Walt Moody | James Franklin cranks up contact to see what he has

April 12, 2014 

Head football coach James Franklin will get a closer look at the hand he’s been dealt as well as a few of his recruits in Saturday’s Blue-White scrimmage.


Weren’t we just here?

It was only three springs ago that we were talking about a new coach at Penn State having the opportunity to show off his brand of football for the first time to the Nittany Lion fans at the annual Blue-White scrimmage.

Seems strange doesn’t it?

Joe Paterno was a constant, 60+ years at the university and 46 years as the head coach. The only mystery on a Blue-White afternoon was the weather and what would fly out of Paterno’s mouth as he served as color analyst on the radio.

Now, Penn State has its third coach since the spring of 2011. Bill O’Brien lasted just two seasons until an NFL team made an offer he couldn’t refuse, having maximized his value with two winning seasons here under the adverse conditions of NCAA sanctions handed down as part of the Sandusky scandal.

So, this Saturday afternoon belongs to James Franklin, a Pennsylvania boy who has risen from humble beginnings to take over the state’s most prestigious football program.

You get the feeling this won’t be a two-and-done for Franklin. He seems in it for the long haul (or at least longer haul) and his energetic staff certainly seems to have made an immediate impact on the recruiting trail.

Franklin, who has appeared in more places in Centre County and around the state than a politician, has already made a significant impact this spring, too.

First, let’s commend him for changing the format from the last two Blue-White games, where a convoluted scoring system confused the fans and even the folks that were trying to keep track of it all in the press box.

Now, it’s two teams, Blue and White — with maybe a little gray mixed in to make up for a shortage of offensive linemen — and normal scoring like we’ll see on Saturdays in the fall.

But more importantly, let’s commend Franklin for the attitude and tenacity that his staff has infused this spring.

By all accounts — and granted the media doesn’t get to see a lot of practice, the spring has featured more hitting than anyone can remember. From the Lion’s Den drill to even the routine, there’s an emphasis on having physical practices.

And while that may increase the possibilities of injury (offensive lineman Miles Dieffenbach was an unfortunate casualty with a major knee issue), it does make you tougher.

And quite frankly, Penn State could use a little more of that if the Nittany Lions have hopes of winning a Big Ten title and competing for a national championship.

Franklin and his staff have pored over game film from last season and I’m sure some things stood out. One had to be the Ohio State game, where the Nittany Lions were manhandled — everywhere.

The Nittany Lions need to be bigger, faster and tougher to compete with the Buckeyes.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has been critical of his Big Ten colleagues for poor recruiting. Given that he’s won two national championships at Florida and has lost just one league game in two Big Ten seasons, his words should be taken seriously.

Like Meyer, Franklin’s previous job was in the Southeastern Conference. While he made remarkable strides making Vanderbilt a winner in the nation’s best league, Franklin still had miles to go before the Commodores were going to compete with the likes of Alabama, Auburn and LSU.

And for a Big Ten team to win a national title, it likely will have to go through an SEC champ to get it.

Florida State pulled it off last season. The Seminoles were big, fast, well-coached and tough.

With recruiting, Franklin is looking to take care of that equation.

Right now, he has the hand that he was dealt from both Paterno and O’Brien.

With the heated contact this spring, he’s not only finding out what kind of cards he has, but also he’s putting a sharper edge on them.

That could pay off in the fall.

Certainly, he’s found out that he has an outstanding quarterback in Christian Hackenberg, who has a cannon. He’s got very good players at running back, tight end and some potential at receiver. He’s got an outstanding leader in middle linebacker Mike Hull and a strong secondary.

But the game, both in the Big Ten and the SEC, is won in the trenches. That is where toughness pays off.

Penn State is pretty solid on the defensive line, but is awful thin in terms of experience and sheer number of bodies on the offensive line.

If there’s anything to take special note of Saturday, it may be more of how the guys who may wear gray shirts play as opposed to the ones in Blue and White.

So enjoy the sunny weather and learning of a few new faces that may see more action next fall.

And maybe we’ll get a better idea what the new guy has in store for (many?) years to come.

Walt Moody is sports editor of the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at 231-4630. Follow him on twitter @wmoodycdt.

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