Penn State coach James Franklin paused for a few moments Wednesday night when the question was asked.
If Manny Bowen is one of Penn State’s three best linebackers by the end of camp, will he start Week 1?
“I don’t really necessarily want to have this conversation right now before we talk to the players,” Franklin said after a brief pause, “but no, no he will not.”
Franklin and defensive coordinator Brent Pry intimated at media day two weeks ago that Bowen wouldn’t figure into their plans early on, but Franklin’s statement Wednesday provided clarity to the situation.
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Bowen arrived in training camp after Franklin kicked him off the team in December, following his second suspension reportedly due to academic-related reasons. After reaching unspecified “stipulations,” however, Franklin said he earned his way back on.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to in life you’re trying to create as many win-win situations as you can,” Franklin said after practice Wednesday. “Is this the right thing for Manny? Is this the right thing for Penn State? Is this the right thing for the locker room? Is this the right thing for the program? So you’re trying to factor in all those things.”
Franklin later added, “This isn’t the NFL. This is about helping kids and preparing young men to be successful in life, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Bowen, who is expected to graduate in December, is the Nittany Lions’ most-experienced linebacker. He started 21 career games with 137 career tackles, and he may very well be the most-talented ‘backer on the roster — but he’ll still needs to put in work to earn his way out of the proverbial doghouse.
Regardless, teammates have said the senior linebacker continues to look sharp.
“He’s looked good,” defensive end Shareef Miller said. “He’s looked the same. ... It’s great to have Manny Bowen back.”
Franklin ran down the list of Penn State’s linebackers, saying projected starter Cam Brown looks “really good,” while fellow projected starters Koa Farmer and Jan Johnson look “good.” He also said true freshman linebacker Jesse Luketa is “making a move,” Jarvis Miller “is finally getting comfortable,” and Micah Parsons “is doing some pretty impressive things.” And, he added, Ellis Brooks is “doing some really good things on the side.”
Penn State still has yet to release any official depth chart, which is in part why Franklin appeared to harbor some regret in addressing Bowen’s status Wednesday.
“I think sometimes when you guys ask questions, you think I’m avoiding the question but it’s hard for me to answer something when we haven’t decided who’s starting Game 1,” he said. “I probably shouldn’t have even answered the question.”
The Nittany Lions open the season with Appalachian State on Sept. 1, followed by Pitt (Sept. 8), Kent State (Sept. 15) and Illinois (Sept. 21). The schedule gets markedly harder after that, with Ohio State set to visit Beaver Stadium on Sept. 29.