Penn State’s James Franklin offers an updated look at his Lions to-do checklist for August practices
Penn State head coach James Franklin cracks a smile during a radio interview at the Big Ten football media days in Chicago, IL on July 24, 2017.
Joe Hermitt | firstname.lastname@example.org
CHICAGO — They’re deeper. They’re better. The big question is, are the Penn State Nittany Lions up to defending their Big Ten title?
James Franklin and his staff know 2017 is nothing like 2014.
Tailback Saquon Barkley is a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Dual-threat quarterback Trace McSorley is established as a passer and a leader.
The Lions’ offense is dangerous. The offensive line has improved.
And Franklin’s defense has the potential to be one of the Big Ten’s best by the end of the season.
But there are still some holes to patch and Franklin, entering his fourth year with PSU, addressed a few of them during Big Ten Media Days here on Tuesday.
In no particular order, Franklin singled out:
**The need to replace big-play wideout Chris Godwin’s production.
**The development of a few specialists in the kicking game.
**Production from the Lions’ untested defensive ends.
**Finding out if anyone in the true freshmen group can contribute in the fall.
“How (are we) going to replace Chris Godwin?” Franklin said.
“I don’t think it’s going to be by an individual, I think it’s going to be a group of people.”
Godwin, an 1,100-yard receiver in 2015, closed 2016 in strong fashion, shredding USC’s secondary in the Rose Bowl and totaling 982 yards and 11 touchdowns overall. Godwin left school early and was drafted in the second round by Tampa Bay.
Veteran wideouts DaeSean Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall return, Juwan Johnson produced a strong spring and Franklin and his coaches remain intrigued by the potential of Irv Charles.
First-team All-Big Ten placekicker Tyler Davis returns and young punter Blake Gillikin could be a field-position weapon. But PSU must replace long-snapper Tyler Yazujian and kickoff specialist Joey Julius.
Penn State defensive end Torrence Brown scores on a fumble return during the fourth quarter at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, IN on Nov. 12, 2016. Penn State beat Indiana, 45-31. Joe Hermitt | email@example.com
“We gotta figure out our long-snapping situation,” Franklin said.
“We feel good about Kyle Vasey but we’ll see. We’ve got to figure out who are kickoff (specialist) is going to be.”
Penn State’s 2016 starting defensive ends, Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan, have moved on and fourth-year junior Torrence Brown is the Lions’ most experienced pass rusher outside. Young ends Shareef Miller, Shaka Toney and Shane Simmons drew praise and Ryan Buchholz has the size and talent to play inside or outside.
“How do we replace our defensive ends and make sure that those guys are going to be able to get pressure on the quarterback?” Franklin said.
And then there is PSU’s true freshman class, which includes impressive January enrollees Lamont Wade and Mike Miranda. Wade, a corner, could fill a need with John Reid coming off a knee injury. And Miranda, a guard, caught Franklin’s eye in spring.
“We also have a talented group of young men coming in, and who from that group is going to be able to contribute this year?” Franklin said.
“It’s a different situation than it was three years ago because we probably don’t need any of them. So whoever’s able to help this year, is icing on the cake.”
“There’s a few question marks out there,” Franklin added.
“For us, I think we probably have less question marks than most.”
Penn State coach James Franklin talks Joey Julius’ departure from the program