CHICAGO — Penn State coach James Franklin finally took the main podium at BIg Ten Media Days here Friday morning. Franklin was the last coach to speak in the main media room at the event.
You can watch his entire PC above and read the transcript below.
COACH FRANKLIN: Well, really excited about the opportunity to be here today, represent Penn State, represent the Big Ten. You think about the story that's being told about our institution and the Big Ten as a whole this year compared to last year. It couldn't be more dramatically different.
So many positive things falling into place for us right now. Penn State being able to get the scholarships back, having an opportunity to go to bowl games, the way recruiting is going, the way we played in the bowl, and the way the season ended. Just so many positive things falling into place right now. Really happy for our kids and our program. We're coming into this season with nothing floating over our head. They have the ability to be able to chase their dreams at the very, very highest level. So really, really excited.
Finishing up summer school right now, getting to that point in the year when everybody has the itch and ready to get going. The funny thing is we're trying to get our guys to be as present as they possibly can be because they'll be telling us the same thing two weeks from now that they're ready to stop hitting each other and play another opponent. So really excited about the opportunities.
We have a two deep at every position now that's available to play in games. Some positions three deep, which I know sounds crazy. But the way we're going to be able to practice, the way we're going to be able to develop, it's going to have a major impact on everything. So excited about the opportunity and open up to questions.
Q. Going into this season, many questions about the offensive line. Where do you think it's at right now? How does Kevin Reihner play into all that?
COACH FRANKLIN: Obviously offensive line is going to be a big storyline going into the season. We're just in a different position. I think we've made great progress. We still have a lot of progress that still has to take place. Last year we came into the season with one returning starter. This year we're coming into the season with four returning starters. We went out and signed a number one junior college offensive tackle in the country, and he was able to get on campus in December, which was really, really valuable.
We were able to get a grad school transfer in Kevin Reihner, and we're excited about his opportunity as a center to be able to compete for that job. So I think our depth is just different.
Last year our left tackle would go down. We'd move our right tackle to left tackle. Our center would go to right tackle, and the backup center would come in. Hopefully, we'll be in a position this year where if we do have some bumps and bruises, the backup could slide in and it's just interchanging one spot.
All those offensive linemen that we recruited last year, they all redshirted. So now they are available. They're all freshmen. At this point last year, we were the second youngest team in college football. I haven't seen any studies where we're at this year, but we're still really young. So I think we're going to make progress. I'm excited to see how much progress we've made in camp once the pads come off.
Q. I think we're all curious about Hackenberg, what kind of progress he's made. And what do you make of it seems like the NFL scouts still hold him in really high regard. What are your thoughts on that for the season ahead?
COACH FRANKLIN: Hack's had a great summer, and really spring. He was on the kind of the quarterback circuit. Did some things this summer and had some unique experiences, which were awesome as well.
But to me, the storyline is the same as it was last year. I told everybody our concern wasn't with Christian Hackenberg, it was all the pieces of the puzzle around Christian. Like I said, we had one returning starter on the offensive line last year. This year four.
Three of our four receivers last year were freshmen. We lost Adam Breneman, tight end, who we were expecting big things out of before the season started. And all those guys are back and with more experience. So I'm excited that Christian is going to be able to continue his development. Keep him upright, allow him to deliver the ball to the playmakers now.
And then also the impact of a running game. We weren't able to consistently run the ball last year as well. So all those things are going to be really, really important.
All those other things and the other point you brought up, I'm focused on Penn State and I'm focused on Temple, our opening season game. And I'm excited about Christian's opportunities and what he's going to do this year.
Q. Coach, speaking of the running game, what do you have to say about Akeel Lynch coming into a full time starter role and your redshirts that are now coming into being potentially backups and competing for a role?
COACH FRANKLIN: Akeel has had a great summer. You look at how productive he was last year in a limited role. As the season went on, that grew. He's a mature guy. He's big, strong, fast, physical, very, very intelligent. He's doing it the right way. He really is.
If you read some articles about Akeel and his upbringing and his mom, his mom has had an unbelievable impact on him and done an unbelievable job in raising a quality, quality young man. So I'm excited for his future and what he's going to be able to do this year. He's obviously also going to be impacted by the offensive line and the tight ends, the experience we have there now.
Also excited, we had three guys that we redshirted last year behind him. Those guys are ready to go. They're bigger. They're faster. They're stronger. They're more mature. And then we also have two highly touted true freshmen coming in as well. So I think you have Akeel who is obviously more of an established guy.
And then you've got a bunch of young guys that have never touched a ball in a game before. So that's going to be interesting to see that battle and who's going to be in the rotation. Typically, at this level, whether it's the NFL or major college football like the Big Ten, you're going to need three backs. You're going to need three backs. So figuring out who those other two backs are going to be is going to be really important for us.
