College football is back in Happy Valley! Well...kind of. On Wednesday, Penn State football began their spring practices as they look to start getting ready on the field for the 2019 season. The Nittany Lions will have the next month to practice, leading up to the annual Blue-White Game on April 13.
On Wednesday afternoon, head football coach James Franklin gave his first press conference of the spring and covered quite a bit. He’s everything we learned from his press conference.
On the health of Tommy Stevens:
Starting with arguably the most important topic, probable starting quarterback Tommy Stevens. The redshirt senior is expected to be the starting quarterback in 2019 for Penn State but won’t be a full-go for most of the spring it sounds like according to Franklin. During his press conference, Franklin noted that Stevens will be “limited” to start the spring session but they hope to have him a “full-go” by the end of the spring. For a quarterback with prior injury history, it’s of the upmost importance that Stevens is fully healthy come next fall.
Here’s Franklin’s full quote on Stevens:
“He will be able to participate. I don’t know if it’s going to be full go.
Again, I think when you guys ask me those questions, sometimes you think I’m not answering, but sometimes it’s day-to-day. We’re dealing with our own doctors and trainers on campus but we’re also dealing; he had the surgery off campus. So we are communicating with his doctor, as well, and trying to get everybody on the same page.
At this point, he’ll be limited from the beginning of spring and depending how spring goes, and how he’s documented, it could be full go by the end of spring but I’m not sure of that yet.”
On Hippenhammer and Scruggs status with the team:
During his presser, Franklin provided updates on two players on the offensive side of the ball who will not be with the team this spring. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer will not be with the team this spring as he will focus on baseball for the entirety of its season. The baseball team is off to a hot start this year and sits at 10-3 on the season.
Redshirt freshman Juice Scruggs on the other hand will be out for the entirety of spring after being involved in a car accident. Franklin out of privacy for both Scruggs and his family did not give any more information on the situation.
On C.J. Thorpe moving back to offense:
“C.J. Thorpe did an unbelievable job for us in terms of we had a need for some size, some veteran experience that we needed on the defensive line; so we were able to move him over.
We really believe that C.J. has got an unbelievable ceiling when it comes to being an elite offensive lineman, so we moved him back over, while he kind of allowed us to create some depth and gain some maturity, and gain some maturity there. But we think for our team and for C.J., we think he got a very, very bright future. He brings a physicality. We went back and watched cut-ups from early in the season and missed that on the offensive side of the ball so we’re excited about that.”
On Micah Parsons’ Development:
“You need to be constantly growing and trying to get better and evolve, that as football players, that’s as coaches, that as students, that’s as parents, brothers, dads, whatever it may be. You need to be getting better, all of it, dealing with the media, every area, and I think Micah is like that.
I think early on, obviously, we knew Micah was extremely talented, but when you’re asking a guy to play a different position than he played in high school, naturally, that was going to take some time to do that. Obviously, extremely talented but from a fundamental standpoint, he had some things to catch up on and all of the stuff away from the field, he’s been phenomenal. He has, he’s really been phenomenal and I say that for all our guys. Last semester, I think he got a 3.56. I think that’s the last two semesters, he’s done extremely well.
He’s very coachable. He’s got a very strong relationship with the coaches. He’s in my office all the time. He’s in [Brent] Pry’s office all the time. We do workouts, he’s mad when he’s not chosen to compete. I think he came in here, such a high-profile guy, that I think some people had a perspective about who and what he was going to be, and you know, our guys on the team love him. He’s been a great teammate. I’ve gotten really good feedback from different things we’ve had on campus from professors, from different trainings that we do with the freshmen, a lot of different things.
I’ve been very impressed. Got a very close relationship with mom and dad and his high school coach, which I think is helpful, as well, because we’re all in this journey together. It takes a village, and he’s doing a really good job.
I think that was a big reason for us not starting him last year. We wanted to take some of the pressure off. There’s always enough pressure, especially on the high-profile guys. I've been very pleased with him but it’s a work-in-progress for all of them.”
On the Running Backs Entering Next Season:
(For context: Franklin was asked if Ricky Slade was at the top of the depth chart to start the spring and what he wants to see from the running backs over the next month.)
“I think it’s probably slashed. I think Ricky has done some really nice things. I think Journey [Brown] is also a guy we’ve been really excited about since the high school process, you know, when he rushed for over 700 yards and ten touchdowns in a game. I would not be upset if he did that for us at some point this year or in his career.
