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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Chase Consistency As Practice Begins

by on August 03, 2019 4:45 PM

In 28 days Penn State football will take the field for the 67th time under James Franklin's watch. Over that five year span the Nittany Lions have amassed a 45-21 record, catapulting Penn State from the brink of obscurity to the national spotlight. A Big Ten title and three-straight seasons of nine or more wins have rendered once crippling NCAA sanctions a thing of the past.

But in a world where you are so often judged by what you're doing right now, and not what you've done in the past, Franklin and his staff will have little time to rest on their laurels as they enter a transitional sixth season.

And so they practice, the Nittany Lions taking the field for the second day of training camp on Saturday evening not short on questions, nor players eager to answer them.

Question number one, the most fundamental of all: Who is the starting quarterback? An answer is coming soon, but not this weekend.

"When we will name a quarterback, I can't tell you," Franklin said on Saturday. "We will do it when it's obvious to everybody. Sometimes you get in tough situations, when it's not obvious, it's a close call. That's when we get together as a staff and make that decision and move forward. But I don't know the timeline of that. Obviously the earlier, the better, for everyone involved."

It has been three years since Penn State has had a true quarterback competition, and that battle between Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens wasn't officially decided until the final week of August. It seems unlikely that the competition between Sean Clifford and Will Levis will last as long, simply as a product of Clifford's seniority, but until it's official it remains the biggest question unanswered as the Nittany Lions work their way through camp.

"But we have also been impressed with Taquon [Roberson] and Michael Johnson, as well. Obviously we're going to need at least one of those guys to step up and prepare as if they are the starter, as well, and be ready to play this year. Hopefully you're in a situation where you can redshirt but we'll see how that plays out."

Penn State will also look to find leaders, the departure of Trace McSorley as much the loss of the program's heartbeat as its starting quarterback. Predictably, the Nittany Lions will not lean on a single player to replace McSorley's confidence and calming hand, instead relying on a host of rising stars, established anchors on both sides of the ball, and veterans expanding their roles across the roster.

In reality the replacement of McSorley's leadership will be a group effort, but within a program that includes dozens of players on its leadership council, it may not be as tall an order as you might think.

"I'm not a big believer, as you guys know, on the two captains deal, on a 125 [player] team, so it's captains and that's part of it, but it's so much more than that," Franklin said. "To think two guys are going to lead a whole team, you need leaders by position. You need leaders by offense. You need leaders by defense, special teams. You need coaches to approach it that way, assistant coaches to be head coach at their position to manage things, as well. It's all of it. It is paramount to what we are trying to do and where we want to go."

On the field it will be more a matter of consistency than capable bodies. Years of a quality recruiting has not left Franklin and his staff short on options, so the issue now is simply getting the same performances out of these players each week. Penn State has questions at safety, but choices; somewhat unproven options at running back but plenty of promising talent; holes to fill along the offensive front but depth to work with.

One of the better examples of this is kicker, an area where Penn State struggled in 2018 but not for a lack of potential. Now former Virginia Tech kicker Jordan Stout comes to camp a steadying hand in the room, but like his new teammates Stout will have to prove his resume of the past can be replicated. If it can, the Nittany Lions will be in fine shape.

"Just like every other position, we chart and grade everything. So we chart and grade everything. That allows us to -- you know, we have a gut feeling of what we think, but then we can go back and actually check the data," Franklin said. "At this level, everybody in our organization, everybody in our program, can do it. It's the level of consistency. It's, you know, who is the guy that's going to do it the most consistent to give our team the best position to be successful? There may be a guy that can hit a 60-yarder but obviously the value is the guy that can hit 40 yards and at a very, very high rate."

And that's really the story of Penn State football's 2019 season. It's difficult to imagine the Nittany Lions will run into teams more physically imposing or wildly more talented, but they might face teams that are more consistent, and often times consistency makes all the difference.

So Penn State practices, and like every team in America on a sunny Saturday afternoon in August, enjoyed the perks of 0-0 and the eternal optimism of the season ahead.

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