Penn State Football

Penn State football: Focus turns to summer workouts for Nittany Lions

Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg (14) makes a pass during the Blue-White game on Saturday.
Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg (14) makes a pass during the Blue-White game on Saturday. CDT photo

Spring football is over but Penn State’s offseason work is far from finished. It’ll just take on a different organizational format.

James Franklin and his staff will spend Monday grading spring film including that of Saturday’s Blue-White game. Meanwhile, players will take the next few days to rest up, heal any bumps and bruises and allow their bodies time to freshen up.

“I’ll meet with every single player on the team,” Franklin said. “It might take two weeks; it might take three weeks, whatever it is. But we will schedule them from six in the morning until 11 at night. About a 20 minute meeting with each kid. And then obviously the coaches will be on the road.”

Coaches can begin recruiting trips on Tuesday. Players can start working out on their own whenever they’re ready. But that doesn’t mean players will be drilling every day.

As quarterback Christian Hackenberg has learned, managing player-organized summer workouts is crucial to avoid burnouts.

“I might get out next week a little bit,” Hackneberg said. “I’m probably going to rest a little bit and just get in the weight room but once those guys get their legs back and they feel that they’re ready to go and get some work in then I’ll definitely go out there with them.”

For Hackenberg and his teammates on offense, the spring provided them with a base. Franklin said after Blue beat White 37-0 on Saturday that the playbook was “obviously limited.” Linebacker Mike Hull said Penn State called just “a tenth” of the defensive plays.

And with just 15 practices to introduce new concepts and corresponding terminology, Penn State players and coaches used spring ball to establish a base from which to build on.

Hackenberg said he feels like Penn State accomplished that much.

“We hadn’t even broken a huddle until the first practice in spring,” Hackenberg said. “So I think coming as far as we have from Practice 1 until now, I think it’s a testament to how hard this team has worked on both sides of the ball and I think that we’re really excited for the opportunity that we have to even dive deeper into that offense this offseason and get prepared for the fall.”

That process will include plenty of film-watching.

Offensive coordinator John Donovan said the transition from Bill O’Brien’s offense to his was made easier this spring by meetings in which Donovan — who watched every Penn State game from last season — referenced what O’Brien ran last year when teaching a comparable play or scheme.

Donovan worked alongside O’Brien for five years during stints at Georgia Tech and Maryland.

“I curious if nothing else of what they called it to see how (our offense) would translate to those guys,” Donovan said. “And I have asked them how different it is on certain plays or they might be like, ‘I even called this last year’ or whatever it might be. ... You’d love to be able to get the tight ends, receivers, running backs, quarterbacks knowing all the routes, knowing what each person does on each route, knowing the protections, knowing who the line’s blocking on certain protections. Knowing everything, not just what you do on your spot on one job. We want to be able to move guys around and in order to do that you need to understand the whole concept of the play.”

There’s still plenty of time for that.

Penn State will open training camp in August. By then, players will have had nearly five months with their playbooks and will have used plenty of their own time to develop more chemistry within their new schemes.

“I think the summer will be huge,” senior safety Ryan Keiser said. “Just learning the defense is important so we can go out and do some 7-on-7 by ourselves and doing the work that we need to do to improve on to be better come fall.”

Day to Remember

Cole Chiappialle’s name came up in James Franklin’s conference call with reporters two days before the Blue-White game.

Then, Franklin mentioned the gritty runningback from Beaver Falls as a player who has stood out this spring without being asked about him. On Saturday, the walk-on running back heard his name called time after time over the Beaver Stadium public address system.

Chiappialle finished with nine carries for 63 yards, two catches for 17 yards and scored twice. He showed quickness to the outside when he bounced an inside run around the left end of the White defense for a 23-yard scoring scamper in the second quarter. He leaned in for a one-yard score just before that and set up Sam Ficken’s opening field goal with a 19-yard run into the red zone on a direct snap.

Day to Forget

It was a rough afternoon for the second-team offensive line.

A fluid position group that has been thinned out by injuries, the White team offensive line — which consisted of tackles Albert Hall and Chasz Wright, guards Evan Galimberti and Andrew Terlingo and center Tom Devenney — gave up six sacks for a loss of 36 yards. Meanwhile, White finished in the red with minus-25 yards.

The Good

With a new playbook in front of a pair of young quarterbacks, Penn State is in a comparable quarterback situation to last year when the Nittany Lions were developing Hackenberg and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson at nearly the same time. The difference this year is Hackenberg has a year of starting experience behind him and true freshman Michael O’Connor has gotten plenty of time this spring to develop a base from which to build on should he be needed contribute in the fall.

Hackenberg only got three series but that gave O’Connor plenty of time to get meaningful scrimmage snaps for the Blue squad.

O’Connor showed plenty of upside. The true freshman completed 11 of 16 passes for 81 yards. He was sacked twice but spread the ball around. He completed passes to six different receivers and hit tight end Kyle Carter four times on seven targets.

“You’re a true freshman, should be in high school right now and (O’Connor) came in mid-year and he’s done what he’s done, it’s impressive to handle it mentally the way he’s done,” Donovan said. “Because some guys take years to be able to get all the stuff. For him to pick it up as quick as he has is pretty impressive for a freshman.”

The Bad

With Miles Dieffenbach and Andrew Nelson out with injuries and Anthony Alosi indefinitely suspended, Penn State could not afford to lose anymore offensive linemen.

Wendy Laurent — who started at center for Blue — was felled when defensive end Carl Nassib tumbled into his left leg on Chiappialle‘s 23-yard TD run. Laurent did not return to the game and former defensive tackle Brian Gaia, who started at right guard for Blue, also left the scrimmage and did not return. Gaia was named the team’s most improved offensive player but offensive line coach Herb Hand accepted the award on Gaia’s behalf.

Penn State does not report injuries.

The Beautiful

This category is usually dubbed “The Ugly” but you can’t ask for better weather than what Penn State fans were treated to on Saturday.

Temperatures were right around 65 degrees at kickoff and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Fans took advantage of the weather and an announced crowd of more than 72,000 fans attended the scrimmage. The entire lower bowl of the stadium was full until fans began to head out midway through the third quarter.

Penn State notched the highest attendance of any school for a spring game. Tennessee announced 68,548 fans attended its scrimmage at Neyland Stadium while Nebraska, Ohio State and Georgia drew 61,772, 61,058 and 46,073 fans to their games, respectively.

Key Play You

Already Forgot

In the third quarter, White faced a first-and-10 from its own 36-yard line. Quarterback D.J. Crook dropped to pass and fired over the middle. Linebacker Von Walker was waiting and got a hand on the ball to tip it up to teammate Trevor Williams wo intercepted the pass.

Walker wasn’t done. Instead of watching Williams, he sprinted forward and threw a block that gave Williams room to add a few more yards to his 34-yard return.

The former Central Mountain star switched from running back to linebacker/safety after walking on last season. When asked about his tip and block and switching to defense where he’s trying to earn more playing time as a coverage linebacker, Walker shrugged.

“I love to hit,” he said.

Two-point conversion

Players wore Uplifting Athletes patches on their Blue-White jerseys. ... “I’m not surprised one bit,” Franklin said of the attendance. “I think it was announced at 72,000. I had somebody count personally and they had 82,000 there. We asked for 80,000 and got 82,000, so I’m appreciative of that.”