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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Aren't Inexperienced, But They Are Still Young

by on September 04, 2019 8:47 PM

Micah Parsons lowered his head and dug into the ground as he turned for the final sprint across the field. He was last in his heat, a hodgepodge of players all equally tired after a full practice. This wasn't a speed test, it was survival.

"Come on, Micah!" someone yelled as they waited their turn. The shout was equal parts encouragement and that of a vague annoyance. Penn State is not often seen running, although during the media's brief window on Wednesdays, this would mark the second occasion the Nittany Lions have finished off the day with sprints in front of the cameras.

Parsons crossed the chalk hunched over, teammates Jesse Luketa, Shaka Toney and Adisa Isaac patted him on the back as they too caught their breath.

The whistle blew, they ran again.

And then they huddled.

From there a handful of linebackers did burpees, an unforgiving drill as a few running backs rolled across the field, undergoing their own form of punishment. Tight end coach Tyler Bowen talked to a few of his players, and defensive coordinator Brent Pry spoke extensively with Parsons before they both walked off the field.

Franklin made his way toward the media, no skip in his step, but no fuming anger either.

"We just have little things," Franklin said. "The way we practice everybody has got to jog up, and a couple guys are walking. We do that [run] when guys don't have their eyes up at the end of practice when we're going over things, or if they get caught walking, things like that."

In the grand scheme of Penn State's season it is a small moment, and football teams across America will remind their players of the right and wrong ways to practice. Good teams have bad days, and good habits are formed in more ways than one. The Nittany Lions having to run after is not an indictment of anyone or anything, it's simply just how practice goes sometimes.

But it is a reminder that while this Penn State team might be returning talent and even a handful of stars, the Nittany Lions are still young.

It is a storyline that will work out in two ways both in the near and long term, in the immediate future Penn State will have to face difficult road challenges and learn on the fly. It will be a team that can rely on its own naiveté as it can anything else. Trips to Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan State will be full of big moments that this team has never faced before.

So you practice, and on Wednesday it was a rehash of an old friend, a late two-minute drill against Boston College to send the Pinstripe Bowl into overtime. Franklin showed the team the drive, and then they practiced getting out of that situation themselves. Maybe it's not as stressful now, but the practice will pay off down the road. At least in theory.

"I do think you're probably more aware and you're probably more critical of things with a young guy," Franklin said of his offense, led by sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford. "...than you are a Trace McSorley. Trace had a reason for what he was going to do, you'd still talk to him about it but the young guys you're all over it for. You're all over those things with them."

In truth there is only so much you can drill. Franklin will find out just like everyone else what his offense will be able to do in crunch time, a unit that eight of the 11 listed starters against Buffalo have no more than sophomore eligibility.

Which is where the long term view comes into play, that this team is young, but it won't always be, and when that day comes all those habits learned doing sprints across the field in 2019 could pay their biggest dividends.

Franklin didn't say it directly during his Tuesday press conference, but there is truth to be found in his comments about Buffalo that apply to his own team as well.

"The old days of building a program and recruiting kids and developing them and redshirting them," Franklin said. "You look at basketball, some of the teams that are making the Sweet 16, a lot of them are what? They're the older teams that they've been able to develop over time, and that's where you would see a MAC team or someone like that be able to go through a similar process and have a chance to compete and compete at the highest level."

Maybe Penn State can win with a young team sooner than a MAC roster, but the point remains, winning is easier with the old guys.

But back to Wednesday now in 2019.

"Tuesday's practices have been really good," Franklin said, towel over his shoulder. "Wednesday's practices could be a little better but overall good."

And in a week, everyone will see if practice ends with sprints, or simply a jog off the field.

And in a month or so, everyone will see how many of the lessons stuck.

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