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Penn State Football: When It Comes To Reloading, Franklin Optimistic About Program Depth

by on August 30, 2018 11:00 AM

While it certainly isn't easy, almost every major college football program can have a year of legitimate title hopes. You pull in a great recruiting class, those players age and mature and they eventually have a season to remember. The cyclical nature of the sport allows for it, and eventually every capable Power Five program can pull it off.

The real challenge is bucking the cycle, one that demands good players graduate and new ones come in to repeat the climb.

But what if you could recruit well enough to stockpile talent? That when one great player leaves another takes his place. What if the results never really change because the talent never declines?

That's the path Penn State is trying to forge down. One that Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, Florida State and a handful of others have been able to navigate.

How far Penn State has made it down that road will probably determine a few games this season as the Nittany Lions chase down the 10-win mark for a third-straight year, replacing more than a few familiar faces in the process. Of the players on Penn State's 2017 roster who had the most career starts, nine of the 10 are no longer in the huddle.

If you were looking for an early answer to that question, there simply isn't one yet. It's undeniable that Penn State's depth chart is talented, if nothing else, far more talented than it had when James Franklin arrived on campus. The question now will be a simple one, how fast can those players replicate the success of the players that came before them?

If you're James Franklin, you're feeling good about your chances.

"I actually think the program is set up now to promote that more than it was in the past," Franklin said after practice on Wednesday. "Let's be honest, Mike Gesicki played probably before he should have, so I actually think guys having to be behind guys and having to grind through that, and truly earn their way on the field in a competitive atmosphere, I think that it going to promote that."

"Mike, we were thin, we had some injuries and he had to play. The competition that we have now pretty much across the board, guys know that they're going to have to come and compete. They see it in the recruiting process, they see it when they come here. So I think our program is set up for that more than it was in the past."

As Franklin would later note, center Michal Menet is a good example of this improved structure and depth. A highly rated prospect out of high school, he has spent the past two years watching from the bench waiting his turn. Now it's here, and he's getting plenty of rave reviews.

"He's a redshirt sophomore and he's starting for what some people might say is a Top 10 program, that's pretty darn good on the offensive line." Franklin said. "I think probably three years ago or four years ago, he may have been forced to play before his was ready."

Of course there is the other side of the coin, Penn State's issue at linebacker, a sign that the program is somewhere between where it was and where it wants to be. It's a position full of competition, but competition between similar players doesn't automatically mean everyone is good, it just means everyone is the same.

It's something Franklin alluded too in his own way earlier in the week. Lots of linebackers are going to get time this year, and if you're not named Cam Brown, you're still working to prove you place in the rotation. In a world where you want the next man up to seem like an obvious choice, that's not necessarily a good thing.

"I think at linebacker, I think you're going to see a lot of those guys," Franklin said. "I think they are going to get a lot of reps. I don't think there's, again, a huge gap between our ones and our twos. So I think you're going to see maybe the twos get close, if not the same amount of reps as the ones at a lot of those positions."

"I think Cam Brown is probably a guy that's differentiated himself and separated himself a little bit from the pack, and then there's a gap, you know, between maybe his backups."

It all boils down to the question that will define the season, can Penn State turn potential into results, talent into production, and skilled individuals into a skilled team.

And how quickly.

"Just because we had eight seniors, doesn't mean we played our best," defensive coordinator Brent Pry said in 2017, looking toward the future. "We're a talented bunch. We have a chance to play our best this year."

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