Penn State football: Franklin absorbing, evaluating secrets of the sport as he goes

Penn State football: Franklin absorbing, evaluating secrets of the sport

tjohnson@centredaily.comMay 15, 2014 

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Penn State football coach James Franklin talks during the Coaches Caravan at Pegula Ice Arena on Thursday, May 1, 2014.

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— Maybe in another lifetime James Franklin would be a sponge.

In this one, the Penn State football coach possesses at least one sponge-like trait — he’s absorbent. And Franklin’s penchant for soaking up all things football related has trickled down through the ranks of the Nittany Lion football staff.

“This is a game that the longer you’re in it, the more you realize you don’t know and the more there is to learn,” Franklin said on Wednesday during Day 5 of the Penn State Coaches Caravan.

So Franklin treats every day like a learning experience.

He wakes up, turns on the computer in his office and watches motivational videos intended for his players. He travels with and is always adding to a three-ring binder loaded with newspaper clippings, notes on offensive, defensive and special teams philosophies and pages upon pages of recruiting information. Franklin compiles reading lists for his staff — the most recent one included New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin’s Earn the Right To Win, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Leading with the Heart and former General Electric executive Jack Welch’s Winning.

Franklin said he’s watched the film Moneyball — based on Michael Lewis’ book of the same name — at least seven times. It’s all part of his overall strategy to improve the Penn State program in infusing new opinions and approaches when it comes to preparing and training.

“We say all the time, ‘Are you bringing value to the organization?’ ” Franklin said. “And it’s not good enough just to do your job. What are you doing more to make the organization better? Are you bringing value? And that’s what everybody in our building needs to be doing.”

From the coaching staff to the equipment staff, Franklin has encouraged and endorsed reviews of multiple operating procedures in every department.

“We do studies on where the talent is coming from, Division 1 scholarship athletes,” Franklin said. “We do studies on the draft. We do studies on measurables. Every year I do studies on what’s the average hand size at the NFL Combine of a wide receiver. For each position we do that. Arm length, all these things because I’m trying to understand what works and why certain guys are successful or not.”

Interest high among recruits

With 16 players already committed to Penn State in the 2015 recruiting class, Franklin is realizing there just aren’t enough scholarships to go around.

And that’s with a full compliment of offers to give. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to Franklin but it is forcing him and his staff to be more selective when evaluating a wider number of prospects. Penn State can bring in 25 players for the first time since before the NCAA reduced the team’s scholarship count as part of the 2012 sanctions leveled in the Jerry Sandusky scandal’s wake.

“That’s going to be a real issue. It really has been for the last month or so,” Franklin said. “I wish we had 45 scholarships to give out but we don’t which is a little bit of a shame because we’ve got great momentum right now and there are a lot of people that want to be a part of what we’re doing and where we’re going.”

Penn State has picked up five verbal commitments in the last 32 days, three of them from four-star rated players. In the meantime, Penn State’s most recent class has jumped to No. 2 in the rankings trailing only Alabama according to 24-7 Sports.

Thinning the herd

By rule, college football teams can only bring 105 players into training camp.

Although more players can be activated for practice duties at the conclusion of camp, Franklin said he and his staff won’t begin the trim-down process until later this summer. Penn State currently has 95 players listed on its roster. That number doesn’t include 20 incoming recruits from the 2014 class.

In addition, Franklin said he’s already taken steps to alert certain players of their statuses after spring practice. He’s wary of players who are paying their own way to take summer classes and work out on campus in order to improve to make the cut for camp.

“That will be evolving,” Franklin said. “That will evolve all the way up to camp. It’ll change based on what guys do in the summer and things like that. The thing that we want to do is we want to bring the best 105 guys that we possibly can bring in that are going to help us be successful against Central Florida.”

Nittany Lions last in APR

Penn State came in last among Big Ten football teams in the NCAA’s annual Academic Progress Rate report that was released Wednesday.

The Nittany Lions scored 954 from 2009-2013 in the results that are based on a points-system that rewards athletes for staying academically eligible and staying in school. Penn State was two points lower than the FBS-school average and seven points higher than the FCS-school average.

Northwestern led the Big Ten with a APR of 991.

Team can face sanctions if they fall below 930. Thirty-six teams across different sports face postseason bans for poor academic scores this year.

Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.

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