Penn State Football

Penn State football: Pieces falling into place as spring practice winds down

CDT photo

With one week until the annual Blue-White Game, Penn State football coach James Franklin likes his team’s progress.

Franklin went into the spring with a question mark at defensive end, but he no longer has questions about the position. Questions surrounding the offensive line remain, but the group has played with confidence this spring, an encouraging development for the coach. Depth at running back and tight end, and the team’s kicking game, still concern Franklin, however.

Otherwise, he’s happy.

“I told them, they may not see it and even the individual coaches may not see it, but I do,” Franklin said after practice Saturday. “Looking at it from 50,000 feet and watching all the drills and watching all the competition, I’m just so impressed.”

The Nittany Lions will continue practice this week before finishing the spring with the Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Franklin praised the defensive end position after practice.

The Nittany Lions must replace starters Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan, and Franklin said Carl Nassib and Garrett Sickels have proven to be talented and dependable, while Curtis Cothran and Torrence Brown have been exciting at the position as well.

Franklin is pleased with the defensive line’s depth, thanks to the defensive ends’ performance this spring.

“Those guys have played with great technique and they’ve played with great fundamentals,” Franklin said. “They’re playing with really good confidence right now and I’m excited about our D-ends. I really am.”

The offensive line is still a work in progress.

Franklin reiterated Saturday that the communication is better. The focus now is on the details — improving pad level and hand placement.

“There’s confidence mentally, but now we got to get ‘em to play more aggressive because they’re not thinking,” Franklin said. “They’re not thinking about their assignment, they’re not thinking about their technique. They’re just coming out playing fast, playing aggressive, so that’s that next step they have to take.”

Along the line, left tackle is an uncertainty.

Franklin said junior college transfer Paris Palmer, a potential replacement for the NFL draft-bound Donovan Smith, has talent. But Palmer, who’s listed at 6-foot-7, 278 pounds, has to add weight to be ready to compete in the fall.

“He’s put on five pounds during spring ball so we’re making progress there,” Franklin said. “He has the footwork to get into position to make the plays, but at this level, he can get overpowered sometimes because he’s right around 290 pounds.”

Palmer has a chance to be around 300 or 305 pounds by the season opener against Temple in September, Franklin said. Chasz Wright, a 6-foot-7, 328-pound lineman, has impressed Franklin, who said he is playing with more confidence.

Franklin said the offensive line will determine the success of the running game.

With leading rusher Akeel Lynch back, Penn State has a clear No. 1 option at running back. The rest of the backs have yet to prove themselves as Franklin said redshirt freshmen Mark Allen, Nick Scott and Johnathan Thomas will be competing for time.

“Mark Allen has had a really good spring,” Franklin said. “He’s had a really good spring. I’ve been pleased with him. Nick has shown some flashes but he’s still got a ways to go. Johnathan Thomas has been limited and he was a guy going into spring everybody was really kind of excited about.”

At middle linebacker, Franklin said he doesn’t think one player can replace leading tackler Mike Hull’s production and presence. Linebackers Nyeem Wartman, who was second on the team in tackles, Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda have each turned in strong springs in Franklin’s eyes. Franklin said Wartman has been limited recently.

Franklin feels pretty good about his kickers as Penn State has to fill the void left by Sam Ficken.

Joey Julius, a redshirt freshman, has been a standout, displaying a combination of power and accuracy.

“He’s got tremendous confidence,” Franklin said. “What I really like about Joe is he’s not your typical kicker and what I mean by that is he was a high-level soccer player so he is fiercely competitive. Actually when the pressure is on him, that’s when he likes it the most.”

Note: Franklin said the Blue-White game will start with a field-goal kicking competition and include a punting competition at halftime, giving him a chance to see how the kickers and punters perform in front of fans.