Showing up on Zoom with a beard that’s unusually grayer, Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry delivered perhaps the line of the year Thursday morning.
Pry started off his Zoom call talking about the defense’s shoddy tackling and why it was disappointing to him. He then offered up some powerful words about James Franklin’s family.
More on those in a bit.
A few minutes later, veteran PSU writer Mike Poorman from StateCollege.com started off his question by rubbing his chin and asking about Pry’s Beard.
It sparked a classic 13 seconds.
“That’s what 0-5 will do to you, man, shit,” Pry said with a big laugh. “I’m down about 20 pounds, too, man.”
Indeed, Penn State started 0-5 before winning its last two, and a big reason for the rough start was some very poor play and poor tackling by the defense.
The first question Pry fielded Thursday was about the poor tackling early on and the criticism it elicited from fans and media.
“Yeah, the criticism probably would have started with me,” Pry said. “So yeah, that was some pretty shoddy tackling going on. I think just loose, not the normal fits. I say looser is the best word, there’s just too much space and not getting a good position to make the tackle. Then when we did, we didn’t wrap, we didn’t roll, we didn’t bring our feet. It was a combination of things.
“We’ve identified problems with tackling in the past, you know, maybe it was a substantial number of overruns or not bringing our feet. And in this particular case it was just a mixed bag of issues.”
Penn State has corrected the tackle issues the past two games in beating Michigan and Rutgers.
Still, Pry had more to say about why tackling is so poor at all levels of football these days.
“When you don’t do it as much, I mean, I think we all know the last couple years because of this concussion protocol you don’t hit tackle near like you used to in practice at the high school level and in college,” he said. “Tackling is a lost art, and I don’t think we were very good at it to start the year, and I look across college football I don’t think anybody’s good at it. If you want to know truth.
“I think that you practice it the best you can. You got 1,000 reps of tagoffs and thuds where you got to get these guys to get in position and feel like they’re making a tackle. So obviously it’s something we practice all the time.”
Pry said he has been “most disappointed in my position,” which is the linebackers.
“We saw some improvement in some areas, but we’ve tackled well in the box. We just haven’t tackled well in the space at my spot, not well enough. We’ve we’ve worked on it, we’ve emphasized it. I do think there’s been an improvement. But it’s still not where I’d like it to be.”
Clearly, the linebacker position would have been much better off if All-American Micah Parsons had not opted out of this season to prepare for the NFL draft. Parsons was as good of a tackler as Penn State has had at linebacker, and that’s saying something given the school’s rich history as Linebacker U.
“Obviously Micah’s presence was missed,” Pry said. “As I’ve mentioned in the past, he’s somewhat of an eraser. When somebody’s out of a gap or not in the right place, Micah could go track it down, and what would become a 12- or 14-yard gain would become a 5- or 6-yard gain with Micah on the field. So we missed that a little bit.”
Pry, an Altoona native, has extended family in this region, and he had his family living with him all year throughout the pandemic. He did say that his family left before Thanksgiving, though, which has been tough.
Pry was asked how tough it has been for James Franklin not having his family with him for most of the year. He offered up some powerful words about his longtime friend.
“I will tell you this, I went out to Coach’s house last Thursday, and first time I’ve been out there in a while,” Pry said. “And walking in his house and knowing that his family hadn’t been there since March 1, it was tough. And knowing that he’d been out there in those evenings and after ballgames and all that. Everybody tried to keep their distance and go home and do your own thing.
“So there’s no question for a guy that’s emotional, that has a lot of passion, that’s heartfelt, that loves his family like he does that it’s been challenging. It would be for anybody.
“In this business it’s hard as shit anyways, and your family is what keeps you anchored, man. It’s what it what makes it work when you’re damn, when you’re winning, but when you’re losing more so. When you go home, your daughters don’t care if you won or lost. They’re gonna hug on you and love on you and make you feel better about things.
“So it really stung me when I went out there and realized that Fumi and the girls hadn’t been in that house since March. So it’s been a toll, no doubt.”
Pry finished his remarks, though, by saying that Franklin’s leadership throughout all of this ordeal has been “outstanding.”
“We’re one of the safest teams in the country,” Pry said. “I joke with the guys about getting a trophy for the COVID trophy — a big swab with championship underneath it. I mean, because we get it, man. You know, we’re again today 167 negatives or whatever it is.
“He’s done a great job. You know him and Doc keeping this program and these families safe. It hasn’t been easy. There’s been been some side effects to it. But certainly everybody feels good about that.”
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