Penn State coach James Franklin met the media Tuesday to preview this week's season-opener vs. Kent State. See what he had to say from his PC at Beaver Stadium.
COACH FRANKLIN: It's amazing to me that time has flown by and we're already in week one of the season. Excited to watch the guys open the season in Beaver Stadium starting at home. We've been very, very pleased with what they did this summer as well as camp. Had an excellent camp in our opinion. Excited to watch the guys go out and perform. One.
Of the things that I think is interesting, you look at we have three senior captains which very, very proud of what those guys brought to the table this summer, and the team voted for those guys. It was overwhelming. We have 12 senior eligible players on our roster, which is tied for the second-fewest in all of FBS football.
So the fact that we have three senior captains that are really going to step up into that role, I think is going to be significant and I think is going to be more on their plate than maybe most programs that have bigger senior classes.
You look at Kent State, just a few facts on them, defensively 27th in total defense last year. That's the head coach's background. Offense, we heard that they are going to play three quarterbacks on Saturday. Special teams, they have been a scheme by-week kind of unit where they are going to have a specific approach based on the opponent that they are playing that week. 19 of 22 starters back, 12 on offense, eight on defense and then two specialists returning.
Obviously Coach Haynes, got a lot of respect for him. He's got a lot of background in the Big Ten, nine years coaching at Big Ten schools with Ohio State, Michigan State.
Then the other thing I wanted you guys to be aware of, Nick Bowers will be out for the season and so that's why you did not see him on the depth chart. So that's probably as specific as I'll get with that. Wanted you guys to be aware of that that he will be gone for the season.
Open it up for questions.
Q. Through true freshmen are listed on the depth chart on the offensive line, including Michal Menet, can you describe how they have performed in camp, and when do you make a decision for the year between red and green?
COACH FRANKLIN: Really, it can change. I remember being at the University of Maryland with a young man by the name of Domonique Foxworth who we burned his red shirt the last game of the year. It really just depends.
Every situation is different. Obviously the earlier the better but we are going into this with the mentality that those guys probably are going to end up playing for us at some point. So we're going to get them involved as early as we possibly can.
So you know, feel pretty confident, those guys have done a great job for us physically. They are ready to play. Mentally they are catching up day by day. Will fly is a guy who has done some good things in a short period of time on campus and earned a lot of people's respect.
Connor McGovern had a little bit of a head start being here for spring ball, and Michal Menet is another guy that's done some really nice things and has been able to get a lot of reps with our guys and our one unit in practice.
Obviously the earlier the better, but really if at any point we feel like those guys can help our team be successful, we're willing to do it. It's a discussion we'll have with them, as well. Each player and each family is different but for the most part, we feel like they could help the team be successful.
Q. Two players in the camps that they have had, Brendan Mahon, his evolution and development into the left tackle spot and Evan Schwan, defensive end, in the off-season, he was battling Torrence for the starting job, and I see him at the top of the depth chart. Your thoughts on them and the camp they have had?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, Brendan has done a nice job. He's really, really been focused, really in all areas of his life, academically, socially, athletically. He's matured so much since the time we have arrived. I'm very, very proud of him and had a great camp. He's a guy that has the flexibility to play tackle or guard. Kind of always looked at him that way. He saw all the competition that we were having at the tackle position and felt like he could help them.
You know, with that opportunity, he's run with it and really done a nice job for us, talking to our defensive ends and it's all interesting, getting the perspective, not just with the coaches, but also of the players, the guys, that they hate going against. And Mahon has really earned everybody's respect.
So you're talking about a guy who is an older guy. He's been in the program for a couple years. I think that experience and his maturity is really going to help.
Evan Schwan is a guy that I think really had a great off-season. He's a guy that I think studied Carl Nassib and all the things that Carl did when it comes to sleep, when it comes to nutrition, when it came to training, for all senior year, he tried to model a lot of the same behaviors. I think it's really paid off for him.
We're excited, the fact that we have a senior, which we have a few on our team, is stepping up on the defensive line for us; we're expecting good things out of him. I've just been very, very pleased and proud of him with how he's approached everything, his leadership, his understanding of this is kind of his time. He's put in five years waiting for this opportunity and really approached it the right way and run with it.
