Penn State Media Day Roundup

Check out our quick hitters from the Nittany Lions’ press event at Beaver Stadium.

One thing was made abundantly clear at Penn State's Media Day on Thursday: Everyone has a chip on his shoulder.

Second-year head coach James Franklin uttered that phrase, and others followed suit. Repeatedly. Insistently.

And why, pray tell, is that the case?

“You've got a bunch of prideful, passionate guys,” Franklin said, “that have come to Penn State to do something special. And I think that we're going to have that chip on our shoulder until we get where we want to go -- and that's to build the No. 1 organization in all of college football.”

Franklin, 7-6 in his first season, continues to talk about the positive momentum that has gathered over the last several months, with the elimination of the Sandusky-induced sanctions, a victory in the Pinstripe Bowl and the arrival of another strong recruiting class.

Now, he said, “We have to capitalize on that momentum.”

It is of immeasurable help, he noted, that he and his staff have a year under their belts.

“It's night and day (from last season),” he said.

The Lions also have some obvious strengths. A seasoned quarterback in Christian Hackenberg. A defense that returns many of the key pieces from a unit that played lights-out last fall.

There are almost as many concerns.

Here are the main topics that were covered by Franklin and his top assistants Thursday:

WOE-LINE: The offensive line allowed a school-record 44 sacks in 2014, and was a big reason the Lions were near the bottom of the national rankings in every major statistical category.

The two most experienced guys, tackle Donovan Smith and guard Miles Dieffenbach, are gone, though Franklin's counterargument is that five guys return with starting experience: guards Brendan Mahon and Brian Gaia, centers Angelo Mangiro and Wendy Laurent, and tackle Andrew Nelson (shown above).

The position battle to watch is at left tackle, where junior-college transfer Paris Palmer is being pushed by redshirt freshman Chance Sorrell.

Franklin said the linemen have “taken ownership of their position, their responsibility and their role” and that the unit has been buffeted by those players who were redshirted last season. That means more depth, and more competition.

And yes, the head coach said, they have a chip on their shoulders.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU: Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop was a graduate assistant at Virginia when Hackenberg's dad, Erick, was the third-string quarterback there. Shoop and the younger Hackenberg have also developed a solid working relationship, despite the fact that they work on different sides of the ball.

Shoop, in fact, recalls first seeing Christian during the spring of 2014 -- specifically, watching him from behind the secondary during a scrimmage in Holuba Hall as the ball came out of his hand.

“It was like nothing I'd ever seen before,” Shoop said. “The guy can make every throw. Clearly he's right out of Central Casting. He's got great dimensions. He's a great-looking guy.”

They have compared notes ever since.

“We do talk a lot,” Shoop said. “A lot of times it's immediate feedback, right after practice: 'Hey, Christian, that was a great job, looking off Marcus (Allen, the safety). What were you thinking on that?' Or, 'Hey, we're trying to disguise this. How did that look to you?' Or he'll give feedback, like, 'Jordan (Lucas is) tipping your hand when you're zone-blitzing.' That type of feedback goes back and forth, and he's so mature. It's a lot like talking to a pro. He's very advanced in his knowledge of the game and his expertise in the game.”

ABOUT THE DEFENSE: The Lions ranked among the nation's best in most defensive categories, and Shoop was characteristically upbeat about a unit that returns seven starters.

He reserved his loftiest praise, however, for sophomore safety Marcus Allen, who became a starter in midstream last fall, after Ryan Keiser was injured.

“He's the undisputed quarterback of the defense,” Shoop said of Allen. “He probably is a lot to the defense what Christian is to the offense. He's very vocal. He understands the defense inside and out.”

Allen, who is listed at 6-2, 209, watches a lot of video of another big, rangy safety, Kam Chancellor of the Seattle Seahawks.

According to Shoop, Allen “sees himself a little bit like that -- that box-type safety who's very good in the run game. He is a good pass defender. He does have good quickness and speed. He's got to continue to work on his ball skills. … The thing I like about him is that it's really, really important to him. He's on the JUGS machine every day.”

The defensive is anchored by tackles Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson. Zettel is, according to Shoop, “as explosive a defensive tackle as there will be in the country,” while Johnson is “more your prototypical NFL prospect.”

Then there's Nyeem Wartman-White, who moves from outside linebacker to Mike Hull's old spot in the middle.

“He understands the defense very well,” Shoop said, “he's got an incredibly high football IQ, he's vocal, he's energetic, he's got great leadership qualities.”

And because of all that, this unit looks very solid. Again.

“Using my baseball analogy -- you guys know I like baseball -- if you were going up the middle: A.J. and Zettel, Nyeem, Marcus and Jordan (Lucas),” Shoop said. “That's pretty darn good.”

HERE'S THE KICKER: Special teams coach Charles Huff said Joey Julius and Tyler Davis will compete for the kicking job left vacant with the graduation of Sam Ficken, while Chris Gulla, Robby Liebel and Daniel Pasquariello will vie for the punting job.

The 5-10 Julius -- a.k.a., “Big Toe” -- is listed at 261 pounds.

“Joey is a big individual,” Huff said. “He's always been a bigger individual. … We are getting him to put the weight in good places, but it is a process.”

Franklin did not rule out having one guy kick off, and the other attempting placements.

DaeSean Hamilton and DeAndre Thompkins are in the running for the punt-return job, while Koa Farmer and Nick Scott will vie with holdover Grant Haley for the kickoff-return spot.

NEW FACE: Franklin said former NFL coach Jim Haslett, brought in as a consultant in the offseason, cannot by rule recruit or do any hands-on coaching. He will instead serve as an observer and “sounding board” for the coaching staff.

UP OR DOWN: Offensive coordinator John Donovan was in the press box for some games last season, on the sideline for others. He said he will “most likely” be on the sideline this season.

HASTA MANANA: It was announced before at the beginning of Media Day that eight players would not be available because they were taking part in a tutoring session, in preparation for a Spanish final that will be administered Friday: Tarow Barney, Brandon Bell, Malik Golden, Hamilton, Wendy Laurent, Akeel Lynch, Jordan Smith and Brent Wilkerson.

Barney, Hamilton and Lynch were present, however.


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