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PENN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 4, 2018
University Park, Pennsylvania
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: You know, really excited kind of about where we're at. This is the time of year where you know, you work all off-season from really the day spring ball ended to now to get prepared, and I like where we're at. I think we all know, we've got a lot of question marks this year, probably more than we've had the past two years and I think we have a very, very challenging schedule. But I'm excited. Walking out on the field the other day, we've got a good-looking team. You guys will get a chance to see it this afternoon. We've got a good-looking team. I walked on the field the other day and Tyler Bowen, who is a massive human being himself, is standing with the tight end group and there's six tight ends out there, and it's a good-looking six guys.
We've got a good-looking football team. We're athletic. We're inexperienced but we're talented. I think we've got really strong leadership right now throughout our program but specifically with Trace and Nick and Blake for offense, defense and special teams so I'm really pleased with that.
Before I kind of get into details, I want to thank Andy Mutnan and the training staff. This is by far the healthiest team we've had going into camp, and really the summer. We just had more players available to train and develop all summer, and I think you can see that. You know, same thing with camp right now. We've just got more guys that are full-go in camp than we've had since we've been here.
So I think that's a real positive. I wand to thank Andy and his staff for all their hard work. And also Kayla Matrunick who is Kayla Martin, which is much easier to say. Congratulations, Kayla, on getting married this summer. But our nutrition program.
I see a major difference in that. Our body fat's decreasing, and then just a lot of -- we did cherry juice after practice the other day and explained to the guys how important that is for not only hydration but more importantly, reduction of inflammation and other things like that.
There's a lot of things right now that I walk into the building in the morning and I'm proud. You look at the facilities and the facilities, we're really starting to make some progress.
We just moved into brand new meeting rooms and to watch our players walk into these meeting rooms and they are proud and they are really nice and they are first class, so it's exciting. You have signs like that in terms of physical signs of progress, but then also signs that maybe I notice as the head coach, like the injury report and how many guys were able to train all summer and the nutrition program.
So it's just a lot of different areas. Carl Ohlson, who is working in the athletic department as a sports psychologist who has been awesome. He's actually been with us for a year, I think a little bit over a year in the athletic department. But I'm not the most trusting, with open arms and allowing people kind of inside of our program until I've gotten to know them and make sure they are a good fit.
So he's been great with our staff. Came on our staff retreat this summer and sent me an e-mail, gave me feedback, and I love feedback. Gave me feedback both positive and some constructive criticism, which is always great, so you can grow.
We are just in a good place. We are in a good place. We are young and inexperienced at some spots but we do have young talent that are competing, and some real depth.
One of the most exciting things yesterday was at the end of practice, we always do some type of kicking competition, and we had four guys out there that, you know, just got on campus a couple weeks ago and made every single field goal and looked great and operation time was right.
We all know D-tackle, linebacker, and kicker, our three biggest question marks, we have a lot of other question marks but they are probably the biggest question marks we have to get resolved. So instead of having four kickers out there and kicking the heck out of the ball and kicking it straight through the up rights is awesome.
You'll probably see a sign on the field of the progress. You'll see the brands new turf, if you have not seen that yet outside. We haven't been able to use our turf to practice on a couple years, so we have regained a field, which is great.
Also, strange to look at but is pretty cool, we never had goal posts on the furthest field from grass field. We have goal posts on there. You're like, why is he telling us this story. But one of the things that's cool is we put in arena league goal posts in there, and it looks crazy on the field. They are so tight, but we are using that for our kickers. So, you know, aim small, miss small.
There are just some really good signs going on throughout the program, we are excited about what this season is going to bring. We talked to the players a lot about, really, we have to do a great job like we always have in meetings and practice because the NCAA cut down the amount of practices that we have before our first game, and everybody is under the same rules, but it's kind of changed some of the dynamics.
I think you guys know in the past, in the past, we've always kind of had these deals from a morale standpoint where we have a practice and we cancelled the practice and we go bowling or we -- we go bowling or we go swimming. I think the one year we went swimming. It's hard to do that now because we cut the practices so far back that we don't really have that.
The nice thing is that now on our day off during camp, we can do some entertainment which we weren't allowed to do before. I think there's a difference between canceling a practice and going bowling than entertaining them on a day off.
The last thing I'll say, and we'll open it up to questions, had a great idea, which I thought on the front end was a great idea. We always go bowling and we always go swimming. So we said what could we do differently? We said that we would go paint ball, this great idea, great idea. We'll go paint balling.