Excited about what he's going to be able to bring to the table this year. Another big, strong, you're talking about 6-6, 263 pound guy. His testing numbers this off-season were excellent. It should be interesting to see what he's going to be able to bring to the table.
Q. What stood out to you about Mike Gesicki in camp and how has he changed as a player or person since he came to campus?
COACH FRANKLIN: Mike's been very businesslike, he really has. You talk about a guy, again, who has matured dramatically in his three years here, and he's seen it all. A highly-recruited guy coming in here, has not had the type of success that he wanted, got some scrutiny, has really matured and learned from all those things. Has had a very businesslike approach this off-season, and that's been great. Really, really proud of him.
I think we all know he's got a lot of ability and I think coming out and having some success and building on that with his confidence is going to be really important. He's really embraced the physical aspects of the position, which was the biggest challenge for him, considering he had never really been in a three-point stance or blocked in high school.
So he's really embraced that aspect of his game and it's really helped him. So I think he is a guy that everybody within our program is expecting him to have a big year, and a break out year for us.
Q. How did you go about setting your special teams in the off-season and what would constitute special teams this season?
COACH FRANKLIN: I didn't completely hear the whole question. It's kind of a bad connection.
Q. How did you go about studying your special teams during the off-season and what would constitute improved special teams for this season?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think the first thing you do is obviously you look at the statistics and where you rank in the conference, and I think where you're ranked nationally. And then you go through and you watch all the schemes and you go through and you watch every cut-up and things that you did well and areas that you need to improve.
Then you go out and you do different studies with different people, whether you're watching other people's film, whether you're bringing people in specifically about special teams or whether you're going to visit people outside specifically about special teams, and we did all of those things.
I think the other thing is, like we've talked about, you know, the fact that we have all these guys that we've red-shirted now the last two years that are available, not just at the kicker, punter and snapper position, but the other ten guys on the field and what they are going to be able to bring to the table.
I think Grant Haley is an example of a guy that came in here, and his first major role was on special teams and then that success translated over to defense and so on and so forth.
We have more of those type of guys available to us now. You know, we could have chose not to red-shirt many guys those first two years, but didn't feel like that was the right decision long-term for Penn State. Made that decision and I think that's what you're going to see. You're going to see more depth.
You're going to see more opportunities for big plays on special teams. You stand there, you look at the units out there and it's impressive when you look at the guys that we have on kickoff across the board. You feel really, really confident about all the guys and really the two-deep and pretty much that's the same way across the board on every special teams unit.
And then all the competition that all the returning starters have had at the specialist position, as well as bringing in Barbir and Gillikin in has really helped. Yaz's leadership has been excellent.
Then when it comes down to evaluating that, it's the special teams offense and defense all doing everything they possibly can to put the team in position to win and be successful. And on all three phases, that is not only making plays and making big plays, but it's also eliminating the negative plays. That's probably an area on special teams that we've been focused on, as well, not only making plays but eliminating the negative plays.
Q. Considering the unique circumstances of a season opener, do you craft a final message or point of emphasis to the team before kickoff or the night before, and how might that be different for this team or this season?
COACH FRANKLIN: I don't really do that. I'm not a big pregame speech, get 'em fired up. I believe we do that pregame speech Sunday through Friday before practice in our team meeting every single day. If you have to go in and give a pregame speech to get them fired up to play, then you've got problems in the first place; if you're not excited about running out in Beaver Stadium and playing an opponent after training all off-season.
So yeah, my message is from Sunday through Friday in our team meeting every single day, the things that we need to do to be successful at practice that day and how that practice is designed to get us ready to play on Saturday. That's really kind of our message.
