James Franklin and his staff are ready to hit the ground running when Penn State’s preseason football camp begins on Monday.
In fact, his plan for what the Nittany Lions wish to accomplish has been in place for quite a while now.
“Pretty much most of the preparation has already been done,” Franklin said. “We’ve been working on it since the day we got the job. What helps is, you have a model that you’ve used for the last however many years and you adapt that model and you make some tweaks and you’re constantly trying to grow and evolve but you have a model so that’s helpful.”
Although this is his first season with Penn State, Franklin is a veteran coach at the FBS level with more than 11 years of experience. He is well-versed on what he and his staff are allowed to do as a run-up to the season.
Players are prepared for training camp practices with a physical edge — much like what they experienced during spring practice with Franklin and his new staff — senior linebacker Mike Hull said.
But not right away.
The NCAA has a strict set of rules, outlined in the NCAA manual in Bylaw 17, for what teams can and can’t do when and where in order to protect players.
That includes limiting physical contact and prohibiting fully-padded practices at the onset of camp. Like other Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams, Penn State is allowed 29 practices prior to the season opener against Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland on Aug. 30. The first five days are mandated as what the NCAA calls an “acclimatization period.” Football helmets and jerseys are the only pieces of equipment allowed during the first two days of this five-day period.
Teams may progress to using helmets and shoulder pads after the first two days of the acclimatization period with full pads — the addition of leg and hip pads and rib protectors — only becoming permissible on the fifth day.
Franklin has options for how he wants to approach the acclimatization period.
Teams can utilize one three-hour practice each day during the first five days or split the time with a one-hour conditioning/agility test and a two-hour practice. A one-hour walk-through practice may also be added to each day of the acclimatization period but no pads, footballs or blocking sleds may be used. According to the NCAA manual, a walk-through counts toward the 29 allotted practices during the acclimatization period.
“It’s pretty structured in the way you have to do it,” Franklin said. “A lot of things are figured out for you.”
But coaches are allowed more freedom to tweak their camp itineraries after the acclimatization period is over.
For example, teams can practice in full pads at any time following the first five days and walk-throughs no longer count toward the allotment of 29 practices so long as players aren’t wearing any protective gear. Meanwhile, teams may hold two-a-day and three-a-day practices as long as they don’t occur on consecutive days.
Penn State can practice for a maximum of three hours on days where only one practice is allowed — for example after a previous two- or three-a-day session — and for a maximum of five hours on a day in which it is allowed to stage multiple practices. Players must get at least three hours of rest between on-field sessions.
“We have it completely mapped out — as detailed as you could possibly imagine,” Franklin said. “I couldn’t sit here and tell you and recite it but we’ll maximize the practices that the NCAA allows you to have. We’ll be pretty busy.”
During spring practice, Franklin and his staff set out to determine which players Penn State would bring into training camp.
Although Penn State lists 121 players on its roster, the team can only field 105 players in camp. If a player voluntarily withdraws or suffers an injury that will keep him out for the duration of camp, he can be replaced with another. A replacement player is subject to the five-day acclimatization period, however.
Meanwhile, players entering their first year of FBS-level eligibility must take one day — at least six hours — of academic orientation. That can occur before camp begins, however.
“We have that organized,” Franklin said. “Then as camp goes on you look and you modify based on kind of where you’re at and what you need to make sure that when you get to your first game that you’re fresh and that your guys are ready. That’s where having a guy like Dwight Galt, our strength coach, has been doing this for over 30 years, he’s really good at seeing that.”
Galt said he and his strength and conditioning staff pushed players hard in June and July, a span Galt described as “the hardest months” of the team’s conditioning regimen. The goal was to prepare players for the physical grind — when many find it tough to keep weight on — during preseason camp.
“You usually lose weight in camp so it’s good to put it on now,” sophomore tight end Adam Breneman said in July.
Now, the time has come and players will be able to put what they learned and gained in the summer conditioning program to the test.
“We feel pretty good to go,” Franklin said. “There’s not a whole lot left for us to do. It’s just kind of cleaning up a few things, having some discussions as a staff, getting the final pieces of the puzzle put together and then roll. Really, the preparation is in the bag. It’s behind us.”