So broke the team up, A through whatever, as one team, and at the end, my team, my team, and when I said my team, the doors kicked open and all my coaches came running in and the administration staff and Kris and the calm oh on and eye black and going crazy.
I realized that all the things that we have done, made these guys run, missing class and they were going to get us. So the rules were, when you got shot, you put the gun above your head and you run off the field, and no one's supposed to shoot you at that time.
And I got shot in the first round, and I was on the far end of the field. And I put my gun up to run off the field and literally, the entire team just sprayed me (Laughter) and I'm not kidding. Kris will probably say, you shouldn't do this -- but you guys all see this? That's one. (Pointing to back of neck.
(Standing, raising shirt, showing bruises). This is the best one, can you guys see that one? Yeah. (Laughter, ooohhss and aahhhhs from audience). Most of those shots came when I wasn't supposed to be getting hit, running across the field, the whole way across the field. Great idea on the front end. Not really good in terms of the execution of it.
So you know, we're in a really, really good place but we've got a lot of work to do and we've got tremendous challenges this season, so open it up to questions.
Q. When is the media coach's paint ballgame?
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Are you sure? Are you sure? After that story, are you sure you want that? (Laughter).
Q. I think there are some in the media that would really enjoy it. Okay. Secondly --
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Just so you know, that goes both ways (Laughter).
Q. I'm sure it does. Secondly, what changed with Manny since December? Does the fact that you have a need at linebacker, did that facilitate the decision or affect the decision?
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I know this is one of these questions that you guys are going to ask me, and however I answer it, I don't know if you're necessarily going to believe it.
But you know, really, I don't want any decisions that we make be a need-based. I also don't want decisions that we make be an influence because of the perception of it. I want to do things because they are the right things to do. Does that make sense?
So we created some stipulations for Manny to achieve from the time he left the program and if he lived up to his end of the program, then he would have an opportunity to earn his way back on the roster.
You know, I think probably the biggest part of that is Manny graduates in December, and we felt like this plan was going to give him the best opportunity to graduate in December and leave this way and we didn't make it easy on him.
You know, I was surprised when he said, "I'm going to try to grind this thing out." Because the easiest thing to do would have been just to transfer. We put a bunch of stipulations out and he did those stipulations.
After that, I can't tell you what his role on the team is going to be like to be honest with you, I have no idea. But I do think the plan in place was the right thing to do for Manny and gives him the best opportunity in December for him to graduate from Penn State. Everything else is icing on the cake.
Would I like to have him, from a football perspective? Yeah. But I have no idea how this whole thing was going to play out, but we do think it was the right thing to do to get him in the best position to graduate in December.
Q. Everybody that's listed on your roster, are they all here, the roster we got this morning? Any other changes there we should be aware of?
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I'm sorry. So you're asking me the roster we put out this morning, is it accurate?
Q. Is everybody here, is what I'm asking.
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Okay. I'm glad we clarified that.
We are allowed to bring 110 guys into camp, so I think it used to be 105 and then they moved that number up to 110 or the Big Ten moved that up to 110.
We never have everybody in camp because we typically carry about 120 players on our roster. So there's always some guys that aren't able to make it to comp based on -- that is based on need.
So what we do is we kind of break down the roster of what we need in camp to make sure that we get enough reps, and also help limit some soft tissue injuries.
So for example, I think you guys heard me say in the spring, we've been using this catapult system, which is essentially a navigation system that tracks running and heart rate and all those types things, and that's been really valuable. That whole argument, who runs more, the receivers of the DBs; it's not even close. It's the receivers.
So it's need-based on how many players do we need in camp to be able to practice; how many players do we need at each position to reduce some of the reps, so that if you do get a pull or a twist or a tweak, it doesn't stress the rest of the group out too much.
So that is need-based, based on what we do in camp and there's some give and take there. The nice things is those guys are kinds of like on the waiver wires because if you do get an injury during camp, the NCAA allows to you replace those guys, so you can pick up the phone and call, as long as they are not in an internship or something like that, you can replace them on your camp roster.
Q. Brailyn Franklin, has he moved on? Because he wasn't on the roster.
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, Brailyn Franklin is no longer part of the program.
Q. You mentioned how good-looking the team looks. Have you had a chance to look at the offensive line? How excited are you to have all those guys out there and what do you anticipate the competition will be like?
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it will be good. As you guys know, I was excited about the offensive line last year. I thought we made great progress. You know, I think there's still a difference between having a legitimate, Big Ten offensive line that we had last year, and being able to have an offensive line that allows to you compete consistently with Top-10 programs and we took a real nice step last year at that, and that's -- that's still what we're working towards.
