March is upon us. And that means spring football is not far behind.
The 2020 Nittany Lions begin official drills on Wednesday, March 18.
The NCAA allows 15 formal practices, and coach James Franklin will use the final one for the annual Bue-White Game, to be played a month later, on Saturday, April 18.
To give you an idea of what’s in-between and also what’s ahead, here are 20 things to know about Penn State’s spring practice in 2020:
1. Let’s begin with a disclaimer — No outside paid consultants were used to compile this list.
2. More Franklins — Franklin just signed a new six-year, $45.2 million contract that pays an average of $7.53 million per year. By comparison, Penn State spent $5.185 million for football scholarships in 2018 (2019 numbers not available).
That figure includes $1 million annually put into a life insurance account from which he can make withdrawals; an annual retention bonus of $500,000 ($300,000 in 2020); and the assumption of an annual bowl berth, which pays at minimum $200,000.
(Wondering: If you are already paying someone $7 million-plus, shouldn’t you expect to get to a bowl game for that kind of money?)
3. Winter Workouts Get a Lift — Penn State’s winter workouts traditionally end with an open session attended by the regular beat media, which will occur this year on Wednesday afternoon. Strength and conditioning guru Dwight Galt Sr. will hold court afterwards. This is where an upcoming spate of stories of individual and team gains emanate.
4. Spring Break — There are no Penn State classes next week. So, like all the other Penn State students, the PSU football players start heading home or to other spring break locales beginning this Friday (or sooner), with a return to campus no later than Sunday, March 15. Official practices begin three days later.
5. New Football PR Person — Former Penn State communications assistant Greg Kincaid is returning to his alma mater to take the job as lead media contact for Nittany Lion football. In 2011-13, Kincaid was the Penn State PR contact for women’s gymnastics and women’s soccer. Since then, he’s worked in sports media relations at Florida International, Indiana and West Point.
The lead PR person for Penn State intercollegiate athletics, Kris Petersen, was promoted to associate athletics director for strategic communications last October. Since then, she’s been doing her old job — head of PR for football — as well as her new gig. Figure that she will still be around, especially to handle Franklin and bigger-picture items.
6. New Coaches — You know the group: offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kirk Ciarrocca, offensive line coach Phil Trautwein, wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield and defensive line coach John Scott Jr.
Context: Counting Penn State, that quartet has had 41 different jobs in coaching. Franklin has made 10 new hires at fulltime assistant coach since 2018.
7. New (But Familiar) GA Faces — The 2020 graduate assistants are Deoin Barnes and V’Angelo Bentley on defense and Jeff Carpenter and Wendy Laurent on offense. Bentley is the lone holdover, but all are familiar faces. A former cornerback at Illinois, Bentley was a member of the Illini’s All-2010s team. He works with the Nittany Lions’ secondary. He is the only player in Illinois history to have returned a kick, a punt, a fumble and an interception for a touchdown.
Barnes (DL) and Laurent (OL) both played at Penn State. Carpenter was an undergraduate assistant at Penn State. After graduation, he spent a year as an offensive intern with the Houston Texans, under Bill O’Brien, then went to Princeton and Bryant College. He returned to PSU as an offensive analyst in 2018.
8. Quality Under Control — There have been a few changes on Franklin’s off-the-field quality control and analytics staff. Will Reimann, who came to Penn State from Fordham with Joe Moorhead then followed JoeMo to Mississippi State, has returned to PSU. He’s an offensive analyst and analytics coordinator, and he is joined in that role by new hire Ty Howle, the former Nittany Lion offensive lineman. Special teams analyst Aman Anand, who came to Penn State from Memphis State with Joe Lorig in 2019, has left Penn State for the same role at Baylor. Longtime QC staffers Larry Lewis and Sam Williams return in those roles.
9. New Consultants in the Fold? — Last season, Franklin had a trio of big-name consultants: longtime NFL O-line coach and former Penn State assistant Pat Flaherty; former Rutgers O-coordinator and PSU safety John McNulty; and Bill Lazor, who coached Ricky Rahne at Cornell and previously was the QB coach for several NFL teams. McNulty is now the tight ends coach at Notre Dame, while Lazor is now the O-coordinator for the Chicago Bears.