Q. You've coached in the SEC and now in the Big Ten East. How energized are you to coach against some of the coaches and programs: Urban Meyer, Ohio State; Michigan State, Dantonio; and now Harbaugh with Michigan. How energizing is that for you?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think it's great. That's why you come to the Big Ten. That's why you come to Penn State. It's exciting that we're able to go to high schools and go to recruits and say - you have an opportunity to get a world class education and play against the very best, which is what everybody wants to do. Big time football, big time academics, tremendous support.
I think it's great. I think it's great for our conference. Like I said in the beginning, you think about the stories and the narrative that was being told a year ago compared to now, it's a 180 degree switch. So I think that's exciting.
I think it's exciting in the fact that our players are going to be able to compete against some of the top players in the country. Our coaches are going to be able to compete against top coaches. We're going to be able to go into great environments and play big time college football. We've embraced it. We're excited about it. It's all about competing in everything you do, in the classroom and on the football field.
Q. Gus Malzahn at SEC media days said the SEC is at a disadvantage because they beat up on each other all year and they're worn down by the time they come to the college football playoff. Having coached in both leagues, what's your response to that?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think there's some valid points. I think you could make the same argument that the Big Ten, we play nine conference games and do not play FCS programs. The Big Ten scheduling model is taking care of strength of schedule for us. But I think it's an interesting argument. Eight games in the SEC and playing FCS or nine games in the Big Ten and not playing FCS. I have tremendous respect for the SEC, but I've also for the Big Ten. And I think you can make an argument we're going through a similar situation.
Q. Coach, does your program consider either Maryland or Rutgers to be a rival right now, given that all three programs are recruiting?
COACH FRANKLIN: We have tremendous respect for the entire conference. I think the addition of Maryland and Rutgers have been awesome. Got tremendous respect for their programs, their universities, their head football coaches in Coach Flood and Coach Edsell.
But we kind of approach it one game at a time. If you look at Penn State historically, we have not really had a true rival per se in the Big Ten. And we're just focused on Penn State and building this program back to where everybody wants it to be.
Q. You talked a little bit about guys coming off of redshirt years. Which one of those guys or two of those guys are you most excited to see here in camp next week?
COACH FRANKLIN: You know, that's a good question. I try not to point out specific guys because what happens then I walk off the stage and I'm upset with myself that I missed someone I should have mentioned.
I would say probably as a group, the offensive line just because the value that they're going to bring in the way we're going to be able to practice and also the way we're going to be able to play I think is going to have as big of an impact as anything.
Again, you look, we had 65 or just under 65 scholarship players last year. We played at the end of the year against, I think, Ohio State with 45 scholarship players and Michigan State, I think, was 41 scholarship players available at game time.
So to have those guys in practice and be able to get the reps, I think that's what people sometimes overlook. They think about the game, and the game is important. But it's also preparing your guys and getting enough reps in practice so it has a trickle down effect to everybody.
If your second team offensive line cannot block your second team defensive line, you can't develop the backup quarterback. You can't develop the wide receivers. You can't develop the corners.
When you have to reduce practice reps to keep people healthy, it just has an effect. You're talking about that effect over three years. So being able to go back to more of a traditional model and the way we're going to practice and I'm not talking about the banging. It's not necessarily about the banging. It's just about the reps.
We talk about mental reps and the importance of mental reps and how much you can get out of it, but there's nothing like experience. So standing and watching is one thing. Being out on the field and actually doing it in practice and in games and building up that muscle memory as well as the fundamentals and techniques and footwork necessary to be successful is critical. And we're a program that believes in the player development, mentally, physically, emotionally. And then also in recruiting as well. So we're excited about where we're going.
Q. I was wondering if the offensive line, with all the scrutiny that they faced, do you think they're playing with a bit of a chip, having bulletin board material up in the locker room?
COACH FRANKLIN: I do. I think so. I think going through it is never fun, but I do think that they will be better because of that experience. I also feel that way about Christian Hackenberg. I think the mental and physical toughness that he showed last year in the long run is really going to help him.
So, yeah, I think our offensive line has a chip on their shoulder. I think they worked like that all offseason. So, yeah, I would really appreciate if any of you guys are willing to write some nasty article about them to continue to motivate them to continue to push them throughout the season.
Q. Last year Christian tended to get frustrated in certain games maybe because of the inexperience or whatever. And I know you said we made a little too much of it. But how important is it for him to maintain his cool and composure this season as a leader of the offense?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think it's a fine line. You I definitely want him to be calm, cool, and collected as much as he possibly can. But I also think there's times that he needs to show emotion. I think the guys have got to stay true to who they are. And I think Christian was in a unique situation last year. You're talking about a true sophomore, 19 years old, that basically the entire offense was on his shoulders.
So what I want Christian to do is I want Christian to have fun. I want him to enjoy himself, and I want him to be true to who he is. If he feels like the thing that's going to help him and our team be most successful is be calm, cool, and collected, I want him to be calm, cool, and collected. If there's a time where he needs to get emotional and get after people, I'm fine with that as well.
And I think he's getting to the point now as a junior where he's figured all those things out and what's appropriate at the right time. So this is a tough game played by emotional people. Those things are going to happen from time to time.