And I think you guys saw that. There was games that we were able to protect pretty consistently. There was games we that we were able to run the ball pretty consistently, and then there's games where the running game disappeared, from a scheme standpoint, but also just being able to get consistent push and movement up front.
So I think we're headed in that direction. I do think it's one of our strengths. I think our quarterback position is a strength on offense. I think our offensive line is a strength. I'm probably different than maybe some people. I actually think we made dramatic improvement last year, but, as we all -- as we all know, there's still work to be done.
Q. How are you doing, aside from the bruising?
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: How you doing?
Q. The new red-shirt rule, how does that change or alter your approach as a staff, how you handle personnel at different points in the season and now during training camp?
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think for people that have followed us, you know, over the last couple years, you know we kind of have this green/yellow/red system, where about three weeks into camp, I'll meet with all the freshmen or first-time students on campus, and I'll say: Hey, you're a green, we think we're going to play you from day one; you're a yellow, we are going to try to save your red-shirt if we can, but if there's injuries we'll end up playing you; and red-shirt is a guy we think is more likely than not is going to red-shirt.
So where I think it's probably going to affect, it's going to affect those yellow group guys. If you're not ready to play, we're not putting you on the field. A lot of times, I think people think, we're going to play them so we're going to play them all.
They still have to earn the right to be on the field, but I think those guys that are in that yellow category that are not obvious day one contributors, you want to get -- you want to get a feel for them. You want to get them out there and see what they can do.
So we'll try to do that early in the season with two games. Typically home games, because one of the things that I think probably should have been discussed a little bit more is if we were going to increase, basically, our roster, by about 15 or 20 players, available players, then we should have increased the travel roster.
And what I mean by that is we can travel 70 players to away games. So if we are going to move this number up 20, we probably should have moved it up five or ten players to travel. I think we should be able to do that in the Big Ten, you know, travel 75, maybe travel 80 because now the way I look at it is, you know, those freshmen that you're going to play in those four games, they are probably going to be home games because you have a hard time getting to the number 70, anyway.
That might sound crazy, but to come up with your travel squad. We're probably going to do two home games early and we'll safe those two games for later in the year to solve problems, an injury later in the year, or the Bowl game, which you'll really want that flexibility at that point in the season.
And don't get me wrong. We may play a guy early in the season in those two games and we may see that he's able to help us, and then we just keep playing him, too. So there's going to be -- I think we are going to have an overall philosophy and general plan, but as you know, it will be tailored to that specific young man and his situation based on need and depth and health, and so on and so forth.
Q. Has recruiting and knowing Trace McSorley changed your perspective on quarterbacks or characteristics that you look for in quarterbacks?
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: -- there's a lot of cookie cutter programs that do that, and the NFL does that, as well, and I get that, but that doesn't mean you bypass a great player because he's 5-9. Now, you can't have a roster full of 5-9 corners but we want to be able to say, hey, you know, we're going to take a great player because he's a great player and if he's outside of your normal metrics that you use, then that's fine.
But you also can't have a roster full of exceptions, either.
So you know, Trace had the characteristics that I think are most important. He's smart. He's tough. He's a winner. Has been that way at every single level. He's got a lot of the desirable skills and traits that everybody's looking for. The thing is, he doesn't walk through the door and pass that eyeball test but I think the positive thing is that eyeball test is changing. I mean, you look at last year's Heisman Trophy winner. You look at the first pick in the draft. You look at Drew Brees. You look at Russell Wilson. In the old days, you never saw those guys in the NFL.
I think it is changing a little bit but it hasn't really changed us, because that's why we took him. We were one of the few schools in the country that offered him to play quarterback and we're fortunate to be able to get him.
Q. Coolest thing you did in the off-season, and secondly, you always talk about how you get out of bed each morning with a back hand spring out of bed. The first week of practice, is that back hand spring a little higher, a little more juice in it when you get the guys back here and can actually go?
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I like the diversity of the job. I don't know if I'm a guy that could have sat behind a desk or the same job 365 days a year. I love watching film. I love watching the guys work out in the weight room. I love being on the field with them in practice, whether it's spring ball or whether it's camp. I love obviously game days in Beaver Stadium. I like going out recruiting and seeing people all over the country and things like that.
So I like the diversity of the job, but yeah, I think obviously as you get closer to the season, and you smell the fresh-cut grass and the fields getting lined, that's when it starts to get real for you. And you know, state college of Pennsylvania, I'm always amazed at how green it is. It's beautiful in the summer.
