In the words of Coach Franklin: "It’s game week. It’s finally here." It feels like we’ve been waiting for this for nine months, right? The buses left for Harrisburg this evening, and by morning the team will be in Ireland. Only three more days. We can do it.
The Best Guys on the Field:
Q. Coach Donovan talked about the concept of cross training from multiple positions. It seems on the depth chart you have guys at multiple spots. How did you approach that during camp and having players practice at multiple places?
COACH FRANKLIN: It's something we're going to have to do and we're going to have to embrace it until we get in a situation where we have similar depth as other people in the country and get some of our scholarships back. We have to train guys for multiple positions. So that's going to allow you to get your best 11 guys on the field rather than saying, "OK, this guy is the starting right guard" and your right tackle has to come out of the game for a play to maybe get his ankle taped or something like that. Now you put another guy in the game. Well, we're going to put the best guys on the field constantly.
So who is the 12th best player? Who is the 13th best player? Who is the 14th best player? We do that by position as well. We have to train those guys at o-line, we have to train those guys at wide receiver at all the positions. It is also how we'll probably call the game. So, for example, at wide receiver, if our tight ends have more depth and more experience, then you'll probably see more tight ends on the field and so on and so forth. We rotate those guys.
Typically the way we'll do practice, you have a certain amount of reps designed for the ones (first team). You have a certain amount of reps designed for the twos and for the threes. Well, the way we do it, you may have a guy that's taken some reps with the ones and the twos, or you may have a guy that's taken reps with the twos and the threes and vice versa and try to work those guys around. The closer you get to game time, you'd really like to have those things solidified, but you're still going to have to be working it to a degree all year long.
Q. I know you talk about interchangeable players and flexibility. Where do you see true freshman receiver DeAndre Thompkins fitting in? Do you see him playing multiple positions like a lot of the guys, contributing early or is he a guy that's going to be weened in later on in the season? What are your thoughts?
COACH FRANKLIN: Typically we don't ask a true freshman to play multiple positions. So we play one position, and give him an opportunity to gain some confidence at that position, and then let their role grow from there. I don't think that's a great plan to ask a guy with little experience to learn multiple positions, so we don't typically do that.
Right now he's a guy that we're holding on, that we'd like to redshirt if we could. But if we have to play him, he's going to be ready to play. I've seen him make really good strides in the last week and a half, but that's where we are with him right now is he's a guy that may have to play before the year's out, but we're not planning on playing him week one.
Locker Room Messages:
Q. People talk about your energy, and I'm sure you'll say you're an energetic guy. I haven't heard you talk about what are you like in the locker room pre-game and halftime? Is that an extension of your personality or what you think of yourself? Are you really bouncing off the walls? You maybe talked about it a little bit here, or are you more cerebral in those types of settings?
COACH FRANKLIN: Before the game, I'm not a big pre-game speech guy. I feel like if you have to get them fired up 15 minutes before they run on the field, you've got problems. So I do my pre-game speech Sunday through Friday. Telling them all the things we're going to need to do to be successful, areas of concentration, areas of emphasis, things like that.
Before the game for me it's basically telling them how much I care about them and how confident I am in their preparation and how excited I am to go see them play. That's really it. Coach Chaos, Coach (Sean) Spencer, sometimes he'll visit with the team, and he takes a lot of pride in that, but that's not necessarily something we'll do every week.
Now at halftime sometimes, if I feel like there is a message that needs to be presented to the team, then I'll deliver that message. Sometimes it's with emotion, and sometimes it's calm and calculated.
Then after the game, when we have success, I'm going to go in there and celebrate. I think that's one of the problems I think that happens with coaches is the losses become a lot more painful than the wins become joyous and fun, and I don't want to get like that. I want to really, really enjoy the wins and celebrate it with the guys. When we face some adversity, I'm going to address it with them and talk about why it's an opportunity for growth and to learn from it and move on. But I'm pretty matter of fact, to be honest with you, and I speak from the heart with them. I do a lot of my talks Friday night at the hotel before the game.
Q. Coach, the obvious thing about the trip coming up with Ireland, is it a challenge of keeping everybody football ready considering this is potentially a once in a lifetime experience?
COACH FRANKLIN: Well, a couple things. Number one, we're going to play a game and so is Central Florida. We're going to deal with all the same issues, flying to another country and the time zones and all of those things. So I think that's helpful. It's not like you're flying somewhere and playing a team in their element.
Besides that, this is not going to be a once in a lifetime experience. For us, this is a business trip to go play a football game no different than if we were playing at State College High School. We'd be excited to play Central Florida wherever the game would be, and it's not going to be a once in a lifetime experience because we're going to work really hard to make sure all of our players graduate with a meaningful degree from Penn State so they can afford to go back at some point on vacation with their family or their friends and enjoy the countryside.
But this trip is not about enjoying the countryside. This is an opportunity to take a special trip. I think it's going to be great for the fans, but we're going to play a football game. There will be some activities we have, but very little of that.
Q. As you've been around the players, do you notice them getting more excited? Do you start to see that in their eyes and just the feeling of not even just a trip, but the first game of the season?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it's really showing up. I do a countdown, so every team meeting we've had since we arrived, there's kind of on the end of the power point there is a countdown, 230 days, so on, and so forth. Now we've been putting up not only when the game is how many days but also when we leave. And I keep telling them, "it's going to be here before you know it. It's going to be here before you know it," and it really has.
So, I think I put that up the other day and talked about when we were leaving and how many days we had left. It was a little bit different feeling in the room. Like we've talked about before, they get to the point where they're sick of seeing us, we're sick of seeing them, we're sick of practicing against each other. They want to play a different opponent. That's part of camp. You spend so much time together. That's part of it. I think it's kind of like a rite of passage, to be honest with you.
