Penn State football: Position battles looming; all players starting on clean slate with new coaches

tjohnson@centredaily.comJanuary 25, 2014 

— The slate has been wiped clean. Every Penn State football player, whether he needs it or not, now has a chance to make a new impression on a brand new coaching staff.

Playing time is up for grabs, first impressions are to be made and relationships are to be built. All of those processes are in their beginning stages as Penn State players began winter workouts this week.

“There are no returning starters at any position,” Franklin said. “Every single day these guys are going to wake up in the morning and they’re going to earn their job. Obviously, we have guys that have tremendous experience and you guys all know who they are, but we’re going to create the most competitive environment we possibly can.”

For now, Penn State has big question marks at a few position groups. Primarily, playing time among receivers and linebackers is to be had after offensive MVP Allen Robinson declared for the NFL Draft and senior most target Brandon Felder graduated. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions also lost leading tackler Glenn Carson to graduation.

New assistant coaches Josh Gattis and Brent Pry can’t wait to see which of their new players will step up.

“It’s all about chemistry,” Gattis said. “Those guys understand in the receiver room that it takes unbelievable chemistry with your quarterback. So I can tell you this, throughout this whole spring and summer you’re going to see a lot of guys trying to take Christian Hackenberg out to eat, take him out to lunch. They’re going to try to room with him next year. It’s going to be a neat deal.”

Pry has spoken briefly with returning linebacker Mike Hull and Pry said he’s already made a connection with the Nittany Lion standout.

“These guys right now, they’re saying, ‘This is a new staff.’ They all feel like they have something to prove,” Pry said. “There will certainly be that climate, that environment. That was the case every year at Vanderbilt. It didn’t matter after two years, going into Year Three there’s no starters. Coach Franklin would go around the team room, ‘Who’s the starter at Mike linebacker?’ Whoever earns it Coach.’ That was the universal answer.”

Names on the jerseys?

Former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien wanted to do something special to honor the players who stuck with Penn State when the football program was hit with unprecedented sanctions in the summer of 2012.

So he had equipment manager Brad “Spider” Caldwell and his wife sew names onto the backs of jerseys. The trend stuck and Penn State jerseys kept the names last season. Whether or not they’ll remain is still up for discussion.

“We’ve had a lot of discussion and thought about that,” Franklin said. “As you guys know and I think you’ve seen it since we’ve arrived here, we are going to show tremendous respect for our traditions and for our history and for our past. That’s very, very important that we understand our past so we can embrace the present and work towards our future.”

O’Brien kept the decision to add names under wraps until the 2012 season-opener against Ohio. Franklin said he’ll likely announce a decision before the 2014 season.

“We’ll make that decision, and we’ll have an a announcement when the time is right,” Franklin said. “But I think it’s so, so important that we embrace our past to know where we’re going for our future.”

Looking for a home

When he was introduced two weeks ago, Franklin cracked that O’Brien was trying to get him to buy his old house in Boalsburg.

The Franklins are still looking for a place to live however and Franklin said he’s considering it as an option while his daughters finish up school back in Tennessee.

“My wife is here right now house hunting,” Franklin said. “We had talked about our children staying and finishing out the school year. Don’t know if that’s the right thing to do anymore. So we’ve never been apart as a family, and getting them here is, I think, important. You can only Face Time so much with your kids. I think that technology helps, but there’s nothing like being able to hug and kiss your kids every single day.”

“We have looked at O’Brien’s. ... If anybody else has a house for sale, we’re happy to look at that as well, but that’s going to be important for all of us to get our families here as quick as we possibly can.”

Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.

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