Yeah, I think obviously, the closer you get to the season, that's why you work so hard all off-season, to allow your players and your program to be successful in season.
So yeah, is there a little bit -- is there a difference between getting up in the morning, knowing that that's helping us get ready for App State? Yeah. Is that different than getting up and flying to three different states to see four different prospects in a four-hour period of time? Yeah, probably.
But yeah, you know, I'm blessed and fortunate to coach at Penn State and I'm blessed and fortunate to have my family and our health and all those types of things. I'm pretty much like that year-round but does it spike up a little bit in the season, yeah.
And the first part of your question was?
Q. Coolest thing you did in the off-season.
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Coolest thing I did in the off-season. That's an interesting term -- yeah, it's an interesting term. I used to have people come up to me all the time, what do you do in the off-season? Do you teach classes.
To be honest with you, we really don't have an off-season. The decision that we made to go to the summer visits, really, really caused some challenges, because now we are trying to do official visits. We're trying to do camps on the same day because your camp window is tight, as well, and then most importantly, we're supposed to be spending time with our own players and developing them and then by the way, our ultimate responsibility is to be great husbands and fathers and those things.
It's challenging. I don't know if there is necessarily truly an off-season. But the coolest thing maybe is going boating with the family and them rafting in the back, and that fine line of how fast you go over the waves and twist to get them to bounce and fly out of the raft without, you know, throwing them off, hitting the water at 35 miles an hour and your wife getting upset with you, type of deal, so that fine line. Probably that.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Miles Sanders, not just his impact on the field, what you expect to see from him this season, but also his impact on his teammates as an emerging leader and what does he need to work on in this camp in the early season to reach his potential?
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, obviously very talented guy. You know, been very fortunate to have an opportunity to practice and train and learn from and learn with Saquon Barkley, and now is his time.
As you can imagine, he's very hungry. He's very hungry for the opportunity. Obviously our other backs, as well. Mark Allen, Johnathan Thomas, are two guys that have been in a similar situation, and maybe even more pronounced, because they have been here longer.
But Miles is kind of Steady Eddy. He's kind of been who he's been since he stepped on campus. Very mature. He's got a supportive family and specifically his mom and we have a very good relationship with, me and Terry Smith, as well as the rest of the coaches. I kind of keep seeing him grow, grow physically. Academically, he's doing extremely well, and I see him trying to mentor the young backs.
I thought Mark Allen, specifically, did a great job yesterday with Ricky Slade at practice, and I think that's when you know you've really got a good thing going when your older players are really embracing the younger players and bringing them on and Miles is a big part of that, as well.
I know he's hungry. I know he's excited. He's doing all the right things off the field, which we're big believers in the discipline off the field translates to on the field. We talk about it all the time with our guys. Miles is a guy that's really taking advantage of this Penn State experience because like a lot of us as males, there was still a lot of maturing to do.
I tell people all the time, you know, males -- I can speak for myself, we're pretty much idiots until we're 35 years old. Miles has really matured from high school to now and I think has really taken advantage of what this opportunity presents for him. I think he's going to have a big year. I think we're going to have a lot of production out of our running back position.
You know, Johnathan Thomas in our leadership council meeting the other day said, you know, I went around to each guy where they think we're at and Johnathan Thomas said that we're going to be really good at running back, and we'll have just as much production, if not more, at the running back position, than we had last year.
And I said, "Okay, Johnathan Thomas, I appreciate you saying that."
He looked at me and goes, "I just want to be clear: We will have just as much production or more production at the running back position than we had last year," which I love their confidence.
You know, again, I think our team is in a good place and I think Miles is a really good example of that.
Q. How closely are you keeping an eye on the Ohio State situation and have you talked to the team about it?
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: You know, obviously we are very sensitive to specifically what's happened at Ohio State. I think we're also very sensitive to what's happening in our world and in society and in our country. It's something we're very, very sensitive to.
But as you can imagine, you know, my focus is on Penn State and our program and what we need to do our players. I think you guys know, I'm always using examples to talk to our players and our staff, I do it all year long in our team meetings and things like that.
But yeah, very sensitive to what's going on there at Ohio State. But our focus is really on our program and what we need to do to educate the people within our program as much as we possibly can with these types of issues.
Q. You mentioned in Chicago Jan Johnson being somebody that could compete for the Mike linebacker spot. How do you feel he compares athletically to some of the guys you have on scholarship at that position?
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Good. I thought yesterday, he had a really good practice. You know, I think what happens, typically, with guys is you know, you really want guys in one of two categories. They either stand out to you because they are flashing athleticism and making plays, or you don't notice them because they are consistently just doing their job.
