Another Penn State Media Day has come and gone, and just like the last couple years, I made the trek to State College to learn a little more about the Nittany Lions. After the James Franklin, Manny Diaz, Mike Yurcich, and Stacy Collins press conferences, we got to go onto the field at Beaver Stadium and talk with the coaches and non-freshman players. I’ll have additional articles out this week as I spent nearly 20 of the 40 minutes we had talking to running back Ja’Juan Seider and quarterback Christian Veilleux, but in this article, I focused on discussions with wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley, defensive tackle Hakeem Beamon, and offensive line coach Phil Trautwein. Also at the end, I included notes and observations from Saturday’s practice that the media got to attend for about 15-20 minutes.
TINSLEY READY TO PROVE PEOPLE WRONG (AGAIN)
One of the more profound takeaways I had from Saturday was that Mitchell Tinsley is going to be a player. I mentioned on Saturday that both James Franklin and Mike Yurcich went out of their way to heap some praise on Tinsley, and just from the little I saw at practice, it was easy to see why. He’s a well put together kid, and even in drills, he shows that nice combination of suddenness yet smoothness that you want every wide receiver to have. Really, I just loved the way he was going through drills — every rep he took was done with intensity and focus.
That intensity and focus follows through when you talk to Tinsley as well. When I asked him why he’s wired the way he is, he said that he’s always been the underdog.
“You know growing up, I was always the underdog,” Tinsley said. “I was never considered ‘the guy’ or the ‘best player.’ So it’s kind of like, I had to always work for everything I have. I feel like that’s the most important thing for me is working hard and proving people wrong.”
When you consider his talent, his production at Western Kentucky, and the chip he has on his shoulder, I’m fully onboard with buying stock in Tinsley. I know Parker Washington is looked at as WR1, and that’s for a very good reason. But I would not be shocked if Tinsley is right there with him when it comes to production. He checks a lot of the boxes you want to see in preseason.
BEAMON HAPPY TO BE BACK
For those here that read my Five Things I Know I Know article, you are already aware that I’m on the Hakeem Beamon hype train, and Media Day did little to slow that down. As I mentioned yesterday, Beamon was the second person Manny Diaz brought up when asked about the defensive line after PJ Mustipher — I count that as a notable sign that things are trending in the right direction after Beamon missed all of last season with an undisclosed issue. Although I knew he couldn’t go in-depth on what happened last year, his answer was quite forthcoming.
“Honestly, last year was hell,” Beamon said. “I went through a lot last year; like a lot, a lot. But you know, I went through it. I went through everything and kept my head up through it all.”
Beamon expressed that everything he has gone through has given him a new perspective, and has made him more grateful for “all the small things” going on at Penn State. Although it’s really none of my business to know what specifically happened, it’s a poignant reminder that the guys out there on that field are normal people who deal with the ups and downs through live like the rest of us. It was good to hear — even in my short conversation with him — that Beamon is seemingly in a better place than he was 300 some days ago.
As far as what position Beamon will be playing at, last year when I asked him, he said “everywhere.” When I asked him this year — reminding him he told me “everywhere” last year — he had a different answer: “Yeah, I still play everywhere, but I’m definitely more defensive tackle than defensive end.”
Now that isn’t all that surprising; I don’t think anyone thought Beamon would get more snaps at defensive end than defensive tackle. But his directness in his answer was certainly different than last year. While I still believe we’ll see a little Kevin Givens-esque defensive end role from Beamon here and there, it seems pretty solid that a move down to defensive end — where depth might not be as strong as it is at defensive tackle — isn’t in the works.
Lastly on Beamon, I asked just about every player I talked to their “personal goals” for the season, knowing that their team goal is a Big Ten Championship. Beamon’s answer?
“I’d say, just being there for my teammates,” he said. “Just be there for my teammates.”
TRAUTWEIN CONFIDENT IN CULTURE OF OFFENSIVE LINE ROOM
One of the main topics of Saturday was — as is tradition — the offensive line. James Franklin continued his stance from Big Ten Media Day where he said he would let the offensive line’s play speak for itself this year. When I asked offensive line coach Phil Trautwein about how the offensive line has been given this question mark label, he noted that he’s obviously aware it is out there among the media and the fan base, but that it doesn’t impact how he coaches the guys in his room. He said that the culture is at a high level for the offensive line, and that he thinks this will be the best o-line Penn State has had in a long time. One of the main reasons? The consistency of having the same offensive coordinator for a second season.
