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Media Day With James: Penn State HC Franklin Talks QBs, Depth, More

Photo by Penn State Athletics

Penn State coach James Franklin spoke with media at the team’s annual Media Day Aug. 6 at Beaver Stadium. 

Here are some of the coach’s key points. 

WHO’S THE QUARTERBACK

Everybody knows it’s going to be the celebrated Drew Allar.

But Franklin has yet to name a starter officially and likely will in late August.

Neil Rudel of the Altoona Mirror asked Franklin about where the quarterback situation was early on in camp, and Franklin had a little fun.

“Yeah, they have been throwing it, handing it off,” Franklin said, which got a chuckle from those in the media room. “I was just messing with you.”

Franklin went on to say that Allar and Pribula, each in their second year, “look like guys that are year two in the same (offensive) system mentally.”

“They look like guys in year two physically,” he added. 

“They both have gotten stronger. They have both gotten leaner. They have both gotten faster. They have gotten more confident with their reads, their accuracy, their decision-making, those types of things. So they have been impressive. They really have.”  

Franklin feels both quarterbacks have the respect of their teammates, but he still isn’t ready to officially name a starter, at QB or anywhere else. 

“We are not announcing or making any decisions at this point, really, at any position,” he said. “It’s a competition, and we want to create competition at every position as long as possible, and I think it brings the best out in everyone. As you guys know, that’s really kind of how we have operated here for 10 years.”

SAFETY FIRST

On Day 1 of Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis last month, Franklin said the “one question mark” on the Penn State defense was the defensive backfield. 

At safety, Penn State has to replace new-San Francsico 49er Ji’Ayir Brown, which won’t be easy. 

So although Franklin sees the team as three players deep at many positions, he isn’t ready to say that for his safety room yet. 

But he likes Penn State’s two-deep. 

“That’s a position that we probably have right now, a two-deep; that I think really the two-deep, you could make the argument is better than the two-deep we had last year,” he said. 

Now, I’m not necessarily saying that the starters are going to be better because, as we all know, Ji’Ayir Brown was a hell of a player and had a ton of production, but I don’t necessarily expect one person to replace his production. I think he had eight takeaways last year and 16 takeaways over the last two, I think; that may be accurate.”

Franklin didn’t mention any players by name, but the team returns third-year safeties Zakee Wheatley and Jaylen Reed, who each played a big part in Penn State’s Rose Bowl campaign. 

“What you hope is, among that group, that we can get that type of production as a group,” Franklin said. “I think an important piece is, back to what I was saying is, I do think we’ve got a two-deep we feel good about. We’ve got to have at least a fifth guy that we feel good about. In an ideal world, we have a three-deep. We are not there yet. That’s one of the positions I think we’ve got a two-deep, but we’ve got to at least be able to figure out, who is that fifth player going to be that, as you guys know, will most likely be in the two-deep at some point this season.”

Speaking of Depth

Since Penn State’s Rose Bowl win over Utah, people have been asking a big question: Is the 2023 team the best chance Penn State’s had to make the College Football Playoff since its inception in 2014?

Rich Scaracella of the Reading Eagle posed that question to Franklin, and although the coach didn’t directly answer it, he did say that he feels this team has “as much depth as we have had.”

“We have a three-deep at pretty much every position,” he said, “and I’d probably describe it a little bit more in more detail as probably a two-and-a-half deep. What I mean by that is if you talk about the defensive end position, really talking about five guys that we think we can win with. So two-deep at each side, and then a spare, a fifth guy that could swing, but at some positions, I do think we have a true three-deep. I just don’t remember us having that as consistently across the board, and that really even goes to the specialists. I think we have more competition at the specialist positions that we’ve had in the past. So I think the stability on the staff, the more depth, those things, those things are good, and I think they typically lead to giving yourself a chance to be successful.”

Like every Penn State staffer and fan, Franklin’s pumped for what this team can accomplish. 

But he knows it has a long way to go. 

“Are we excited about it? Yes. Do we still have a lot of work to do and a lot of questions to answer? Yes. Do I think we are arguably in the best conference in college football and, specifically, the best division? I think we are part of that argument. I think it’s hard to say that we’re not. And again, I’ve been a head coach in both conferences that are a part of that discussion, in my opinion, so I think I’ve got a pretty good lens on all of this. So that’s how I would describe it.”

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