Penn State’s first week of fall camp was capped on Saturday with the annual football media day. Head coach James Franklin highlighted the day’s schedule from Beaver Stadium as he once again had a chance to meet with the media and answer some questions that face the team going into the 2022 season.
As is typically the case, the Penn State media day event allowed Franklin to echo some thoughts and comments he shared recently at Big Ten media day, but Franklin also threw out some nuggets providing a little more in-depth insight into what to potentially expect out of the team in 2022 such as a pair of defensive players that may be more of a factor on the roster than some may have been anticipating.
Here is a roundup of everything Franklin talked about during his media day press conference on Saturday.
Manny Diaz is a natural fit and defensive coordinator
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“Manny’s done a really nice job of coming in and getting adjusted,” Franklin said of his new defensive coordinator. Diaz was hired by Penn State to replace Brent Pry, a longtime Franklin assistant, after Virginia Tech hired Pry to be a head coach.
“Obviously going through the retreat and understanding how we do things and how we operate has been really helpful,” Franklin said.
“I think it’s more subtle, and that’s why we went in that direction,” Franklin explained. At the end of the day we were going to go find the best defensive coordinator we could, but finding someone with a similar philosophy was helpful.”
One thing Franklin has noticed and respected in camp has been Diaz’s leading the charge to focus more on creating and generating turnovers. This should come as no surprise given that Diaz made the turnover chain a thing at Miami when he was the head coach.
“We are emphasizing turnovers like crazy,” Franklin said.
Penn State’s depth has improved, and continues to improve
“I think we have more depth than we’ve had in the last few years, obviously for a number of reasons,” Franklin noted, harkening back to comments he shared at Big Ten football media day in July. “We have some question marks at some positions, but we’re working to build that depth as well.”
Importance of a big season from Parker Washington
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“He’s done a nice job obviously, being with [Jahan Dotson] has been helpful,” Franklin said when asked about Parker Washington, who enters the 2022 season as Penn State’s top returning receiver from a season ago.
“He’s obviously made a number of plays here,” Franklin said. “I know [Sean Clifford] has a lot of confidence in him.”
“I think he’s going to have a big year,” Franklin continued. “We need him to have a big year.”
Franklin used the question about Washington to dive back into the idea of having better depth on the roster, specifically at the receiver position. Despite losing a first-round draft pick in Dotson, Franklin likes what his group of receivers could potentially do this fall.
“I do feel like the group has the ability to match or exceed the production from the receivers we had last year,” Franklin said. “Whether it’s a one-for-one trade-off I’m not sure. We feel really good about that group. The depth is not even close compared to last year.”
The addition of Mitchell Tinsley at receiver
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On a related note, Franklin has also noted that Western Kentucky transfer Mithcell Tinsley has a chance to be a major cog in the offensive gameplan, and his choice of roommate at Penn State hasn’t hurt.
“He’s roommates with Sean [Clifford], smart move,” Franklin said. “They’ve been able to really build a reputation on and off the field, which I think has been really helpful. I think he’s got a chance to have a really, really productive year.”
If nothing else, Franklin believes Tinsley will be a consistent contributor during the regular season.
“I think he’s one of those guys that you’re going to know what you are getting week in and week out from him.”
Biggest question marks on the roster?
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Asked about some of his biggest questions for the upcoming season, Franklin broke it down by unit. The areas of focus weren’t too surprising.
“If you start on special teams, [Jordan Stoudt] did such a good job, so that’s a concern,” Franklin said while focusing specifically on the punting game. “I feel like we have some really good options on kickoff but punt is obviously a big question for us.”
“Obviously, it would help if you don’t punt as much,” Franklin said with a smile. Franklin did note that Barney Amor was leading the punting game at the moment.
“On defense, I would say it’s at middle linebacker,” Franklin said when shifting his focus to the defensive side of the ball.[Tyler Elsdon] and [Kobe King] have done a really nice job there. I think that’s a legitimate competition.”
But Franklin threw another name into the mix when discussing the middle linebacker position that may have been overlooked in the competition for the starting job. Freshman Keon Wylie was mentioned as a player that has been getting some good reps in camp.
“We’ve started Wylie there,” Franklin said. “He’s super smart and seems to be handling it really well.”
Then, of course, the focus shifted to the offense with a concern about the ability to run the football.
“The running game in general,” Franklin said. “We’ve got some different people in that room… that’s created a lot of really good competition and depth.”
Why struggles developing offensive line
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One of the reasons for a lack of a successful running game in 2021 was the performance, or lack thereof, of the offensive line. Franklin is well aware of the need to improve that area, which he noted at Big Ten media day as well. Asked why the offensive line has been the most consistent question mark on the roster, Franklin attempted to explain what he has learned about the trend.
“You get to an elite level or a superior level through all of those things and when it doesn’t work out the way you want it to, all those areas factor in as well,” Franklin said when asked for his explanation about recruiting and player development. “That’s why we’ve made some changes from a staff perspective,… some of our philosophies in offseason development.”
Mike Yurcich going into Year 2
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Penn State enters a second season with Mike Yurcich as offensive coordinator, and Franklin is optimistic about what that means for the entire offense.
“One of the biggest things is him knowing what our personnel and our guys do well, and that will help him,” Franklin said. “Sean [Clifford]and Mike know each other better and I think that’s useful. I think there’s a ton of value in that.”
Franklin said Yurcich’s experience in the Big Ten will help going into another season as well.
“Just the familiarity with the league, with the defensive coordinator, with the venues,” Franklin said. “Obviously, Mike’s got along track record of success, and I think we have a good opportunity to do some things on offense.”
On the addition of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten
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“Pat (Penn State AD Patrick Kraft) gave me a call either a day or two before it was announced publicly,” Franklin said when asked when he found out about the Big Ten’s latest expansion decision.
Obviously, Franklin knows the addition of the Trojans and Bruins has given Penn State an opportunity to open up some recruiting.
“I think obviously when you are able to add two teams from California to your conference, that should allow you to maybe get into some conversations that maybe you haven’t been able to have before,” Franklin said. Franklin also seemingly stumped for upgrades to the local airport situation in Happy Valley.
“Not having an international airport in town has some impact on that.”
Defensive backfield competition
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One of the strengths on the roster may come at the defensive secondary, as was the case in 2021. But despite losing a couple of players to the NFL, Franklin likes the competition he is seeing in the backfield.
“When you look at where we’re at right now, we’re really in a pretty good spot there,” Franklin said. “One of the guys that has really come on for us and had a really great camp has been Johnny Dixon.”
Dixon joined the program a year ago via transfer from South Carolina. Franklin’s comments may suggest Dixon has a chance to be more of a factor for the defense than many had been assuming would be the case.
“Guys that people may have pegged in as starters are being pushed to keep their starting job or could be replaced,” Franklin said.
Story originally appeared on Nittany Lions Wire