Saquon Barkley was back at practice on Wednesday, and from what media saw in a 10-minute allotment, the true freshman running back was standing on the sideline with his helmet off, right ankle wrapped heavily.
Head coach James Franklin does not discuss injuries by policy, but confirmed after practice that Barkley did take some reps in that day’s workouts.
“Yes, he received reps at practice,” Franklin said. “He looked awesome. Yeah, he’s kind of still working through it, no determination has been made yet, but he did take reps and he looked good. But we’ll see.”
Even after sitting out a game, Barkley accounts for 47.4 percent of Penn State’s net rushing yards, and 37 percent of rushing touchdowns, with 373 yards on 42 carries and three touchdowns. Barkley left before halftime during Penn State’s game against San Diego State two weeks ago with an apparent ankle injury, and did not return for the remainder of that game. He also did not play against Army last weekend.
Linebacker Brandon Bell and safety Marcus Allen were also seen actively practicing on Wednesday, as well as center Angelo Mangiro, who appeared to suffer a lower body injury against Army and left the game to head to the locker room with trainers. Backup center Wendy Laurent did see first team reps during goal line drills at practice.
“Yeah, I think having Marcus Allen, and Jordan Lucas and Brandon Bell back would be significant for us,” said Franklin (Lucas played last week, but not the week before after appearing to hurt his shoulder). “We’re hopeful, every morning at 7 a.m. we have a staff meeting and we sit down with trainers and they kind of go through (injuries). A lot of it deals with when you practice today, how do they react?”
Starting running back Akeel Lynch, who appeared to suffer a knee injury against San Diego State when a defender’s helmet collided with it, was not present at practice.
Despite a 4-1 record, Penn State has received public criticism for how it’s won football games against teams like Buffalo and Army. The phrase “winning ugly” has been thrown around a bit, too.
“Yeah, I would like our identity to be ‘winning,’” Franklin said. “I don’t know about the ‘ugly’. You know, we are in the entertainment business as well. It’s sports and it’s entertainment. So yeah, you don’t want it to be ‘ugly’ long-term. I don’t want to be ugly long-term, the team doesn’t want to be ugly long-term, so yeah, we would like to get to a point where it’s more exciting.
“But right now, the most important thing is winning, and then those things evolving over time.”
Franklin said on Tuesday that the offense has been set up to “manage” where there may be limitations, and that the play-calling is such that minimizes turnovers. Penn State is plus-8 where turnover margin is concerned, which has earned them a top-10 national ranking in the category.
The head coach also said he’d like to expand the “creativity” of the playbook each week, within the framework in the offense — something that hasn’t happened as much as he’d like, thus far.
“If you look at our history, we’ve done a lot more things,” he said. “But right now, the most important thing is getting good at something, and creating an identity, and the thing that we decided to do after game one, that was going to be running the ball, being physical, coming off the ball, because the more you can beat people up on first and second down, the less of pass rushers there are going to be on third down.”
Franklin said early on, it was clear Penn State wasn’t coming off the ball, and adopting more of the physical, “blue-collar” mentality was necessary.
And this week will be especially important to the team — and not just in the “we want to go 1-0 every week” coach-speak way, either. Penn State continues Big Ten play against Indiana, and then visits Ohio State the next week. Both will be huge tests of whether there has actually been improvement, or not.
“For me? The defining game is this Saturday. This one is big,” said Franklin. “Next week? That one will be big…That’s for you guys to have those awesome discussions about what’s ‘defining’ and what’s not.
“I want to win Saturday. Pretty, ugly, nasty, sexy, exciting, win. However way we gotta do it.”