You don't want the other category where, you know, your eyes are drawn to them because they are not making plays or they are not lining up, they are not doing the right things, and I think you know, Jan, yesterday, ran the defense and played with a lot of confidence. He reminds us in some ways of B. Smith who had a great career for us.
So I think Jan is right there in the battle and he's had a great summer and has done all the things he needs to do to give himself the best chance to earn that job and also to give our defense the best chance to be successful. He's going to be right there in the hunt of it, and I think he's going to have a significant role, and how significant that role is, we'll see.
You know, again, this press conference is great, and I get it, but I've only had one day of really seeing these guys. So it's not like I have these real profound answers for you after one day of practice.
Q. With the sports betting that's going to be coming into the country, are there challenges for a coach of young men? Do you have to talk to them about certain things to stay clear of with that subject?
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I've been asking people to kind of help me with this to make sure I'm clear and I'm not missing anything, because I don't really see how we are or should be approaching it any different. It's not like there wasn't gambling before.
I would hope, with the change, and part of the reason why the change was made is so it's a little bit more controlled.
But I went to college and have been doing this for 23 years. I think there's been a significant amount of gambling in our country and in our state for a long time. Now I hope it's going to be, you know, monitored and controlled by the states.
So we always are going to educate our players and our program about these things and things that they need to be aware of from an NCAA perspective, from a gambling perspective, from a life perspective. I don't really see how it changes our approach as coaches from an educational perspective.
Q. In Chicago, you talked about there's four or five programs in the country that have kind of separated themselves from the pack and obviously that's where you want to get to.
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I know where this is going.
Q. Well, okay. We'll see. A couple of things. One, how much harder is it to do if one of those couple of programs is in the same division and the same conference as you? And the other piece is, it seems that you made a move to more national recruiting in the last year. How much is that a must if you're going to get to that top group?
COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: The second part of your question first. Yeah, I don't think it's a must, but I think no different than any other organization. You know, you'd better have diversity. You'd better have diversity. You'd better have flexibility, because you're not going to be able to follow the same exact model every year.
You know, there's going to be some years where the state is really strong or the region is really strong and there's going to be some years where it's not. The years that the State's not strong, you're going to have to be stronger in the region and hopefully the region supports that. There's going to come a time where maybe the state and region are not strong and you have to go national and that always happens maybe at a specific position or maybe one year.
I think it was last year, it was a crazy year in the region for tight ends. There was four national recruit tight ends that not only were evaluated that way by the people that ranked those things but also from us. I mean, there was four tight ends within driving distance of campus that I thought were national-type recruits.
Then there will be another year where there's not a tight end within six hours that we think -- you know, so you've got to have that flexibility built in your system to solve problems, if that makes sense. I'm not one of those guys that feels like you have to go national to win the way we want to win.
Because one of the things I think you have to be careful when you go national, is you're not going to know the national prospect as well as you know the regional prospect, just because you have more opportunities to get to know them and build a relationship up and that's where the fit is so critical. The film can be great and the transcripts can be great; the fit has got to be really good.
So we're always going to approach it that way and we've got to have enough flexibility and diversity within our plan that, you know, we can overcome whatever challenges there may be if that makes sense.
Then the first part of your question, does it make things difficult when your conference has some of the top programs in the country all on one side of the conference -- is that your question?
So is what you're asking, does it make it more challenging to get into that group if some of those programs are on your side of the conference, right? Okay.
Yeah. I mean, obviously. I think if your conference is loaded with more Top-10 programs than other conferences, then yeah, that's -- and that's the whole discussion about scheduling that I think you guys know we've had a lot of. If your conference already plays nine games, and for a while didn't play FCS opponents; and, your conference is loaded with Top-10 opponents; and, most of those Top-10 opponents are on our side of the conference, the decision, then yeah, it makes things really challenging.
And I think other conferences have seen, at times that they are similar. I think our conference, I think if you look at it and study it historically, you could make the argument where there's been times programs have been up and programs have been down, but if you look at it from top to bottom over the long term, most of the top programs have been the top programs, and that's college football. That's how it is.
Yeah, is it challenging? Yeah, but we embrace that challenge. That's what makes it so exciting about being at Penn State and that's why players come here to play in those types of games, but that's also why we have to be very strategic about what we do out of conference, and that's what I do. I try to be as strategic as we possibly can with every aspect of the program. Scheduling is one part of that to give us the best chance to be as successful as we all want to be.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports