The first of 15 spring practices for James Franklin's Nittany Lions was held yesterday in Holuba Hall, and they opened it up to the media for the first hour or so. Being the incredibly important media member that I am, I figured it would be good to give all of the players and coaches a chance to get to know me, so I stopped by to check it out. (I'm just the best, aren't I?)
I didn't learn a ton of new information, but there were some interesting observations to be made, so I've compiled what I saw into a nice list for you, and included some of the videos and pictures I took during practice as well.
- Christian Hackenberg looked bigger. He has apparently added around 15 pounds of muscle to his already sturdy frame, and he'll need it considering our offensive line is still so up in the air. I didn't get a chance to see much of the quarterbacks in their drills, but from what I heard O'Connor was showing off his pocket presence and displaying solid footwork around the line. Also of note, Jack Seymour is no longer on the roster. Seymour looked like a potential Matt McGloin type after declining several MAC offers to walk on for Penn State, but had fallen to fifth on the depth chart. Austin Whipple has also changed numbers from 3 to 16.
- Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak were working together...on kick returns. Sam Ficken was serving up some short kicks to be fielded by Belton, Zwinak, and Devin Pryor. While I'm not a huge fan of the idea of Zwinak returning a kick in an actual game due to his lack of top end speed and fumbling issues, it's certainly an interesting idea. Franklin said that he is planning on putting starters on special teams to ease some of the issues that plagued the Lions last year, so it's not the most surprising thing in the world. It will be quite interesting to see someone try to tackle Zwinak when they are both running at full speed directly at each other. Despite the possibilities though, it's still puzzling to see our slowest running back at kick returner. To help illustrate this fact, I made this fun graphic to show the speed difference between Belton, Lynch, and Zwinak.
- The first three wide receivers off the line in the drills that I saw, were Eugene Lewis, Matt Zanellato, and De'Andre Thompkins. It was a surprise to see Thompkins in there, but a very happy one at that. He reportedly ran the fastest 40 time on the team the other day, confirming that his speed is much more than just elite track speed. Richy Anderson, the other main competition for the slot receiver role, stepped up to the line with the second group, while Daesean Hamilton (with some sort of wrap or cast on his wrist) lined up with the third group.
- De'Andre Thompkins was also part of the group getting work on the punt return. The other big name I noticed here was Jordan Lucas. Both had quick first steps after fielding the punt, although the drill was more focused on keeping their bodies square and catching the ball cleanly.
- I had a difficult time tracking the tight ends. I saw Carter and Breneman at one point, but I never actually saw them in a drill. They will be my targets for viewing next time.
- When I first walked onto the field, the team was stretching. I was placed conveniently right in front of Deion Barnes. I know we all this already, but I feel the need to reiterate that Deion Barnes is an absolute monster of a human being. If he can put it together for a full season this year, he should absolutely hear his name called at the NFL Draft one day.
- In the linebacker drills, Brandon Bell, Mike Hull, and Nyeem Wartman were the first three off the line. This isn't a surprise, but it's nice to see regardless. Bell really came on strong at the end of last season, and he has a chance to be a special member of Linebacker U. Gary Wooten ran with the second line, and looked to be slightly leaner and quicker than in the past.
- Jordan Lucas looked very fast in his drills, repeatedly citing that he was going to have more picks this season. He was the first off the line in every cornerback drill, and looked very comfortable. In the drill I saw, Trevor Williams was in the second pairing, and DaQuan Davis in the third. Based on those observations, I don't think the order in this drill was completely indicative of the current depth chart. but interesting nonetheless. Trevor Williams also got hit in the face with a pass he never saw coming. I mentioned it to him and he said "Mannnnnn I know." We're best friends now.
- Adrian Amos was practicing with the safety group. I will continue to believe that Amos is most valuable to Penn State as a corner, but if the staff feels comfortable enough with Lucas, Williams, and co., why not let Amos fly around the field a bit.
- Chris Gulla was punting the ball a bit to start the practice, routinely hitting the ceiling. I expect Gulla to be the starting punter, and this practice did nothing to deter me from that opinion. Finally we have someone to replace my least favorite Penn State athlete ever.
- Sam Ficken looks to be completely healed up from his groin injury, as he was kicking the ball with confidence and power, albeit on extra point length kicks. Although he struggled towards the end of last season due to said injury, he still hit 15 kicks in a row previous to that. As always, I'm predicting a Lou Groza type season for the future All American kicker.
- The energy in the practice as a whole was fantastic. The second the team started up the drills, there was little to no standing still. With the end of each drill there were bullhorns blaring and coaches screaming for players to rotate to the next spot. Coach Franklin himself was moving around from drill to drill to get a good look at his new team in action. He also made sure to take the time to speak to some onlookers. They looked really old so I'm guessing they were important.
- Scroll through (scroll in the box) below to check out some pictures and video from the practice.
It was a good day.