10. Up For Grabs — The Nittany Lions are looking for three new fulltime starters on offense, six on defense and two on special teams. Gone on offense are LG Steven Gonzalez (42 career starts), the combo of X wide receivers Justin Shorter (5) and Dan Chisena (2), and KJ Hamler (26) at Y receiver. Gone on defense are DT Rob Windsor (26), DE Yetur Gross-Matos (25), MLB Jan Johnson (26), OLB Cam Brown (26), SS Garrett Taylor (25) and CB John Reid (40). Franklin must also replace veteran punter Blake Gillikin and Hamler the return man.
11. Pro Day — Oodles of pro scouts, coaches and NFL front office types will be on campus Tuesday, March 17, for Penn State’s Pro Day, where recently departed Nittany Lions will be tested and measured. This is a chance for those players who were not invited to the NFL Combine in Indy — like the aforementioned Gonzalez, Johnson, Garrett and Gillikin— to make their mark in advance of the late-April NFL Draft and subsequent free agent marketplace.
12. Spring Media Practice Day — More than 100 media types from around the state, and a few national folks as well, will gather in the Beaver Stadium press room on Wednesday, March 18, to get Franklin’s take on his team in the day official drills begin. Expect a flood of stories the next few days after that.
13. Spring Practice Schedule — Teams get 15 official practices. Penn State is slated to practice mostly on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Dates: March 18, 20, 21, 23, 25, 28 and 30. April 1, 4, 8, 10, 13, 15 and 17.
14. Spring Practice Breaks — Not to be confused with Spring Break. With one exception, there will only be one or two days between each practice. Even Easter weekend, the Nittany Lions are scheduled to have a formal practice on Good Friday — likely as early in the day as possible — and then they have Saturday and Sunday off before resuming drills on Monday. The exception: The three days after Saturday, April 4. Look for Penn State to have a full-fledged scrimmage that day in Beaver Stadium, taking the new offense for a spin without any of the public watching; three days off will follow.
15. Coaches Clinic – Hundreds of high school coaches will be on campus for the annual Penn State Football Chalk Talk, to be held Friday-Saturday, March 27-28. The agenda includes a full-pads spring practice, dinner with the Penn State coaching staff, a positional chalk talk and a social with an open bar Friday night.
16. Offensive Install — The No. 1 item on Franklin’s spring to-do list, after getting his four new assistants into the flow? Get the Penn State offense accustomed to Ciarrocca and what is sure to be a somewhat different offensive philosophy. (He is PSU’s third different OC/QB coach in four seasons.) The nomenclature may stay the same, but Franklin didn’t bring in Ciarrocca to maintain the status quo.
17. Recruiting Schedule — March 1 to April 14 is an NCAA-mandated quiet period. During this time, according to the NCAA, “a college coach may only have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents on the college’s campus. A coach may not watch student-athletes compete (unless a competition occurs on the college’s campus) or visit their high schools. Coaches may write or telephone college-bound student-athletes or their parents during this time.”
From April 15 to May 31 is an evaluation period; the NCAA stipulates that during this time “a college coach may watch college-bound student-athletes compete, visit their high schools, and write or telephone student-athletes or their parents. However, a college coach may not have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents off the college’s campus during an evaluation period.”
18. March Madness — Time to sneak in some basketball. Here are some key dates for Pat Chambers’ squad: Big Ten tournament, March 11-15, with Penn State’s first game likely on Thursday, March 12, thanks to a first-round bye. The Big Ten title game is at 3:30 p.m., Sunday, March 15 on CBS. The NCAA tournament brackets will be announced later that evening, with first-round games beginning on Thursday-Friday, March 19-20.
19. Blue White Game — Saturday, April 18. 1:30 p.m. kickoff, telecast by FS1.
20. 2020 Season Opener — Penn State’s first game of the 2020 season is on September 5 — 188 days away, against Kent State in Beaver Stadium. The Golden Flashes were 7-6 in 2019, finishing with a four-game win streak that included a 51-41 win over Utah State in the Frisco Bowl. Their losses included a 55-16 drubbing by Auburn and a 48-0 whitewash by Wisconsin.