After a plague of injury-related bad news for Penn State over the last three weeks, head coach James Franklin finally had a positive tidbit to share with reporters at Tuesday’s presser.
Receiver Saeed Blacknall and linebacker Brandon Smith will return this week against Maryland, he said. Blacknall has suffered from an unspecified hand injury since the second week of the season, and Smith got banged-up near the end of Penn State’s 29-26 overtime win against Minnesota last Saturday.
Starting linebacker Jason Cabinda is not probable for this week, added Franklin, who also said the team had hoped to have Cabinda back by now.
“We were hopeful we were going to have good news this week but we had a setback,” he said. In total, the team has lost seven linebackers for significant periods of time this year, including two who are out for the season. All three original starters are out.
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Receiver Brandon Polk is also working through injury and will likely not be available this weekend.
Penn State (3-2) has been outscored in the first half by a combined 38 points through five opponents, and last week was 0 for 7 in third down conversion attempts in the first half against Minnesota. Quicker starts will continue to be a large point of emphasis for the team in practice this week, said Franklin.
The head coach will introduce what he calls the “Chaos Period” starting Tuesday to help rectify the issue.
“We will start practice with that today, as well as probably for the rest of the year where we go out on the field and there’s a block of time for it but none of the coaches know what (that block of time) is,” said Franklin.
“So I have it scheduled ahead of time, whatever it may be, whether it’s third down, ones versus ones, whether it’s opening drive of the game, whether it’s red zone, whatever it may be. And then (defensive coordinator) Brent Pry needs to just call it on the field; coach (Joe) Moorhead needs to call it on the field, (like a) game-like situation.”
The drill will occur in the beginning of practice, said Franklin, because he wants to start each workout in a more competitive fashion. He said he has utilized this drill in the past and saw success with it.
The head coach added that he will not “script” more than 10-15 plays as he would have done in a pro-style offense, because so much of the offensive work in-game within Moorhead’s no-huddle spread is reading and reacting to defensive looks as well as running “check-with-me” plays.
“There are things that we want to get run early in the game,” he said. “But again, how the defense aligns is going to affect what we do; whether we stay with the play initially called or whether we check to a different look.”