“It’s huge,” Trautwein said of Mike Yurcich’s return as Penn State’s OC. “I love Mike (Yurcich). I love what he’s about. I love his scheme. I love who he is. We work well together. We communicate well together. And also, it’s the second year in the offense ... being able to be faster and quicker, and understanding the offense. It’s huge for us. It’s a confidence booster for sure.”
At practice, I was able to see the offensive line work on a punching drill. While I can’t sit here and say my opinion changed because a big guy was punching a bag really hard for a couple seconds, I can say that one of the things that stuck out to me was the size of the underclassmen within the program. If you follow recruiting, that’s been one of the more prominent philosophy switches along the offensive line the last couple classes: try to bring in guys that are 300+ pounds already and work off bad weight, as opposed to bringing in guys who are 265-275 and add good weight. Olu Fashanu, Golden Israel-Achumba, Vega Ioane, Maleek McNeil, Landon Tengwall, Ibrahim Traore; these guys are just mountains of human beings. We’ll see how that philosophy change works out, both in 2022 and down the line.
OTHER PRACTICE NOTES
- The defensive line is always my favorite group to watch during these practice availabilities so that corner of the practice field is where I b-lined to when Penn State let us capital J-Journalists in. John Scott had his guys shuffling over bags and finishing with a swim move. “Keep it tight!” Scott exclaimed for just about every player as they finished their swim move. We only got to see the guys go through once so an extremely limited sample size, but Zane Durant and Dani Dennis-Sutton stuck out to me in that you wouldn’t think they were true freshmen from the way they moved to the way they look. Durant in particular has incredibly quick feet. He played some linebacker in high school and he still moves like it. Easy to understand why so many expect him to get the green light this year.
- We got to see a little under 20 minutes of practice time, and a main portion of it in the middle was special teams work. One session was shorter field goals in the 25-35-yard range, but the overall focus of it was just getting the kicking team on the field quickly and cohesively. From the little we saw, Jake Pinegar was K1 while Sander Sahaydak was K2, though again it was just a short period.
- Similar thing with the punt team as far as much of the focus was making sure players were lining up where they should be and quickly. I say quickly because special teams coordinator Stacy Collins said a no-no word because he was not happy with the gunners breaking the huddle. “We sprint when we break the huddle,” Collins said in so many words.
- There were a series of punt returners back there, but I saw Mitchell Tinsley, Anthony Ivey, Kaden Saunders, Marquis Wilson, and Parker Washington all field at least one punt.
- I jumped on over to watch the QBs workout as they were going through an RPO drill; they’d hand the ball off to the running back, a PSU staffer would toss a second ball back to the QB, and they needed to complete an on-the-move pass to the “wide receiver” (another PSU staffer) out wide. There was no rhyme or reason to the pairings, with Ja’Juan Seider specifically telling the guys to switch up who they pair up with. The only notable occurrence while I watched was that Drew Allar fired a pass that had waaaaay too much juice on it. Perhaps Theo Johnson could have caught it, but not the Penn State grad assistant playing wide receiver.
- Speaking of Allar, he’s quite the enigma. You look at him and he’s 6-foot-5, 245 pounds and already well put together. But at the same time, I’d say physically he still has a lot of maturing to do. The best way I could describe it is that Micah Parsons as a freshman looked like a grown man. Drew Allar, despite the fact he’s this massive tight-end-looking body, looks like an 18-year-old. Very curious to see what he looks like next spring because the Josh Allen physical comps make sense when you see him in person.
- I had a super long talk with Ja’Juan Seider that will have to be its own article later this week, but it’s crystal clear why he recruits so well; he’s just a cool dude. That carries over to the practice field where his relationship with the running backs really sticks out. He joked around with Nick Singleton as he was running through a powerblaster by calling him “Gatorade” — the nickname coming from Singleton being the 2021-2022 Gator Player of the Year.
- The only thing I’ll say about Singleton is that despite the crazy impressive lifting numbers, he carries his listed 219 extremely well. We’ll see how the season goes, but one of my few complains under Dwight Galt was that I thought some of the running backs added a little too much mass — specifically, Miles Sanders. I don’t have proof, but he looks 800x faster as an Eagle than he did at Penn State. Maybe it was the black shoes though.
- Sticking with impressive looking athletes, I’m not sure Penn State has had someone with Theo Johnson’s size, weight, length, and speed. I know he needs to get better at the whole “blocking” thing, but the guy is an NBA forward. Figure out a way to utilize him more.