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Penn State Football: Koa Farmer Moves To Linebacker As Nittany Lions Prep For Michigan

by on September 20, 2016 4:50 PM

James Franklin spoke with the media on Tuesday during an unusually upbeat press conference heading into the Nittany Lions' meeting this weekend with No. 4 Michigan. Despite the news that longtime linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White will miss the second straight season with a knee injury, Franklin was in good spirits, offering plenty of insight during his weekly availability.

Here are just a few key points to take from the session.

Safety Koa Farmer is headed to linebacker

"He was predominantly an offensive player in high school. We think his best position long-term is an outside linebacker. He's a guy that's had to fight to keep his weight down. At one point I think he was as high as 227 playing the safety. I think now he's around 222, somewhere in that range. But genetics are telling him one thing. And I think obviously playing running back in high school and defensive back and safety, that's where he was most comfortable."

"So, you know, it's a transition that we think is going to happen. He did it a little bit since he's been here. The linebacker position, especially being out in space. Not necessarily in the box. The problem is when you play 22 personnel people or 12 personnel or 21 personnel people, they're going to get in heavy sets and try to pound you. That linebacker is no longer to the field. That linebacker is no longer in space covering the receiver, he's in the box, which is a completely different world being a space linebacker compared to a box linebacker. So that's some of the things that he needs to continue to grow at."

"I know he's excited about the opportunity. But he does, he has a lot of potential. But there is a transformation that has to happen from going in and being basically a running back in high school to a defensive player. Some guys pick those things up faster than others."

Conner McGovern is coming along on the offensive line

 "I think that's the biggest difference with him compared to some other guys. There's a lot of excitement about Gellerstedt and Will Fries and Michal Menet in our program. You know, McGovern came in, obviously graduated early. Him and Gellerstedt were just a little further ahead, mentally as well as physically. He's over 310 pounds now, got a lot of reps during spring ball, has gotten a lot of reps during camp."

"So we've been able to get him a number of reps each game, and that number, I think is going to continue to grow. He's a big, physical, talented guy who is athletic, very coachable. So we're pleased. We're pleased with how Derek Dowrey is playing, but Connor McGovern has shown that he deserves a few reps."

"We also feel like keeping Derek Dowrey fresh for four quarters and allowing Connor to get in there and get some reps. But he's just a young guy with a lot of potential, and the only way to build on that potential is getting him some experience."

Tempo won't be key against Michigan as much as making the most of each possession

"I think maybe if you were playing a tempo team, then maybe that becomes a bit more of a factor. They're not. A lot of their points have been defensive scores and have been special teams scores. Colorado had one punt blocked. They had another punt where they blocked it into the butt of one of their personal protectors, which basically essentially is a block, and then I think they had a kick return or punt return for a touchdown".

"So they had three non-offensive touchdowns. They've been like that so far this season. They've had home-field advantage. I think they've had eight home games this year. You know, but they've been able to score points not just on offense, but on defense and on special teams. So I don't know if the tempo aspect is really that much more important this week than any other week."

"I think the important thing is possessions. We've got to make sure that we are capitalizing on each one of our possessions on offense, and then on special teams we can't allow them to get points either through blocked kicks or big returns. Which is going to be a challenge. I remember last year I think we were playing Rutgers and their return man the week before we had played them had two returns for touchdowns. I think when we played Maryland, I think Likely was one of the better return men in the country at the time.

"So we've been in a situation like this before, and we've got to make sure we do a great job of that. With Joe Julius having an awareness of this and understanding the importance of touchbacks or kicks that are going to pin him in the corner of the end zone or with punting with Blake Gillikin making sure he he's getting hang time and he's pinning people as close to the sidelines as possible, all of those things will be important."

Offense is continuing to work on ball security

"Yeah, I think again, what I've already stated is we'll do ball security drills every single day. We do that basically, we do five-minute blocks and that's a period where we go from station to station. So, you know, it could be as simple as the monkey roll drill that people have been doing since the beginning of time where the natural reaction is when you go to the ground, as you take the ball away from your body to support yourself and you can't do that. Or really just running and tapping with one hand, whether it's running through a gauntlet of players that are trying to strip it out, whether receivers catching the ball and returning, whether it's tucking the ball on the outside."

"So we've got between six and nine drills that we do, and we typically have three stations. Coach Moorhead watches those stations and then the position coaches put them on and kind of rotate their guys through it."

"So typically during that period I take a certain amount of periods that I go with the defense and write all my shell. We're typically doing a pursuit drill or tackling drill, and rotate. Typically I'm on the defense filed doing that."

"But it's a circuit that we do. We've done it since I became a head coach and been pretty good when it comes to ball security. But, again, it's something that we're going to focus on as a fundamental every single day. Again, our process should not change week to week unless we're not doing something that's appropriate, and then we make changes and we learn and we adjust."

But I think the biggest thing is fundamentals and techniques and having an awareness of how important the ball is.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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