Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Open Camp As Identity Search Begins
Penn State football began to write its latest chapter on Monday when the Nittany Lions opened up training camp for the first time under new head coach James Franklin.
Monday's practice was not only the first of the summer with Franklin at the helm but also the first with a full roster including freshman and walk on players.
It is a season that should prove to be a real test for a Penn State team still battling scholarship restrictions and depth issues at nearly every position. While the Nittany Lions have shown on several occasions they are capable of overcoming the odds, this year may prove to be the stiffest challenge yet.
For Franklin and his staff the past seven months since their hiring has proved to be a busy one. They've pulled in a dozen new prospects while building one of the country's highest ranked recruiting class.There is a new university president and athletic director. When change has occurred at Penn State it has either been a byproduct of Franklin's efforts or something that will impact him directly.
But the time for fundraising and photo ops has ended. As Franklin took the practice field on Monday the focus was simply football. That's something that is seemingly forgotten when the excitement and pomp and circumstance rules the headlines.
Monday was simply just an introduction to the process, the latest chance for Franklin and his staff to continue to evaluate the roster and get a feel for where the team is now only weeks away from taking on UCF.
"I don't know if I would say I feel any better or any worse without seeing them do it," Franklin said about the new offensive line and its progression since spring. "I do think we have got some guys that have got bigger and stronger."
While the offensive line gathers most of the attention when it comes to depth and experience issues it is far from the only area of concern. On both sides of the ball, from linebacker to punter, Penn State is still working to find leaders, playmakers, and reliable reserve players to make it through the grueling season.
One area Franklin isn't worried about though: quarterback and sophomore gunslinger Christian Hackenberg.
"We are looking for improvements from Hack, but I'm going to be honest with you, where our focus really is, is all the pieces of the puzzle around Hack," Franklin said on Monday.
"You know, that's going to allow him to continue to develop, making sure that we are able to protect him with our offensive line, making sure that we are able to be balanced offensively and be able to run the ball with our offensive line and tight end, having a huge impact in that, as well, and finding some wide receivers to make up for the production we lost, all these things factor into it."
It's a concern that offensive coordinator John Donovan shares as his unit hits the field this summer.
"Like I said, the sooner the better," Donovan said about learning his offense's identity. "The sooner the better. Being around as short or long as I've been in this position, you don't ultimately know who you are going on or what you are going to be or why. Sometimes you do if you have a lot of returners back or whatever. Doesn't always end up as planned.
"As you go into camp you have an idea. We have a lot of things on paper day by day by day by day by day. Some of those things we may not get to and some of those things we may not be good at than the other things. That's our job as coaches, be able to teach the information and have them process in a manner where they are going to be able to play fast and for us to be able to figure out what they do best ultimately is what we are going to do an game day because you only get so many amount of reps and situations in a game and each play is extremely important. So our job this camp is to find out what we do as well as we possibly can going into week one and go from there."
Penn State will practice the basics for the first two weeks of camp before switching over to UCF preparations heading into the season opening game on August 30 against UCF at Croke Park in Dublin Ireland. Both Donovan and Franklin will hope to know much more about their team by then.
And given how far the program has come under their watch already, it's safe to say they probably will.