How fast is Joe Moorhead’s offense?
Penn State is currently in the process of installing the new offensive coordinator’s uptempo spread system as spring ball, which started last Friday, unfolds.
“We’re doing tempo the other day, and you guys see we very rarely run after practice,” said head coach James Franklin. “And because of our tempo, we’re getting unbelievable conditioning. And the other day in the middle of a series, (defensive tackle) Robert Windsor threw up all over the place. I saw all the offensive guys’ eyes light up like, ‘Exactly. We got you now.’ ”
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The team has 15 allotted practices before it holds its annual Blue-White Game intrasquad scrimmage on April 16, but according to Franklin, the coaches need just six days to install the packages they’ve planned for spring.
“When I say the ‘whole offense (installed in six days),’ obviously I mean the whole offense installed for the spring,” said Franklin after Wednesday’s practice. “And then we’ll go back and look at those things, make spring cut-ups. We got a decent amount with it in already.”
We’re doing tempo the other day, and you guys see we very rarely run after practice. And because of our tempo, we’re getting unbelievable conditioning. And the other day in the middle of a series, (defensive tackle) Robert Windsor threw up all over the place. I saw all the offensive guys’ eyes light up like, ‘Exactly. We got you now.’
Head coach James Franklin
The media watched about 10 minutes of the practice, during which time quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens split reps with a variety of running backs in the lineup, including Andre Robinson and Saquon Barkley.
The difference in speed was notable. Offensive units rotated through two plays — from getting signaled in to completion — in about 30 seconds.
Receiver DaeSean Hamilton said he knew the offense would be faster than he was previously used to.
“I didn’t know it would be this fast,” he said. “It has made practice harder than the games. Getting adjusted to the speed has surprised me the most.”
Hamilton said that last year, the team would finish their 10-minute live periods with a second or so left on the clock. Now, team periods have two or three minutes left after full execution. That means, based on the standard number of plays per live period, that Penn State is running 14 plays per seven or eight minutes.
“I think there’s plenty of time left on the play clock (per play), maybe 10, 15 seconds,” he said.
Linebacker Jason Cabinda said that it’s been a challenge to adjust to the pace from a defensive perspective.
“It’s fast,” he said. “You gotta think on your toes, real fast.
“Ohio State, a little bit, you know, Indiana at times went a little uptempo on us,” he added. “It kind of reminds me of that, but in terms of speed, I don’t necessarily know if there’s a team that matches the speed our offense is going at right now, so I’m really excited about it.”
McSorley and Stevens are splitting reps with the first and second teams equally, said Franklin, who also noted that McSorley has shown that he’s a bit more developed into the position.
“I think Trace is a little more consistent now, but that’s expected because he’s been here a little bit longer and played a little more football,” the coach said. “Although it’s a new system, he still more of a veteran. (He’s) been on a college campus, understanding concepts, talking about coverage...Tommy is still playing catchup a little bit.”
Next season’s starting quarterback likely won’t be named until fall camp, but Hamilton said he’s seen McSorley come out of his shell.
“Trace has gotten a lot more vocal, at least from my (perspective), a lot more outgoing,” said Hamilton. “(Last year) we didn’t see a lot of Trace, and now I feel like he’s a guy that everyone is looking upon, and he’s ready to take that role and lead our team.”
On the line
Penn State has a few holes to fill on its defensive line, most notably at defensive tackle, after the departure of Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel.
Franklin said that redshirt freshman Kevin Givens has translated his improvement in the weight room to the field and has showed promise. The Altoona native needs to gain weight to be a true run-stuffer, however, and currently sits at 6-foot-1 and 267 pounds.
“Yeah, he’s not much over 270,” said Franklin. “After the first practice, driving (offensive lineman Derek Dowrey), who’s 335 pounds, he said he lost seven pounds at practice.
“But yeah, you look, there are players in the Big Ten at defensive tackle or nose tackle that are 275 pounds. He’s five pounds away from that. His strength and his power allows him to be a little bit undersized and still play the position. But guys, we still got a long time before the first game. So to think he’s 270 now and will be 270 by the time the season starts, I think we still got time to put on a little bit more weight.”
Despite the loss of Carl Nassib at defensive end, Franklin said the position is one that has the most depth on the team.
“You look at (Garrett) Sickels, he’s played a lot of football here,” he said. “(Evan) Schwan has played a lot of football. Torrence Brown has played a lot of football. And then we got some guys that redshirted behind them that we’re excited about, like (Ryan) Buchholz and Shareef Miller, things like that.”
During the media’s time at practice, Schwan and Brown rotated on the opposite end of Sickels, who mostly stayed in on the strong side.
And as far as the offensive line, Franklin said that most of the positions and playing time is still up for grabs.
“(Andrew Nelson) is probably the one guy right now that’s probably separated himself,” said Franklin. “He looks like a guy that has played a bunch of football. He looks like a guy that’s been able to do true offseason training. He’s stronger, more confident, more physical. I would say the rest of the positions are a battle.”
The offensive tackle battled injury for much of last season, but has looked healthy when media has watched winter workouts.
Quotable: “You don’t want to go three-and-out whether you’re running a traditional offense or an uptempo offense … Three-and-outs are always one of the most disgusting things ever.” — James Franklin, on improving the efficiency of the offense.
Notable: Kicker Joey Julius was not at practice. According to Franklin, he is dealing with “a medical issue.” … NFL hopeful and former Penn State defensive tackle Austin Johnson was in attendance watching practice … Nick Scott, who is transitioning to corner from running back, also worked out with the kick return unit … Franklin said Gregg Garrity is turning into a viable option at kick returner after putting on a few pounds … Garrity was the lead returner in Penn State’s TaxSlayer Bowl game … Franklin said he wants a true three-deep at running back, and that Robinson has improved his strength and speed. Top signee Miles Sanders will join the team in the fall and is largely expected to be one of those three.