Penn State Football

Penn State football notebook: James Franklin talks job rumors, issues with tackling

James Franklin talks with media during his weekly press conference at Beaver Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015.
James Franklin talks with media during his weekly press conference at Beaver Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. CDT photo

Earlier this week, CBS Sports reporter Dennis Dodd released a report that said Penn State head coach James Franklin was a potential candidate for the recent opening at the University of Miami, following the firing of Al Golden.

“You keep hearing rumblings that Franklin would be interested,” wrote Dodd. “Franklin has no ties to Miami but probably would have a better chance to win in the ACC Coastal rather than an increasingly brutal Big Ten East.”

On Tuesday afternoon during his weekly press conference, Franklin addressed those “rumblings” himself.

“First of all, let me say this. I don’t like it,” he said. “I think it causes a distraction for our team, I think it’s a distraction for Penn State, and I have no idea where it comes from, whatsoever. My family has sacrificed; I’ve worked my a-- off to get to Penn State, to get here, and this is where I want to be. We’ve got a lot of work to do on the field, we’ve got a lot of work to do off the field, in every aspect, but this is where I want to be.”

The head coach didn’t seem at all flattered that his name would come up, either.

“Stuff like that, I guess some people can look at it as a compliment, I don’t. My focus is 100 percent on Penn State. Like I said, I worked like crazy to get here. Not going to address it anymore, not going to talk about it anymore, this is where I want to be. This is where my family wants to be. This is where my staff wants to be. We got a lot of work to do. That’s really kind of the end of the discussion.”

Penn State corner Grant Haley also spoke briefly on the matter, saying that the team doesn’t pay attention to these types of rumors.

“We just focus on going 1-0 this week,” he said.

Other than owning a house in Florida, Franklin has essentially no ties to the area.

Wendy Laurent steps up

At the end of fall camp, Franklin surprised many by stating that the player he thought had one of the best camps on the team was backup center Wendy Laurent.

According to Franklin, the redshirt junior practiced and worked out hard in camp and “changed his body” to add lean muscle.

“I don’t think it was so much (that I did something different to impress the coaches),” said Laurent on Tuesday morning. “I’ve always worked hard in the weight room and strength and conditioning and all that. I guess that since (it’s) the second year around, maybe really understanding the offense and getting the whole offseason … Besides that, it’s just working hard and all that.”

Senior center Angelo Mangiro said on Tuesday morning that Laurent showed effort sometimes not seen from players accustomed to a backup role. The two centers are both from New Jersey, and often talk the trade when Mangiro offers to give Laurent rides back to their home state when they have the time.

“He definitely cares about football. He cares about playing,” said Mangiro. “A guy in Wendy’s situation, having a senior in front of him, easily could have taken it easy in the offseason. ... But Wendy worked hard in the weight room, worked hard on the field, put in the extra training that we were doing and the conditioning. With that said, he’s also another year older and got some experience last year. ... I’m really proud of the work he’s put in.”

Laurent said Mangiro helped him with the mentality he needed to be ready to come in as a starter.

“He’s just always coming to me and saying, ‘Be prepared for your opportunity,’ same as (offensive line coach Herb) Hand,” said Laurent.

Mangiro switched to guard and Laurent came in to start at center last week against Maryland, which continued following the loss of Andrew Nelson to what Franklin has referred to as a recurring injury.

“I was excited (to start), I mean obviously,” said Laurent. “It’s something I worked hard for. To finally reach that goal, it feels good.”

Laurent, whose family moved to America from Haiti when he was less than a year old, said it was his dream since eighth grade to attend Penn State.

Tackling the issues

Penn State’s defense has given up 894 yards combined between its last two opponents, 556 of which have been on the ground; 326 of those have come from two dual-threat quarterbacks.

Before facing No. 1 Ohio State two weeks ago, the Nittany Lions had the nation’s 10th-best rushing defense and had given up an average of just 117 rushing yards per game.

Part of the issues have come from struggles with open-field tackling.

“It’s an epidemic right now in college football,” he said. “I think a lot of it is, you don’t tackle as much, and then you get banged up, then you get some bumps and bruises, and you’re modifying practice and that starts to show up. And you just have to be so disciplined in everything you’re doing … that you don’t fall into bad habits of not wrapping up or not closing the distance down between you and the offensive player, to make sure you’re not lunging and things like that.”

Haley agreed that there are glaring issues with the team’s tackling.

“I definitely think we need to work on tackling,” he said. “We just really need to get back to the fundamentals and tackling drills, practice, and we need to stay focused on technique and the small things that matter.”

Some fatigue, despite the defensive rotation scheme, could be part of the reason behind the poor tackling. Penn State has yet to have a bye week (the Nittany Lions finally get a break after traveling to Northwestern next week), and many players have cited the midseason “grind” starting to take some effect on personal weariness.

Franklin said he’s planning to modify this week’s practices leading up to Saturday’s noon kickoff against Illinois as his team is a bit “banged-up” and needs some rest. He said he thinks that will help his team with the issues he’s seen with tackling.

“That was something I told (the team) in the locker room right after the game (last week),” said Franklin. “I just think it’s the right thing to do. It’s hard because the coach in you, the old-school coach in you wants to say ‘We’re just going to go out there and grind it out,’ and we still need work at being more physical up front on the O-line, D-line, our padwork, and all that kind of stuff. But the other thing is that you have to get to the games as healthy and as fresh as you possibly can. And this is a game, obviously, that people get worn down mentally and physically. So there’s a time and a place.”

Haley said that the team would still go full-speed this week, just with modifications to time.

“We’ll (still) be able to thud-up a little bit and really just get our forms and fits really well, just working on all of those techniques,” he said.