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Tuesdays With James

Tuesday’s With James: Franklin on OC Moving to Press Box, Promising Sophomore, More

Penn State ranking James Franklin Franco Harris
Penn State Athletics

Penn State coach James Franklin had his first Tuesday press conference of 2023 this week ahead of the team’s game against West Virginia at Beaver Stadium Saturday night on NBC.

Here’s what the coach had to say.

JAMES FRANKLIN ON WHY OC MIKE YURCICH IS MOVING TO THE PRESS BOX

Some Penn State fans were surprised to see that offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich will be working in the booth, not the field, this season. 

When asked by Mark Wogenrich of Sports Illustrated, Franklin said this decision came down to two things; the rise of assistant quarterbacks coach Danny O’Brien, and Franklin, a former offensive coordinator himself, feeling that the press box is a better place to work in that capacity. 

“I think Danny has been a big part of that,” he said.

“Danny, now spending over a year with Mike, knowing how Mike wants to do things. Danny playing for me (at Maryland), coaching for me. There’s a lot of alignment there. He’s built a ton of respect with our quarterbacks. So, I think that’s played a big part in it.

Franklin said this move is “probably one of the things I’m most excited about.”

“As an offensive coordinator, specifically, there’s no better place to call the game than in the booth,” he said. “Controlled environment, you’ve got your notes out. You can see it all. You’re not relying on somebody else to echo information to you that maybe you can’t see across the field. The corners’ alignment, the far safety’s alignment. You’re able to rely on your vision and your information. There’s still going to be people up there helping him. 

Franklin also sees this change as a testament to how Yurcich feels about his fellow coaches.

“I also think it’s Mike’s respect for our staff and our assistant coaches that there are strong voices, including Danny on the sideline, to manage that,” Franklin said.

“But I think it’s ultimately Mike saying, ‘Where can I be the best offensive coordinator? Where can I call the best game?’ It’s from the booth. It’s not like we talked about it and then he came back to me. He came to visit with me about it. He said, ‘This is what I’m thinking, what are your thoughts?’ I was on board because as an offensive play-caller, I don’t think it’s even close. I think it’s the best place to call the game from.”

JAMES FRANKLIN ON ‘THE THIRD PHASE’

Many people overlook special teams relative to offensive and defense. 

But it’s important, and Franklin knows this. 

Penn State will start the season with a new kicker and punter. 

Jake Pinegar is gone for the former, as is Barney Amor for the latter. At punter, the battles between Florida Atlantic transfer Riley Thompson and Alex Bachetta, who’s entering Year 2 at Penn State. At kicker, it’s between the returning Sander Shaydak and Columbia transfer Alex Felkins.

Unsurprisingly, Franklin hasn’t named a starter for either of those positions yet when asked about the unit by Donnie Collins of the Scranton Times-Tribune, but he dove into how using analytics during practice has helped the coaching staff evaluate who should start everywhere, including special teams.

“I think the metrics help in terms of being able to say, ‘Okay, what was your kick percentage last year in games? What was it in practice? What are these guys doing right now?’” Franklin said. “I think you guys (reporters) have seen, we try to make practice really challenging and difficult on those guys, as well. A lot of times the games are easy.

“As you know, whether it’s music or horns or whistles or whether it’s wet, whatever it may be, try to make it really challenging in practice. I think that helps. At the end of the day, you never truly know at any of these positions, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams, until they get out there and do it in games.

But I think they have done, and we’ve done, everything we possibly can to get them prepared for it.”

Franklin also noted the value of bringing in veterans like Thompson and Felkins from the transfer portal.

“I think the competition that we have had in terms of going out and bringing in some veteran guys, not necessarily to take the jobs, but to come in and create a true competition between some veterans from the outside and then some guys within our program that were growing and maturing and developing, I think that’s really helped,” he said.

“There’s been legitimate competitions at kicker, punter, snapper and kickoff. All of them.”

JAMES FRANKLIN ON CAM MILLER

How does Franklin feel about second-year cornerback Cam Miller, Jon Sauber of the Centre Daily Times asked. 

Well, he joked that he’d like the Miller family to have more kids, so that should tell you something. 

“Cam is a young man that I just have so much respect for. We just got done talking about him as a coaching staff and adding him to our leadership council. He’s just a very driven, motivated, high-production, low-maintenance young man that is maximizing his Penn State experience. He’s a guy that I think is going to probably start on four units on special teams, which I think is very telling. I think he’s a young man that’s going to play a bunch for us on defense, as well.

“So just he’s a guy that’s really earned everybody’s respect within the program, enough that he was able to play as a true freshman last year. Then I think there’s a ton of confidence within his teammates and within the coaches that he’s done all the right things and taken all the necessary steps to build on what he did last year. I think he’s confident. I think his teammates are confident in him. I think the coaches are, as well.

“But I’m proud of him. I’m proud of him. I’m really glad that we were able to go to Florida and get him. I’m very appreciative that his mom and dad had the confidence in us to send him here. I may even try to, You’ve heard me say this before with certain guys, I might try to convince Mom and Dad to have a few more because we love him that much.

“Send them up to the Poconos to one of those romantic vacation spots in the Poconos. They’re watching right now trying to figure out what the Poconos is, but we know.”

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