For the first time since 2017, I was unable to attend Penn State football’s media day. The Athletics department just had to move it from a Saturday to Sunday. Rude.
Anyway, with the gift of technology, I was still able to watch the press conferences of James Franklin, Stacy Collins, Manny Diaz, and Mike Yurcich. While these coaches are really good at not saying much of anything at all, there were still a couple items that stood out to me from Sunday.
- I think the biggest theme from James Franklin’s press conference was the improved depth of the team as a whole. He made a point to mention it a few times during different answers, but there’s legitimate depth into the third-string for multiple position groups — specifically, on the offensive and defensive lines. Answering a question for what stood out during camp so far — just three practices, mind you — the depth for the OL and DL was Franklin’s response. That’s not all that surprising given what Penn State returns on both fronts, but it’s a welcomed sign that they are getting the James Franklin stamp of approval this early on.
- As far as concerns go, it seems like wide receiver continues to be at the top for the Nittany Lions. Franklin mentioned that they have “8-9 guys” who could be starters, but that consistency is key for that unit in particular. That, again, is not that surprising since players like KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Trey Wallace lead the wide receiver room and up to this point in their careers, have struggled a bit with being consistent game-in and game-out performers.
- Sticking with the wide receivers, All-MAC Kent State transfer Dante Cephas was brought up in questions from reporters a couple times on Sunday. While Franklin and Yurcich had good things to say about Cephas mentality, they both pointed out the adjustment period that he faces when going from a MAC program to a Big Ten one. This differs greatly from last summer when Western Kentucky transfer Mitchell Tinsley was the subject of conversation, as Franklin and Yurcich kind of took the opposite approach in pointing out that Tinsley was ready to go. Of course, the big difference between Tinsley and Cephas: the latter didn’t get to campus until after the spring semester. Instead of an adjustment period from January-April, Cephas is going through it now so it might take him a few weeks into the season to get going.
- If you are wondering, neither Franklin nor Yurcich named Drew Allar the starting quarterback. Using the Trace and Sean Clifford starting calls as evidence, that probably won’t come until around August 20. It didn’t seem too hard for Franklin or Yurcich given there weren’t a ton of Drew-centric questions, but it seemed like there was a concerted effort to basically be mute on Allar.
- Really, the most talked about QB was true freshman Jaxon Smolik, who apparently has impressed with his feel for the game. Maybe the Smolik era comes early? Quarterback controversy in Happy Valley??
- James Franklin, Manny Diaz, and analyst Frank Leonard went up to New England to visit the Patriots during their OTAs. Franklin said Coach Belichick treated them phenomenally well, and that they learned a few things from their couple days there. I can only assume that one of those things is the use of video cameras.
- Kick/punt return options according to Stacy Collins: Nick Singleton, Daequan Hardy, King Mack, Omari Evans, Elliot Washington, and Zion Tracy. If I was a betting man, I’d guess Hardy for punt return and Evans for kick return. Rooting for King Mack as the kick returner though. If you haven’t watched his high school highlights, do so. He was playing super top-tier Florida competition and was dusting kids.
- If you missed it, Smith Vilbert is out for the season. Tough blow for the kid, as he missed all but one game of last season due to an undisclosed issue. He was someone who probably was DE6 right now, but certainly would have been capable and competent for some rotation snaps if needed. Even with the loss though, Penn State still in a very strong position at defensive end with Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaac, Dani Dennis-Sutton, Amin Vanover, and Zuriah Fisher looking like the pecking order right now. If Penn State makes that leap from “great” to “elite” they need this group to live up to expectations.
- Manny Diaz talked a bit about Abdul Carter, and basically said he’s so stupidly talented that if just does the simple things, he’s an All-Big Ten player. Diaz used the phrase that Carter doesn’t need to “put on the cape” and essentially make super-human plays to be the best version of himself.
- No one asked Mike Yurcich about Pat Narduzzi’s comments on his not-a-real offense, which I thought was a shame. Yurcich is probably the most coy of the coordinators when meeting with the media, but you can also sense that there’s a fire underneath he’s hiding. I was hoping Nard’s comments would get him going, but alas, no one asked.
- Not to poo-poo on the questions asked too much because I *literally* asked Joe Lorig about Jordan Stout’s hair one time so I have no right to look down upon the questions asked. But we had more talk about James Franklin’s pets than we did about Hakeem Beamon, Olu Fashanu, Curtis Jacobs, and Theo Johnson combined. We got James Franklin’s thoughts on the transfer portal (spoiler: he still does not like it), but nothing on Kobe King vs. Tyler Elsdon for the starting Mike spot. I don’t mean to come off as whiny, but just felt like there was a lot of meat on the bone with this team and instead we got big picture questions.