So those two guys, I think are both in a really good spot to go out and compete their tails off. Feel really good about those two guys and then obviously, you’ve got [Noah] Cain and you’ve got [C.J.] Holmes, who we’re also very excited about what they are going to be able to do. [Nick] Eury has done a tremendous job for us and then we have another one coming in, [Devyn] Ford. We have created a really good competition at that position.
We are probably going to need them all and we also want to see more of our offensive players having a bigger impact on special teams than we’ve had in the past. We’ve got way too many athletes and way too many good players for them not to be impacting in every possible aspect they can.”
On the Objectives for This Spring:
“Our objectives for the spring; I think confidence and chemistry is a huge deal for us. We’re going to work very hard at that this spring. Offensive ball security, defensive ball disruption, I think we played really good defensive football around here the last couple years.
I think one of the things that could really help us is to do a better job of creating turnovers. That’s a huge stat for us and we’re going to put a huge emphasis on that. We weren’t as good last year offensively in protecting the football and we have done a good job of that over my history of being a head coach.
So I think the emphasis on defense will actually help us on offense, as well, by those guys going against each other and challenging with strips and things like that. We’ll do more of that in practice.
Always want to teach situational football, always believe in this, two-minute, four-minute, backed up, red zone, coming out, all the special teams situations, continuing to teach our guys about the why. It’s not just memorizing plays and we are not just running plays. They understand on first down and second down and third down and fourth down what the objective is; how is third down different in a two-minute situation than it is in normal situations, well, because third down really becomes second down in a two-minute situation to win the game because you know you’re going to go for it on fourth down, those type of things. We make sure the guys understand the big picture.”
On Finding New Leaders in 2019:
“You’re going to have some guys that relate to some groups. We’ve got a diverse team, so I think that’s going to be important, if we have the ability to go back to two captains on offense, defense and special teams, I think there’s a lot of value there.
Right now, obviously, [Will] Fries has played a lot of football for us. [Michal] Menet has played a lot of football for us. [Steven] Gonzalez has played a lot of football for us. Those guys are going to have to bring a lot of leadership value to our team. I think a combination of [Pat] Freiermuth, although he’s played a lot of football for us, and [Nick] Bowers, are going to need to do it.
And then at the quarterback position, you always need it there. Having guys like [Tommy] Stevens, it always is going to start with your quarterback position and [Sean] Clifford, two guys that have played a lot of football, been around a lot of football, been a part of the program, understand the expectations and the standards.
And then I think the guy who probably has as much energy and can affect people in such a positive way is K.J. Hamler. I think we all know, you spend five minutes with K.J. or his mom; they affect the room in a positive way. They walk in a room, they brighten up the room with their energy and their charisma and the substance behind it, as well.
But we’re going to have to develop it, because we are going to be young, but we’re going to be talented.”
On the Transfer Portal and Lamont Wade Remaining at Penn State
“I think for all these guys, you know, I think the transfer portal created an opportunity for guys to look around and make sure that they feel like they are in the best situation possible for them and their family. For me, again, maybe different than the way a lot of college football programs are conducting themselves now, not all, but a decent amount. I’m always going to start with the education.
So, where are you at in terms of your Penn State degree? Then, where are you at in terms of your football career? Then what are your goals and objectives? Kind of in that order. So, I kind of approach it that way with all of them.
Again, I think a big part of it is I had a lot of conversations with Lamont’s mom. Had a lot of conversations with Lamont’s dad. Had a lot of conversations with Lamont and we were able to get to a good place. But again, it’s all based on that, where are you at academically. I think that’s one of our other positives is that we graduate so many of our players early based on summer school and how our guys attack their educational experience here.
But also, that’s creating some problems, because if you look at a lot of our guys that did leave, they had already got their degrees. So, it wasn’t even necessarily a transfer portal situation. It got clumped in there. It was more back to the graduate transfer rule that we spent a lot of times dealing with.
Yeah, I think this new rule kind of had everybody in the country kind of say, let me take a moment, kind of look at this thing and make sure its the right thing for myself and my family moving forward.
But were always going to kind of address it that way: academics first, and then obviously, their current career on campus from a football perspective, and then also, what are they really trying to achieve down the road, and we want to help them to do that in every area.
I hope its at Penn State forever. No different than we say during the recruiting process; once they commit, were engaged. Once we sign, they are married and there’s no divorce, and I even hope even the guys that do decide to transfer, that I’ll still be a part of their life and helping them down the road.
They are not easy conversations to have, but I would hope that our relationship is a lot stronger than that, and that they know that ultimately, the end of the day, what I care about is I care about Penn State’s success, the university, the community, all those types of things, and most importantly, I care about these guys success, their success individually, but also collectively.”