So I think they're excited. We got a head start on Central Florida as we've talked about already as well, so I think they have a good feel of what we're trying to do and why. I know we're looking forward to practicing, and practicing well today and then get on that plane. We'll have a walk through type practice on Wednesday because it's hard to go there and have a full speed practice after flying all night.
Q. We've got the depth chart now and with Brendan Mahon and Derek Dowrey, what is that competition like and how have those guys impressed you throughout camp?
COACH FRANKLIN: Well, I think they're different guys and they're different situations. Dowrey is a guy that you've moved over from defense, hadn't done that at all, and we kind of threw him in the fire and I thought he handled it extremely well.
Mahon was a highly recruited offensive lineman that came in here. From my short period of time on campus, he's matured dramatically. He's matured dramatically off the field, on the field, in his approach, and I'm really proud of him. I'm really proud of both those guys and how they've handled it. I don't think there is one guy right now that is clear cut, that's just obvious. I think it's a legitimate battle and a legitimate competition. We've got a few more days to iron that out and see, but I think you'll see both of those guys play.
Q. Seems like the coaches have developed a lot of depth. Are you pleased with the depth they've developed on the offensive line?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think we've done the best with the situation that we're in. I do. I feel like we've got some training in our past of trying to create depth as well as develop it, so I feel good. I feel good about what we've done. I feel good about our plan. But we still have some challenges. Every program in the country has challenges, and that's what you're trying to do. You're trying to work on your challenges to make them your strengths and make sure your strengths continue to be your strengths. So that's kind of our approach, and I'm pleased with what Herb Hand and all those kids have done and how hard they've worked.
Q: How do you feel special teams improved during the course of camp?
COACH FRANKLIN: I've been really pleased. It starts with (Sam) Ficken. His leadership is unbelievable. He may be as consistent as any player on our team at his specific position. I think (Chris) Gulla has really fed off of his leadership and is really building confidence right now. So I think it starts with those two guys. The other thing is I think (special teams coordinator) Charles Huff has done a great job maximizing our time on the field and in meetings, and we've gotten a lot of work in.
I think a lot of it just goes to the emphasis that we're putting on it and talking to our players more so than they ever have. Even our redshirt seniors have never been a part of an emphasis on special teams like we have. I believe that with anything in life, if you emphasize it, you've got a chance to be successful, and that's what we've tried to do.
Q. With Akeel Lynch being back on kick returns and Jordan Lucas on punt returns, what do you like about having those guys back there? I know you mentioned how you’d like to get that third running back involved somehow.
COACH FRANKLIN: I think when you have the running back depth that we do, you want to make sure that one of those guys is having another opportunity to get his hands on the ball. This is another way to get guys touches. Both of those guys are big, strong, fast, powerful guys that have played in games before because that is the thing that can be frustrating sometimes is everybody does their job on a kickoff return, but you just don't have the juice. You don't have somebody that has the juice to get through there and be able to take it. It's hard enough to score. So when you get an opportunity you have to punch it into the end zone. Both of those guys give us the opportunity to do that. I think it helps that they're veteran guys. I think you'll also see Grant Haley as a kickoff return guy as well.
Q. You talked about it earlier that Central Florida has nine starters returning on defense. What do you see on film that they do especially well on the defensive side of the ball?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think more than anything, they play like a veteran team. They're fast, they're aggressive, they don't give up a whole lot of big plays. George O'Leary is, I think, one of the better defensive coaches around, and it's been that way for a long time with him. So I don't expect a whole lot of new. There will be a few new wrinkles that they'll do, that game plan specific things based on our film in the past. But they're a veteran team. They're big. They're strong. They're fast.
Coming from the state of Florida always gives them an advantage because there are going to be some kids in their backyard that have come to camp and are maybe are under-recruited that are big time players. I think whenever you have 250 or 350 Division 1 prospects in your state, there are some built in advantages with that, and that's what you see across the board on their team. They have big, strong, athletic guys, and the experience allows them to play fast as well.
Q. Coach, you talked earlier about the UCF receivers being a strength of the team. Can you expand on that a little bit, and how has the second cornerback position shaken out with your team and talk about that matchup?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think this is going to be an interesting matchup for the game. Basically all their wide receivers are back from last year, and put up big numbers and have made big plays. I think that's always obviously helpful when you have a young quarterback, having guys that are going to make them plays.
You look at us last year and you look at the production with Allen Robinson and all the production he made or Hack (Christian Hackenberg) needed a play, they went to him. Having a quarterback with three guys around them that have done that before is really helpful in that guy's development. Also, they're not little guys. They're big, strong, explosive players.
The second corner, yeah. I think Trevor Williams is a guy that's played a bunch of football. We have two corners in him and Jordan (Lucas) that give us good size and athleticism. But at both those spots you'll see multiple guys rotate in and play. We need somebody to truly take ahold of that position and be a playmaker. I think with the pressure that we're going to be able to hopefully get on quarterbacks with our defensive line and our scheme with our linebackers should create some opportunities for our secondary as well. We need somebody to jump up into that role.
"Once the game comes, I'm pretty confident because I know we've done everything we possibly can do to be prepared for the game. Now it's just an opportunity to go out and watch the kids play and have fun, and that's what I want them to do. I want them to go out and enjoy it. I want them to play fast. I want them to play aggressive. But there is no reason to be nervous on game day as long as you've done everything you possibly can to put the kids in position to be successful, and that's what we've tried to do."