Obviously I meet with them after practice for a few minutes and give them some instant feedback on what I thought we did well and what I think we need to improve on. Watch film that night and give them more feedback the next day in the team meeting, as well. That's really our approach. That's really our focus. We rotate through the staff in pregame speeches, so it doesn't become the same voice all the time up in front of the room talking; that they are hearing a similar message from different perspectives. That's pretty much how we do it and that's pretty much how I've always done it as a head coach.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Ryan Bates, I saw he is going to be starting for you at left guard. Wanted to know what his special attributes were, and also, when I looked at the depth chart, I did not see Curtis Cothran's name. Is he still in the mix at D-tackle or D-end or what's his situation?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, Curtis is in the mix. He's still in the mix. He will have an opportunity throughout the season to earn a bigger role.
And then if you look at your initial question about Ryan Bates, Ryan is a big, strong physical guy who has had an opportunity last year where we almost burned his red-shirt to play. Very similar to a Menet and some of those guys, like McGovern.
The difference was, is Bates was a little bit more undersized compared to those guys coming in. Needed time to get bigger and stronger in the weight room but was a guy that we were close to burning his red-shirt. That was a big discussion for us in the off-season -- excuse me, during the season last year about whether we were going to burn his shirt. We ended up being able to save his shirt and now he's got four years to have a big role for us.
So there's a lot of excitement about him, his athleticism, his intelligence, his approach. Coming from a winning high school program, he understands what it takes to be successful, sacrifices that need to be made. A lot of excitement about him and his future.
Q. At Media Day, Brent Pry talked about how the back seven on defense is going to play a little more aggressively, jump routes, play more aggressively, that kind of thing. Can you talk about what tweaks the defense might have to do, sort of, because of the ripple effect of losing those three great linemen?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know, it was more just about things that we wanted to do that, that Brent wanted to do, that I wanted to do, in evolving the defense. Same discussions that we would have every year in the off-season, things that we thought we are doing well and want to continue to build on those things; and then on areas where Brent's personality and just some things that we discussed that we think would be helpful moving forward.
So having a little bit more personality, defensively, being able to disguise some things. And we still want to continue to have a personality on defense that we are not going to give up the big play. That's very, very important. Offensively trying to create big plays; and defensively taking big plays away; but not to the point where the guys are not willing to take some calculated risks and try to make a play.
You know, rather than you feel like you are make a break on the ball and have a chance to pick it off, go and make that play, rather than playing it more caution and going for the pass break-up or just going for the tackle.
We want our guys to take some calculated risks, especially in practice. Start to test yourself and see what plays you feel confident that you can make on a consistent basis. And that's the fine line of balancing those two things. I think our guys are enjoying it. I think it's a little bit more aggressive. I think our players are enjoying that approach, and it's showed up in this camp for us.
Q. I notice Noah Beh isn't listed on the depth chart. How did he progress during camp and are you comfortable with depth behind Brendan at left tackle with Palmer and those guys?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think you always want as much depth as you possibly can, and we don't really look at it as just left tackle. It's the tackles in general; the tackle position. The left tackles and the right tackles are all fighting for who is the third-best tackle, who is the fourth-best tackle and so on and so forth.
And Noah has been a part of that conversation during all of camp. Noah has really shown some nice things and made some dramatic improvement from last season, but there are still some areas that he needs to work on. Those areas have been communicated clearly to Noah, and he's a guy that we still feel like has a bright future here at Penn State.
But there's just some areas that he needs to continue to invest in to help him have the type of role that he wants for us on our offensive line.
Q. With Nick Bowers out for the season and knowing the success that tight ends have had under Joe Moorehead's offense, how do you think the tight end group is going to fair without him?
COACH FRANKLIN: Next man up. Obviously we're going to miss him. He's a great teammate. I think he has a very, very bright future here at Penn State. Had a great off-season. So we're going to miss him. But yeah, it's next man up.
We're excited about Tom Pancoast and what he brings to the table and Jonathan Holland's development. We have the ability to go 10-personnel and that can be a part of what we do, a little bit more than 11-personnel, be able to mix that in and have a bigger role for us; that's a way to handle that, as well as giving Pancoast and Holland some opportunities, as well.
Excited about what Mike is going to be able to do and excited about the tight end's role in our offense, not only this year, but in the future.
