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Penn State Football: Potential Key And Coaching The Answer As Nittany Lions Head Into 2018

by on March 19, 2018 2:00 PM

It goes without saying that Penn State's resurgence under James Franklin has been the result of coaching. 

But -at least in part- it has been a different kind of coaching. For the past two seasons it has been a veteran team full of increasingly experienced and talented players on both sides of the ball. There's only so much you can tell Jason Cabinda, only so much you can do to challenge Saquon Barkley.

It has made spring practice somewhat routine. Whole swaths of the roster have been limited contact because as Franklin so often said "You know what you're going to get from them."

So in turn Penn State staff has had to coach --to suggest otherwise would be dumb-- but in the end, these players have seen it all. There's only so much you can tell them and only so much left to teach.

It's different this spring. James Franklin and his staff are facing question marks at key positions across the board. From running back to safety, to kicker, defensive tackle and linebacker. Aside from quarterback there is little in the way of fully established depth at any position. Everywhere else has holes.

And to a certain extent that's football. No team enters the early stages of the season as confident and comfortable about everything as it will be in November and December. These practices are as much about scouting young talent as they are anything that will end up helping Penn State beat Michigan.

But now a lot of that young talent has become the answer to many of the questions surrounding the program. Gone are many of the veteran players that had answered them in the past. Micah Parsons, a freshman who hasn't played a lick of college football in his life, is slated to work at mike linebacker, maybe the toughest position on the field. Brandon Polk, who has spent his career on and off the field, will look to replace DaeSean Hamilton. Miles Sanders will take over the running back job, Lamont Wade a hole at the safety spot.

On paper it all makes sense and on paper all of these answers work, but if you're Penn State this is a rare moment where you don't know what you're going to get from them. It should work, but nobody will really know until the games are played.

Take for example Franklin's answer about Penn State's defensive tackle depth during Monday's press conference. An answer where he said the word "potential" four different times.

"I think Windsor and Kevin were excited about what they were able to bring to the table. Really kind of the guys after them, it's excitement based on potential. But they haven't played enough. You know, when you graduate three D-tackles and you had two D-tackles coming back, you're typically only going to play about five, maybe six guys at that position in the game.

Really, the rest of those guys, is all based on, you know, kind of potential and excitement, athleticism. A guy that's probably closed the gap as much as anybody is Antonio Shelton. He's big and he's strong and he's smart. He's closed the gap.

But there's a number of guys that we're excited about their potential and their ability. Ellison Jordan is a guy that's probably played the most football besides those returning starters. He's probably the guy that jumps out. Fred is another guy who is a big body, athletic guy but hasn't gotten a whole lot of reps to see what he can do. Damion Barber is a big, athletic guy that we're excited about what he can do. And then there's really kind of a lot of questions. But it's kind of probably too early for me to say that because those positions, the O-line is different because we've seen a lot of those guys play now, and the D-Line, it's hard to really determine it because we haven't really seen them play and most of the stuff they are doing is in shirts and t-shirts, and that's not really how that position goes.

So still too early for me to say at this point. Promising excitement based on potential that I haven't really seen enough to know."

That will be the key, really the season in a nutshell for Penn State. Potential. After a season of knowing exactly what the Nittany Lions brought to the table, it's a year where you know what they can bring to the table. If it happens is anyone's guess, and only time will tell.

But after years of coaching to get Penn State to this point, James Franklin and company might have to do their best coaching job yet to keep the program there.

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