Nittany Lines

Hurry up, July — football is right around the corner

Penn State football coach James Franklin talks with offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and offensive line coach Matt Limegrover during the Blue-White game on Saturday, April 16, 2016 at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State football coach James Franklin talks with offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and offensive line coach Matt Limegrover during the Blue-White game on Saturday, April 16, 2016 at Beaver Stadium.

I’m going a little nuts.

Not full-on Britney-Spears-circa-2008 “nuts,” or the honey-roasted variety, but the kind that has me pacing back and forth in front of my postage stamp-sized TV and flipping through game film and classic matchups. I’ve watched Canadian football. Let that sink in a moment. I’m itchier than bare feet in an anthill; I keep scouring tweets and notes from last year. I have over 16,000 of them. It’s quite counterproductive.

I miss football. How many days until it’s back again?

As the slow July days drawl muggily into each other, it’s a time for football coaches to take vacations and football writers to clean out their recorders in preparation for the season to come.

As I did so, I realized there were a few tidbits from Penn State’s 2015 season and this spring that didn’t quite make it into stories. I found them interesting — but remember, I’m going a little nuts.

This quote from former captain and offensive lineman Angelo Mangiro about current running back phenom Saquon Barkley is hilarious. He was asked after Penn State’s last regular-season game, a loss to Michigan State, if he realized Barkley would be special right away and said this straight-faced as I struggled to keep my composure:

“When I look at a (running) back, I usually check out his legs and his calves first, and then his (rear end). And the kid, his attributes right there are phenomenal,” he said. “Then you see spurts of ‘Wow, this kid can be incredible.’”

I sat down with redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley in the spring and he told me about the installation process of new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s scheme — the uptempo spread that made Fordham (where Moorhead was previously the head coach) one of the most productive teams in the country at any level. Because of NCAA regulations, the players weren’t allowed to officially meet for practice or have on-field interactions with coaches, so they all received Fordham film on their iPads and got to studying. Moorhead also sat down with key offensive pieces for 20-30-minute chats and even watched film with former quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

But what Moorhead said to McSorley about his vision for Penn State really stuck out to me.

“This is going to be an explosive offense. It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to score points,” the quarterback said. “That’s what most excites me, is letting that come to fruition … When I first met with Moorhead, one of the first things he said was ‘Yeah, this is Linebacker U. It’s always been hard-nosed power football … Let’s make Penn State like an Oregon. Let’s be known for Penn State playing fast, tons of yards, explosive plays.”

Former Penn State star and current Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Jared Odrick was the ceremonial host of the annual Big 33 Game in Hershey in June, during which Penn State signee Miles Sanders ran in two touchdowns and caught a third.

Odrick voiced admiration for Sanders’ talent, but spent much of our conversation discussing what an ideal destination Jacksonville has become for former Penn State players. Receiver Allen Robinson and linebacker Paul Posluszny are on the team and former offensive coordinator John Donovan recently took a job on the Jaguars’ quality control staff (which means he analyzes film for the offense).

Specifically, Odrick talked about Posluszny, who he thinks might be a robot.

“Having familiar faces like Pos around is great, because I played with him my freshman year when he was a senior,” said Odrick. “I learn my routine from watching him operate. I still joke with him about being an actual machine. I don’t think he’s human. I think that’s one of the biggest things about Pos, is he’s ‘so Pos’ that you do sometimes have to remind him he’s an actual human.”

Head coach James Franklin’s core of returning assistant coaches all received two-year contract extensions this summer, according to Franklin. Those coaches are defensive coordinator Brent Pry, defensive line coach Sean Spencer, receivers coach Josh Gattis, running backs and special teams coach Charles Huff and tight ends coach Ricky Rahne.

He also said that all of the strength coaches and the administration received extensions as well.

“Everybody in the building got two-year contracts,” he said to media at a luncheon in June.

Franklin also mentioned that the families of Moorhead, offensive line coach Matt Limegrover and safeties coach Tim Banks have all moved to the area and all three have purchased houses — a sign of stability, he said.

The commissioners of the five power conferences released a proposal this week to the NCAA that asked for more mandated “break time” for student athletes. They are calling it the “Flex 21” plan, an agreement which provides an extra 21 days without required athletic activities throughout the academic year. Student-athletes now get a week off at the end of their respective seasons and another 14 days off at various times during the year.

The commissioners stated that athletes are to be given “a consecutive eight-hour block of free time overnight, between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.”

It’s so very generous of them to mandate free time when these kids are supposed to be sleeping anyway.

The proposal will be voted upon at the NCAA convention in 2017.

The Nittany Lions’ quarterback battle continues, according to Franklin, who spoke to media in June. And it’s reasonable to not name the 2016 starter in July, let alone after a mismatched Blue-White game a few months ago in which McSorley was the clear standout. Franklin has repeated there is certainly a gap between the former and Tommy Stevens, the redshirt freshman from Indiana, but he wants to give Stevens a chance to close it.

Stevens has improved his game immensely since he first arrived on campus. Still, he gave this admittance during spring ball that makes that gap seem a little larger than the staff might like to show:

“Just from the mental aspect (of the game), knowing defenses, blitzes, coverages in general … I didn’t know much about defenses schematically in high school,” he said. “I just kind of went out and played … In high school I didn’t do too much as far as, you know, sending protection and knowing coverages.”

Well, he has 46 days left to figure out whatever is left for him to learn, I suppose.

Jourdan Rodrigue: 814-231-4629, @JourdanRodrigue