Q. On the return game, will you have one person kind of handling each role, punt return and kick return, or will that be something that may change based on situation?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it can change based on situation. You prefer to just have one guy really take a hold of that role. We did more of that stuff in practice to kind of determine that, more live situations where guys had to break tackles or make people miss. To evaluate that, that's always a difficult thing to do.
But yeah, you would love for one guy to take ahold of that job and run with it where you feel like he can serve that role, whether it's backed up, whether it's end of the game situations, whatever it may be. You feel confident with who that punt returner is or that kick returner.
I think Saquon is probably the one guy, has been pretty strong, had a pretty strong voice all off-season that he wanted to be more involved on special teams and have a bigger role and bigger impact on the team. So we talked about being able to use him, maybe not as your full-time kick returner but be able to use him at spots, and we'll see how that goes.
I think the development of those other guys, Miles and Polk and Nick Scott; obviously depending on how dynamic those guys are being, that maybe you don't have to go that route. But I know it's something that Saquon feels very, very strongly about; that he wants to help the team in as many ways as possible.
Q. You've spoken a lot about Kevin Givens over the months. Are there a couple things that he did during camp to take that next step to solidify the top spot at the three technique?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think whenever you take a corner and move him to safety or a safety and move him to linebacker, or linebacker and move him to dn and so forth and so on to D-tackle, what you're trying to do is take a guy that has good athleticism and move him to a position where now maybe he has really good athleticism or elite athleticism for that position.
What you don't know sometimes is will it translate. Just like with Kevin, Kevin did some remarkable things in the weight room. He's one of those guys, whenever we're testing and it's power clean or squat, that everybody kind of gravitates over to watch him, because he's going to do something remarkable from that perspective. But once again, not all the time does that translate on to the field.
I played with a bunch of guys, I've been around them my entire career, that were weight room warriors, but didn't always translate on to the football field. And the opposite: I've been around guys that have been weak in the weight room and have been functionally strong in the games or in practice.
You know, Kevin is a guy that really, it's showed up at both. His work ethic and commitment in the weight room has really translated on the field and his quickness and athleticism at the defensive tackle position has been a problem for guys.
And typically, you don't have both. Typically you have under-sized guys that have tremendous quickness, but they can get overpowered at times. Kevin is pound-for-pound probably one of the strongest guys on our team, and on top of that, he's got tremendous quickness and athleticism for that position.
Sometimes length is a factor at those defensive line positions, as well, when you're going against offensive linemen with really long arms. But Kevin, his hand placement is excellent, and he's able to really get leverage from his height and also from his hand placement. And you combine that with his quickness, his athleticism and his strength, and he's been a problem.
So we're excited about his future and what he brings and what he's going to be able to do opening the season against Kent State.
Q. How much have you guys scaled back after camp now to regain your legs and whatnot? And can you look back to last year, did you feel like maybe where you guys -- was that a problem in the opener in terms of quickness and being fresh?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think in general, we scaled down the last two years. But again, with 65 scholarship and 75 scholarship, the amount that you have to scale back, also, to get them ready to play when it comes to fundamentals and techniques and schemes, but also get them fresh, that's a challenge.
So we're able to go back to a more normal model, and it's not just the amount of time you're at practice. So for example, say you have more offensive linemen available. That takes two or three reps out of a period away from one of the other guys to save their legs and take some of the banging off of them because of development, you're still trying to balance all of those things, not only the reps but the development of the younger players, as well.
I just think being able to go back to a more normal model, and understanding how to balance that over 20 years of experience is easier to do than kind of going through a situation that not too many people in the history of college football have been through before.
Q. Obviously you guys had Fordham film to watch and scrimmage and practice cut-ups, but how crucial moving forward in this full install of this new install of this new offense will it be to finally have a live game action set of film after Kent State this weekend?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it helps. But really it probably won't provide the most value until next year or spring ball. You know, the stuff that we needed, we were able to get done this year with being able to watch the Fordham tape and then all of our spring ball cut-ups, as well. So we kind of mixed those two things in there.
The most important thing is actually getting out there and running the plays and running the reps, and obviously the more successful plays you have in practice or in games that you can create a video playbook or a video library of examples of those plays against certain defenses, certain schemes; whether it's two high looks on defense, whether it's one high look on defense; whether it's man, whether it's zone, whether it's pressure looks; and allowing your guys to have enough accumulated reps against those things. Or like you're saying, clips on them from video that they can learn from, as well.
