Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons is coming off a 14-tackle performance, and his head coach has already called him one of the “better players in college football.”
But, James Franklin said Tuesday afternoon, Parsons has barely scratched the surface of his potential. When asked just how high the sophomore’s ceiling is, the Nittany Lions’ head coach had trouble coming up with an answer during his weekly press conference.
“It’s hard to say because, literally, I don’t think he’s anywhere close. I don’t think he’s anywhere close to his ceiling,” Franklin reiterated, ahead of Saturday’s clash with Michigan State. “I don’t think he’s anywhere close.
“And I don’t want that to come off the wrong way, because I think he’s one of the better players in college football, but this is all still very new to him. And he’s embraced the techniques and fundamentals and things like that at the position, but I think he can be even better.”
Parsons, a freshman All-American last season, never played linebacker before arriving in Happy Valley. He was a high school running back and defensive end — one who racked up 84.5 career tackles for loss — but he made an immediate impact at Penn State.
The former five-star prospect led the team with 83 tackles last year. And he leads the defense again with 45 stops, seven more than runner-up Cam Brown (38).
“I just know Micah has gotten a lot better fundamentally from this time last year,” Franklin added. “But he’s still making a lot of plays just on athleticism and instincts. And I think, as his fundamentals and technique continue to improve and his understanding of the game at that position, it’s hard to say where he can go as he continues to mature.”
Parsons is an athletic monster. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Harrisburg native runs a 4.43-second 40-yard dash. If he would’ve taken part in the NFL Combine after his freshman season, he would’ve tied for the second-fastest LB 40 alongside Michigan’s Devin Bush, the No. 10 overall pick who stands four inches shorter and 11 pounds lighter than Parsons.
So, it’s hard to blame Franklin for not knowing exactly where Parsons’ ceiling might be. In some ways, Parsons is in new territory. Franklin just knows he can still get a lot better.
“He is nowhere near his ceiling; he really isn’t,” Franklin said Tuesday. “And he’s improved dramatically. But the exciting thing is there’s a lot more left in the tank.”
Noah Cain’s limited reps
One of the most curious aspects of Saturday’s 28-21 win against Michigan was the fact true freshman RB Noah Cain finished with just five carries.
In the previous two games, Cain was Penn State’s Mr. Consistent with 34 carries for 207 yards and a pair of scores. In fact, he remains the only running back this season to surpass 55 yards against the Iowa Hawkeyes. (He had 102.)
Franklin was again asked Tuesday about Cain’s limited carries. He opened by explaining that fans and reporters only get to see a small sliver of what the staff sees. “There’s a thousand points that go into the decision-making,” Franklin said.
“I think you’ll see his role grow as the season goes on,” Franklin said, “or you’re going to see another back take some steps, as well. We’ll see.”
One possible explanation for Cain’s absence could be if the staff wasn’t yet comfortable with Cain’s pass-blocking, since Michigan is incredibly aggressive on the blitz. But Franklin didn’t offer any hints Tuesday, simply adding that he had the freshman over to his house for dinner Monday night.
And he’s still very high on the young back.
“He’s been great. He’s been really good,” Franklin said. “We’re as pleased with him as you guys are, and we’re as pleased with him as the fans are, as well, but we also have a lot of confidence in those three other guys, as well.”
On Saturday, during one kick return, returner KJ Hamler laid down in the end zone — while running back Journey Brown decided to fair-catch the ball around the 10-yard line.
If Brown would’ve returned it, then that play appeared to be set up very similarly to a Washington return Saturday, where the ball was passed horizontally to the player who laid down in the end zone, before the player popped up, ran to about the 20 and caught the lateral. The Huskies gained about 40 yards from the trick play — but the refs disallowed it and called an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the return.
Franklin said he was aware of the rule, however, and found a way around it. If the player in the end zone is laying down before the kick, it’s a penalty. If he lays down afterward, Franklin said it was fair game.
“If you get down after the ball is kicked, you’re fine,” he said. “If you read the rule book there’s a very specific way that you can do it that makes it legal, and a way that it’s not, and we looked into that into great detail before we ran it this week.”
Keep an eye on that in the future.
Coaching staff players of the week
Every week, Franklin announces his coaching staff’s picks for players of the week — and this week was no exception.
Against Michigan, Franklin recognized the following:
Offense: OL Steven Gonzalez and WR KJ Hamler
Defense: CB Tariq Castro-Fields and LB Micah Parsons
Special teams: WR Dan Chisena
Momentum of the White Out
Franklin couldn’t help but reflect on the White Out during his opening statement, but he also hoped it would act as a catalyst for this weekend.
Saturday’s attendance of 110,669 was the fourth-largest in Beaver Stadium history — and Franklin hoped that excitement would carry over to East Lansing, Michigan, for Saturday’s game against Sparty.
“When you can get 110,000 people to show up for anything, it’s impressive,” Franklin said. “And to have everybody in that stadium supporting Penn State, the community, the university, specifically our football program, singing songs together, having fun, is very, very special.
“We’re going to need that support on the road this week at Michigan State, so I ask Penn Staters, far and wide, to come and support us. Wear white in the stadium. Tailgate over there. See a great venue, road venue, but come out in numbers, all the alumni chapters, really, within hopefully a four-hour radius of that place can come and support us because we need you there.”