Penn State Football: Practice Intense As UCF Draws Closer
Thursday marked the first glimpse the media has gotten into a James Franklin practice since training camp started just over a week ago and there was only one word to describe it.
Maybe it was simply the team trying to put on a good show for the assembled mass of recruits and cameras, but there wasn't any shortage of energy or effort. The 15 minutes of practice that reporters were allowed to watch didn't exactly provide a peek into the playbookbut there was no shortage of noteworthy sightings.
Hackenberg: Two thoughts jumped to mind watching practice on Thursday. Penn State's sophomore gunslinger looks in better physical shape and in better command of the team in general than he ever looked his freshman season. Obviously getting a workout in the summer under his belt (something he didn't have last year) makes a difference, but it's impossible to stress how much the part he continues to look. Franklin said his captaincy vote was a landslide which shows that he has won the team over as much as a leader as he has a player.
In the limited time we saw him throw, the majority of his passes went to the likes of Jesse James and Kyle Carter with a few tosses sent the way of Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton. One pass was intercepted as the intended target bobbled the ball into the air. The offense at the time was only working from about 10 yards out from the endzone which really condenses a defense. So the complete/incomplete ratio probably wasn't indicative of how the offense is progressing along.
Belton: It looks like this could be the year that we finally see Belton's game come together as he worked out of the wildcat formation and caught swing passes out wide to spring him into open field. Despite being a running back by trade, there was very little actually traditional running done by Belton. That may have just been a result of the part of practice the media saw but either way it doesn't look like Franklin is shy about finding ways to get the ball into Belton's hands.
James: Jesse James is a massive human. That's something that I've mentioned here before but there isn't really a ceiling on the number of times you can walk away from James and say "Wow." He made some nice catches and is nearly impossible to bring down. James didn't do anything impressive on Thursday aside from do all the impressive things fans are used to seeing him do.
Chiappialle: A lot of people kind of wrote Cole off simply because Penn State already has three established backs on the roster. Even so Chiappialle got a few reps in the wildcat which means he's at least going to be familiar with that even if he isn't the primary back on those plays. He scored a touchdown during one drill on a nice physical run.
Keiser: Ryan Keiser was dressed in a powered blue non-contact jersey on Thursday and wasn't even wearing pads. He seemed in good spirits though and given depth issues across the board it's entirely possible he was just getting the day off physically to keep him fresh. Donovan Smith was wearing the powder blue as well but did take part in drills. In fact there are a handful of players wearing the jerseys which might indicate "Hey take it easy on this guy today" due to bumps and bruises.
Pasquariello: The Australian freshman punter has a unique rugby style kick and flight to his ball but the few kicks the media saw were serviceable. Franklin praised the punting unit after practice for getting better and better. It doesn't look like distance and hang time will be as much of an issue as consistency and that only comes with time.
Gesicki: With Breneman out of the mix it really opens the door for Mike Gesicki who may have earned playing time in his own right. Either way the freakishly athletic tight end played a few sets out wide like a receiver and going into motion. You can't really say how often a two or three tight end formation will hit the field but it's hard to imagine Gesicki out wide and Kyle Carter and Jesse James inside and Penn State not having a matchup advantage with one of them. It was only a few reps but it goes to show Franklin and Donovan are committed to simply getting the best players on the field as often as they can.
Lucas: Hanging around football players means seeing plenty of guys in the best shape of their life. Conversely it's harder to look physically impressive when everyone does. Even so Jordan Lucas looks like his offseason went extremely well. He might *only* be 6-0 but he looks like six-feet of muscle. It comes as no surprise that he's ready to have a good year but he certainly looks ready to make good on everyone's predictions.
Penn State has added a mesh fence covering to the area surrounding the practice field that says "We Are Penn State" with a wide helmet like stripe across the middle. You can see a photo of that here.
Two minor (nearly unmentionable) scuffles took place between lineman during the span of the practice that was open to the media. it was simply pushing and shoving that was broken up quickly and things went on as if nothing happened. The reason they are mentionable though is that it's a competitive environment that's found throughout practice. It's a friendly kind of edge but there is very much the feeling that -- at the appropriate times -- offensive and defensive players will be in the oppositions' faces during drills.