All those things are valuable. But it's not like one game is going solve those things for us. But we felt like we had enough examples between Fordham and our guys taking those reps in practice all of camp that we feel like we're in a really good place.
Q. A lot of the talk about the new offense has been the fact that it takes pressure off of the offensive line. If you take that factor away, how much better do you think this unit is than it was last year? How has that progress been with the scheme aside?
COACH FRANKLIN: Well, I think that's what we're all waiting to see, until we get into the games and have the chance to produce and be successful; practice is great, but it all comes down to production in the games.
I think the mobility at quarterback is going to help our offensive line. I think the scheme and the tempo is going to help our offensive line and I think the depth that we have at wide receiver and at running back is going to help our offensive line, and I also think it's going to help a quarterback when you have a new quarterback coming in and you have these pieces of the puzzle around them.
I think at the end of the day, the coaching staff, myself, you, the media, and the fans, it really comes down to what we do in the games and that's what we're excited to go out and show.
Q. Talk about that excitement. You guys have been hitting up the same players for the past month. Talk about the mind-set and mentality of this team transitioning from the camp to the first time to come out in front of 107,000.
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it gets to that point every single year where the guys I think in a lot of ways enjoyed camp. There's parts of it that you don't obviously, but getting out there and getting the chance to compete and get the reps that you want. But there comes a point where going against each other every single day, you want to go out and you want to compete against somebody else and you want to be able to do it in a stadium in front of your loved ones and your family and friends and fellow students and alumni.
Yeah, you want to get out and show all of your hard work, what it's put you in position to be able do. So yeah, I think we're at that point. I feel like our team feels very, very confident and I feel like our team feels prepared for this opportunity. We still have a couple days obviously to get some things ironed out and get a few more reps, but typically in your first game, you don't wait till today to start preparing for your open. You get some bonus practices early on and you get a head start on Kent probably your last week of camp. So that was helpful, as well.
Q. Trace is set to make his first career start on Saturday. What's been his approach this week and what's been his demeanor or? Is he a pretty calm guy? Is he a guy you need to talk to about those first-time jitters when he goes out or what's the dynamic been like for him?
COACH FRANKLIN: Today is really our first practice. We had our Sunday practice, which is more of a jog-through. Monday we have off for class. So today is really kind of the first day for that.
Yeah, I don't plan on having a conversation with him. His approach has been the same, really, for the last two years. He's been pretty much Steady Eddie, he's a guy that doesn't get too high, doesn't get too low. He's kind of the same guy.
I talked to his mom and dad, and I thought after being here a couple years, that he would really open up and start talking a lot more. But that's just not who he is; talking to his parents, as well, what I've seen over the last couple years, he's got very, very strong close, relationships with his teammates, but he's a pretty quiet guy and he's very steady in his approach.
Yeah, I haven't seen a whole lot of change in him over the last week and a half. I'll have better idea after this week. But I haven't seen a whole lot of change and I don't plan on having a conversation. We had our conversation with both Tommy and Trace when we named the starter, but besides that, I don't see a need for us to have another conversation.
Q. With the new offense, you have Saquon at the top but how do you see Robinson and Allen fitting into the scheme?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think both of them have gotten our coaching staff and the players confidence. Mark has done some really nice things and had some game time. Andre has not. Obviously has not had game opportunities at this point yet but has done some really nice things.
Andre has a natural feel for the position; he always has. He's got tremendous ball skills out of the backfield. He's a guy that's got good size, has a smooth, fluid style of running the ball. Got very, very good vision. You can see why he's been so successful in his career so far; what I'm talking about, high school and what he's been able to do in practice. He's a guy I know everybody is excited about.
Mark is a guy that from the day he's come in here with a huge chip on his shoulder, he's really fought for the type of respect and role that he wants on this team and has really earned it. Mark brings energy to practice. He's a playmaker. He's a tough guy. He's fiercely competitive. You know, I think our team feels really, really confident with those guys. At this level of football, you're going to have to have three or four backs that you feel good about, and we have that.
