James Franklin spoke to reporters for 45 minutes in advance of Saturday’s season opener against Appalachian State.
Here are the highlights of what the Penn State coach said:
7 true freshmen to play big roles
Penn State fans may be familiar with the “red light, yellow light, green light” tier system Franklin has for freshmen. Essentially, a green light means the player is expected to play a big role as a full-time player, one who will compete in most of the season’s games. A red light means the player will redshirt.
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Franklin said there are seven “green lights” so far this season. They include linebacker Micah Parsons, linebacker Jesse Luketa, defensive tackle PJ Mustipher, running back Ricky Slade, tight end Pat Freiermuth, kicker Jake Pinegar (field goals) and kicker Rafael Checa (kickoffs).
Franklin had this to say about Parsons: “We have been impressed. We obviously always had high beliefs in Micah as an athlete.”
Backup linebackers to be big part of gameplan
The starting lineup here is unsurprising — with Jan Johnson starting in the middle and both Cam Brown and Koa Farmer starting outside. But Franklin said the second-team will get plenty of reps Saturday.
“Again, I don’t think there’s a huge gap between our 1s and our 2s so I think you’ll see the 2s get close to, if not as many, reps,” he said, before adding, “Cam Brown has separated himself from the pack.”
That means we should see plenty of Parsons, Ellis Brooks, Jarvis Miller — and possibly Luketa.
“I think you’ll see a lot of guys rotating and getting time,” Franklin said.
WR Justin Shorter, DE Shane Simmons hampered by injuries
Shorter, a true freshman, came in with the hype of a young Juwan Johnson. But he wasn’t listed on the three-deep of the depth chart Tuesday — and Franklin said that’s because he was dinged up during camp.
Franklin believed Shorter was well on his way to making an impact early in the season until an unspecified injury hit. It’s unknown now when he’ll get on the field.
Defensive end Shane Simmons appeared to be injured during Penn State photo day, and Franklin also confirmed as much. Simmons also was not listed on the three-deep.
“We do expect him back,” Franklin added, saying he’ll know more Thursday.
Appalachian State RB Jalin Moore impressive
Franklin went out of his way to praise the reigning Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year. He rattled off Moore’s list of measurables — a 4.37-second 40-yard dash, a 38.5-inch vertical jump and an 11-1 broad jump — and said the 210-pound back will be “challenging.”
“This guy obviously is a specimen,” Franklin added.
Moore made Bruce Feldman’s 2018 Freaks List. So far , the senior has rushed for 3,170 career yards and 27 touchdowns. He’s averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
“He’s a home-run hitter,” Franklin said. “There are games where he’s been highly, highly productive. There are games where he hasn’t been. But what you’re dealing with with him is if there’s a hole, he has the ability to take it the distance.”
Lots of talent at kicker
Pinegar has earned the starting job as the field-goal kicker, but Franklin said he’s not the only kicker who’s impressed this camp.
Hollidaysburg walk-on Vlad Hilling is a player favorite, Franklin said, and the staff loves his positive personality. He has the strongest leg on the roster, but still needs to become more consistent. His field-goal percentage trails Pinegar by quite a bit.
As a reminder: Hilling nailed a record-breaking 56-yard field goal at the Big 33 Football Classic.
“I think Vlad, has a very, very bright future in our program,” Franklin said.