Journey Brown blazed down the sideline as black turf pellets jumped off the Holuba Hall surface, impressing his coaches and nearly running over TV reporters at Wednesday night’s practice.
Brown, a freshman running back, is redshirting like 18 other members of his 2017 recruiting class. The only three true freshmen seeing the field this season are defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and cornerbacks Lamont Wade and Tariq Castro-Fields.
Brown is waiting for 2018, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been getting work in. That was evident during the bye week with three 12-play scrimmages featuring the freshmen and non-travel roster members.
Now is the time for younger players to show off what they’ve got, and James Franklin has been particularly fascinated with three freshmen: Brown, offensive lineman C.J. Thorpe and safety Jonathan Sutherland.
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The first player Franklin mentioned was Brown, a former high school track star who’s proved he can do more than just race past people.
“We knew he could run, but being able to run fast on a track and being able to do it at this level (are different). He’s really showed something the past couple of weeks,” Franklin said of Brown, who broke a state-record time of 10.43 seconds in the 100-meter outdoor PIAA Class 2A Championships last year. “He has the ability to break tackles, which you didn’t know. In high school he was always faster than everybody.
“Breaking tackles and making people miss, he’s gaining a lot of confidence. There’s an excitement among the older back with him.”
Franklin called Sutherland, a four-star safety originally hailing from Canada, a “coachable” and “mature” player for his age .
On Brown’s side of the ball, Thorpe — a four-star prospect who stands at 6-foot-3, 330 pounds — is a scary guy to go up against. The Pittsburgh native was an earth-mover at Wednesday’s practice, opening up holes at left guard.
Franklin said he can improve in pass protection, but looks like a sturdy future option on Penn State’s offensive line.
“I think he’s got a chance to be one of the more physical, intimidating blockers in the Big Ten,” the coach said.
Bye week schedule
We’re well into the bye week, which one would think is a relaxing time for Penn State’s players and coaches.
Well, not really. The latter are looking at a hectic few days.
“We’ll be all over the place,” Franklin said. Literally. The head coach was scheduled to fly to Texas after Wednesday’s practice to scout prospects. Like the rest of his assistant coaches — outside of the coordinators — he’ll be on the recruiting trail from mid-week until Sunday.
It’s not all about recruiting, though.
Earlier in the week, the staff focused an entire day on self-scouting tendencies from the first half of the season. Offensive staff members compiled a report on the Penn State defense, and vice versa.
“I think a lot of times and it’s the same thing with you guys: You write an article and you got a typo in there but you’ve looked at it so many times you skipped over it,” Franklin said. “It’s the same thing with us. We’re too close to our work sometimes. Getting a fresh set of eyes in there, I think, is important. I like where we’re at.”
While the coaches are on the recruiting trail, Penn State’s players are allowed to go home for the weekend. The veteran Nittany Lions are actually off from now until Sunday — but they’re all still responsible to be ready when they come back.
“They obviously will have some free time to be able to go out and enjoy themselves, and I want them to do that like gentlemen as well — and whatever they do do, do it in moderation,” Franklin said. “So the most important thing them is go home, recharge your batteries, watch some film on their own. They should watch a half-hour of film on their own each day so when they come back on Sunday they have really good questions, they’re further ahead on Michigan as well. And obviously we’ll all be watching Michigan on Saturday.”