Q. Looking at Kent State on defense, they are projected to being one of the better units in the MAC this year. How do you expect them -- or what kind of problems do they present for you and how do you expect them to defend Saquon?
COACH FRANKLIN: If I'm going into this game -- if I'm going into this game and I'm Kent State and the defensive coordinator and the head coach, my defense is going to be designed to take Saquon Barkley out of the game and make a new quarterback beat you.
So we've spent a lot of time going over the defenses that we've seen on film. I think that's one of the things that you have to be careful as coaches; you start chasing ghosts. So you take what they have shown on film and you design a scheme to attack the things that you see on film, and the defenses of the different looks that they give that you think you're most likely to see in certain formations and certain down and distances.
So we spent a lot of time, their O-key (ph) front and all their different blitz schemes, we've spent a lot of time working on that in the last week and all their different third down packages. Same thing with bear front. We spent a lot of time working on those things, as well.
But yeah, I think they are going to go into the game approaching, saying, we're going to overload the box, take Saquon Barkley out of it as much as we can and force a new quarterback to beat us. So we've spent a lot of time working on those type of schemes. There's a lot of different approaches that you could take.
You could sit here and say, they are going to come in and play a two-high shell and keep everything in front of them and not give up the big play, or they are going to do the compete opposite and they are going to try to blitz you every single down. You go back and watch the Minnesota game from last year, that was kind of their approach. But you're also talking about a team that was a 22 personnel team compared to a spread.
We've spent a lot of time working on those things to have our guys prepared.
Q. You said at the beginning of camp that Antoine White was a guy you thought needed to have a good camp and looks like he might have done that. What type of camp did he have and also with Tyrell Chavis, is he kind of caught up to speed with you guys since you got here?
COACH FRANKLIN: Antoine has had a really good camp. Very excited about him. Antoine made some decisions in the spring where he wanted to get his body fat down and wanted to drop some weight, and doing that, I think it probably was the right plan long term, but wasn't the right plan short term. Didn't have the type of spring that we wanted him to.
Got his weight back up and he got the weight back up the right way. He really was able to change his body composition, improve his muscle mass and decrease his body fat percentage. Playing with great motor and playing with great quickness. I think you probably need to be 275-plus. You'd prefer to be in the 290s like he is, and he's been able to do that. He's had a great camp for us.
There's an excitement about Antoine. He's back to playing the way we think he's capable of playing, and now he just needs the experience and the reps to build on that.
Chavis is a guy that we would have loved to have here all summer, because just to get the strength and conditioning and the training and all that stuff that our guys are able to do over the summer, he missed that.
So we're trying to get him caught up as quickly as we possibly can. I think we got him here like the night before training camp started, so trying to get his maturation up to speed as quickly as we possibly can. He's going to have a role in this first game and hopefully that role continues to grow as the season goes. He's very athletic. It's funny, the team has kind of fallen in love with his personality.
He's a guy that the guys are all talking about, that they love. They love him as a teammate and his approach. He's just kind of got a way about him that everybody really likes him and are drawn and attracted to him, and he's a very, very good athlete for a big guy. He just needs to continue to get in better shape and learn to push himself. So we're excited about his future, but it's going to be a process.
Q. People that fill the stands Saturday have heard a lot of great things about the offense you and Joe have installed to the point where many may come in here expecting to see 50 points, 500 yards from the get-go. Do you have to temper some of the expectations, especially in the early going?
COACH FRANKLIN: My focus is on, let's get to the stadium and let's allow people to form opinions based on what they see.
So Joe's done a great job, not only from a schematic standpoint, but I really think just the leadership and the motivation on that side of the ball has been really helpful. I think him and Brent have done a really good job of that, as well as Charles Huff. So I think that's been important.
But yeah, I think whenever you have a running back like Saquon Barkley and whenever you kind of have the pieces of the puzzle starting to come together like we do, I do think there's excitement, and I want people to be excited but I want them to be excited based on what they see in the stadium on Saturday.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sportsnull