Penn State's Franklin off to running start

Posted: March 19, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK - James Franklin wants his new team to hit the ground running this spring, even if it means running in circles.

"There is no walking on the field ever," Franklin said yesterday at a news conference before Penn State held its first of 15 spring practices. "I told them the first day if you don't know where you're supposed to go or what you're doing when the horn blows, then sprint in a circle until you figure it out."

Franklin spent most of his first 9 weeks as the Nittany Lions' head coach in shirts and ties either greeting people at appearances in State College or nabbing eight early verbal commitments for the 2015 class.

But yesterday was not about handshakes or home visits. It was about Franklin spending time with his team on the field for the first official time.

Wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt with a whistle around his neck, Franklin was able to coach the Lions on the field for the first time. It had to be a refreshing change for Franklin, 42, who took the reins of the program after Bill O'Brien left for the NFL's Houston Texans in the offseason.

The coach has been able to watch Penn State film, but noted it was a little difficult to show players how he and the new coaching staff wanted to run practice. That changed yesterday, and the coach said he wants the spring to be a process-oriented period, rather than a goal-oriented one.

"I don't have any goals for how much offense, defense or special teams we want to put in," Franklin said. "How many points we want to score in the spring game, any of those types of things. I just want to get the most we possibly can out of every single day."

The Lions' most heralded player, quarterback Christian Hackenberg, was on the practice field getting acquainted to life without wideout Allen Robinson - who declared for the NFL draft in January. Franklin has gotten the most questions from fans and media about Hackenberg, the 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year who was listed at 234 pounds on the roster (up 14 from last season).

The former Vanderbilt coach said he is happy about the opportunity to coach the talented 19-year-old, but said other positions, especially with Penn State's depth problems - a byproduct of Penn State's scholarship reductions - are also vital.

These positions include the offensive and defensive lines, with both impacted by a few position changes the coaching staff made this spring. Anthony Zettel tallied four sacks and an interception as a defensive end last season and was shifted to the middle of the defensive line as a tackle, a move both the rising senior and Franklin were in favor of. The new roster also showed Brian Gaia and Derek Dowrey both transitioned from the defensive line to the other side of the trenches at guard.

"The game of football is also played up front, on the offensive line and on the defensive line, and we'll make sure that we recruit well at that position, develop well at that position no different than anywhere else," Franklin said.

As he previously vowed to do, Franklin didn't answer any questions about injuries, but judging by the amount of participants in the first practice, Penn State seems healthy this spring.

For the first time since 2009 it's clear who Penn State's No. 1 option is under center, but there are a few key positions up for grabs with a little more than 5 months before the season opener, including safety and center. Franklin said he isn't focusing on any particular position but is hoping to see players make names for themselves during spring camp.

"It's going to be exciting to see guys that right now we're maybe not dependent on but have had a really good offseason, and they've really grown up and ready to take a step," he said. "There are always those one or two guys that you don't expect are going to jump out at you."

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