughters love it. I wish I could spend more time with them. What they wanted to do, as soon as they got there for lunch and dinner, they didn't want to sit with us. Shola went and sat with one group of players, Addie went and sat with another group of players, and I love that.”

On sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg: “I think where the advantage comes is we run a similar system (to that of former head coach Bill O'Brien), so a lot of the concepts he's been taught, there's a lot of carryover. … I think the parallels between the way Billy does things and the way we do things is really helpful.”

More on Hackenberg: “I want him to be more and more confident so he can make really good decisions in terms of protecting the football, get the ball out of his hand as quickly as he possibly can. What you like to see with a quarterback in this system is they get to a point where they feel the defense can't be right -- that you understand the offense so well that if you play Cover Two, wonderful, I'm going to attack the defense here. If you play Cover Three, I'm going here. You go man coverage, here's my man-beater. You bring pressure, I'm either going to throw hot or I'm going to readjust the protection to pick it up. And when you get to the point where the quarterback feels he has all those tools at his disposal, then the confidence skyrockets and they feel like the defense can't be right. That is unbelievably valuable. Our focus is on making sure he's able to do those things by getting all the rest of the pieces of the puzzle in place (around him).”

On protecting Hackenberg: “We're going to have to call the game to help those things. That's moving the pocket. That's getting the ball out of his hand as quickly as we possibly can, and there's a variety of ways of doing that. That's committing to the running game. I think when you have a quarterback like Christian, you say, 'Well, let's just throw the ball.' But you have to be careful, because over time you become predictable. … I actually think that Christian is a lot more mobile and a lot more athletic than people realize, but he has not been asked or used that way. I think that probably makes a whole lot of sense. … It's not like we're going to be running quarterback powers and run read options with him, but there is a way to take advantage of those things. What we're going to need Christian to do is, can you take the negative-six-yard sack and turn it into a plus-six-yard gain, and get down -- so now instead of it being second-and-16, it's second-and-four.”

On the offensive line, which returns just one starter: “I don't know if I would say I feel any better or any worse (about it) without seeing them do it. I do think we've got some guys who have gotten bigger and stronger. I do think the fact that we have a defensive line that we've got a lot of confidence in is going to be helpful, because iron sharpens iron. And the fact that they're going to be out there in practice every single day, going against what we feel is a quality defensive line, that's going to allow us to see where we're at.”

On a receiving corps that lost All-American wide receiver Allen Robinson: “I actually think that's where a lot of the make-up for the production we lost will come from the tight end position. That's where we have the most veteran players. That's where we have the most experience and depth. I'm excited about those young guys (at wide receiver), but that's what it is right now: It's excitement, based on what they did in high school, based on what they did when they arrived on campus, and the testing and what the players are saying about them. But football's kind of different. They show up on campus, they've got to adjust right away academically, they've got to adjust right away athletically, they've got to adjust right away socially, the whole package. … There's a lot on their plate, and some guys might be ready physically, but they're not ready mentally. Or they're ready physically and mentally, and they're not ready emotionally. … Right now it's purely just excitement based on potential. But that's it.”

On how he will use running backs Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch: “You really need three running backs for a whole season, to keep those guys healthy and fresh and rotating, so you have a chance to dictate the terms of the game, enforce your will on your opponent in the fourth quarter and also to be able to do those things late in the season. … You look at whoever's going to be your third tailback once you've kind of let it all play out, you'd love for that guy to be your kickoff return guy.”

On the team's offseason gains: “I do think … we've improved our speed. I think we had five guys on our team this spring run sub-4.5. …. With just the incoming freshman class, we end up having 11 guys (in total) that ran sub-4.5. Getting (DeAndre) Thompkins in here early, he ran the fasted 40 on the team. Then getting (Grant) Haley in here, I think he might have passed (that). … The two fastest guys on our team are in the freshman class.”

On senior middle linebacker Mike Hull: “He's a guy that not only does he have the physical (prowess) in terms of being able to run and change direction and (is) freakishly strong, but he processes information fast as well. … He plays fast. Although when you look at him he's not a real big guy, I think it's a little bit deceiving. … He's kind of got a little peanut head, but he's 235, 237 pounds, which is big enough to play Mike linebacker. … He's big enough to get the job done.”

On his approach to media queries: “One of the things that I always struggle with is how do I answer your questions and give you the information that you need, with also not talking directly to (Central Florida coach) George O'Leary, because he's watching this right now. Hi, George (waving at a camera). Because we do the same thing. We watch all these things. We read all these things. That's the thing I struggle with. That's the whole thing with the injuries and all these other things. I'm not just trying to be difficult. There's a reason for it. I've got to do everything I possibly can to help and protect Penn State, without giving free information to our opponents.”

On the opener in Ireland: “Everybody keeps talking about, what a great cultural experience for the players, but it's not like we're going to be touring the countryside. We've got a tight schedule. What we've got to do is, we've got to make sure our guys have an unbelievable experience at Penn State, get their degrees -- and a degree that means something -- so that once they graduate they can afford to go on a vacation back to Ireland and enjoy the countryside. But this trip isn't really for that.”

On the program's recent upheaval: “For these redshirt seniors, I'm the fourth head coach they've had, including interims. (It's) crazy and unheard of. … They've been through a lot. Early on, there were some challenges there, but since then they've been great and I'm so appreciative and thankful to them, that they've allowed us to enter their family, because this is their family. It's not mine. This program belongs to the players. This university belongs to the students and the alumni. I'm so thankful that they've allowed us to join the family and break into their circle of trust. That's how you're going to build it, and that's how you're going to do special things, is us all working together to help them achieve their dreams.”


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