July 23, 2018
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Penn State head coach James Franklin.
JAMES FRANKLIN: First of all, I want to thank everybody for coming out and supporting the Big Ten and obviously, specifically, Penn State has a great crowd.
First thing I'd like to do take a moment probably don't do this enough and thank our players. Our players have been fantastic. In our four years, this is going into our year five, we've been able to accomplish really special things in a short period of time and it really starts and ends with them.
So I want to thank our players. I want to thank our players' parents, because we've really kind of done this as a family altogether. I'd like to thank our coaching staff. I feel we have the best coaching staff in the country. Been fantastic.
And then the same thing with our community, our Penn State community, I want to take a minute and thank everybody that's been a part because I think a lot of times the coach probably gets too much credit because the things that we've been able to accomplish, we've done as a family.
So wanted to start with that. And then just talk briefly about our program and kind of where we're at right now. Probably have more question marks going into this season than we've had the last two years. I think we're at an exciting time in our program.
Obviously lost a lot of production, lost a lot of production. I think we had six players drafted, and I think we had 15 players sign with some NFL organization. So really proud of that. But it's also put us in a situation where we got a lot of things that we've got to get answered this offseason from a camp perspective as well as early in the season with some challenging games as well.
So excited about that. Offensively for the first time we have an offensive line that we think has a chance to be a strength in our program. Obviously a lot of questions that have gotten today already and will probably get here as well is replacing Saquon Barkley, which I don't know if you necessarily can replace a guy like that from a production standpoint. But I do think our offensive line for the first time since we've been there becoming a strength is going to help with that.
So excited about that group. The game of football always will and always has started up front. Feel really good about that group. Obviously when you've got a quarterback like Trace McSorley coming back from a production, from an experience standpoint, and just the way he's carried himself over the last four years as a leader in our program, has been fantastic.
When you've got a guy like that leading your program, you've got a chance especially on the offensive side of the ball. And obviously we've got some question marks at running back. Miles Sanders has a lot of excitement and buzz about him right now and what he's going to be able to do, as well as some other guys like Mark Allen and Johnathan Thomas and Ricky Slade that are going to factor in. Be an interesting battle come fall camp.
At wide receiver, Juwan Johnson, DeAndre Tompkins played a lot of football for us, and we're going to need those guys to step up.
And obviously it's the storylines. Who are the guys that are going to emerge that maybe aren't household names right now in the offensive side of the ball, losing a guy like Mike Gesicki at tight end, we'll have to find a way to replace some of his production, and obviously that's going to be challenging for us. So excited about that on the offensive side of the ball.
Defensively we have more question marks probably the biggest question marks for me going into the season are at defensive tackle. We graduated three senior tackles there. And at linebacker, specifically in our Mike linebacker in Jason Cabinda. Probably three question marks on our team. Whether they're young players that played complementary roles in the past or freshmen, they'll have to come in and compete.
We have an exciting freshmen class that's going to be joining us, but it's challenging to depend on those guys like that and those positions. It will be interesting to see how the whole thing plays out.
There's a lot of talk about us losing our secondary that all had opportunities at the NFL. But we have played so many guys in the secondary that a guy like Amani Oruwariye who is here with us this weekend, obviously, last year finished Second Team All-Big Ten, had four interceptions, is stepping into a starting role for us.
John Reid, who was a starter for us the year before, is coming back from an injury. We're excited about what he'll be able to do as well. Probably one of the strengths of our team specifically on defense is at defensive end. Excited about what those guys are going to be able to do.
Special teams, Blake Gillikin, a young man who has been fantastic since he stepped on campus, pre-med major, 4.0 GPA. Chance to be one of the better punters in the country. Vasey, our long snapper. But we have a major question mark at the kicker position.
We're going to have a number of young men that are going to be competing for that job, whether that is guys that are already currently in our program or guys we recruited in this last class. Going to be some challenges there.
So exciting time. Exciting time at Penn State, love what we've been able to do the last couple of years as a foundation moving forward for us.
And as you know, I don't like to spend a whole lot of time talking about our past, but I do think the things we've been able to accomplish the last couple of years have laid a foundation for confidence in our players in our locker room for where we're moving forward.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. All eyes are on Trace McSorley at quarterback. If you compare and contrast him to the development of Christian Hackenberg and you try to go into a mode of rebuilding rather than -- reloading rather than rebuilding around him, how much power, how much control do you give him over the offense? How much do you trust and invest in him? What's the next step for him as quarterback?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think, first of all, Trace is really the first quarterback that we've been kind of with from the beginning. All the way back to the recruiting process.
I think that was a big decision with hiring Ricky Rahne, not only is he extremely intelligent and not only does he have unbelievable work ethic, but he's recruited every single player in our quarterback room.
So when you look at Trace, Trace is a guy that you look all the way back to little league, all he's done is won. Been highly, highly productive. Universally respected throughout our entire program, has done things the right way.
The thing about Trace that we love so much is that you know what you're getting from Trace every single day, not just on game days, but practice, offseason, community service, academically, he's steady Eddie. And he hasn't really changed much since he was a freshman year coming from that perspective. Came in mature and understanding of what he needed to do to be successful. And he's kind of grown.
Trace will obviously have a lot of latitude, really kind of in how we do things. I think that's going to show up more during the week than it will on game day. The way we do things, those things are kind of already built in.
But I do think a lot of feedback in what he's seeing on film in terms of how we build a plan, how we're going to attack the opponent, how we're going to attack the defense, I want those guys involved as much as we possibly can, and him and Ricky Rahne have a tremendous relationship.
And I know Trace is looking forward to that as well. So he's going to have a lot of opportunities to be able to make plays. I think where Trace is valuable is how the game has evolved. The prototype quarterback doesn't really exist anymore, whether it's NFL, college, high school, you need to have a guy at that position that can beat you in multiple ways and Trace can do that with his mind, from a decision-making perspective, from an arm, doesn't get enough credit for how well he throws the ball.
He can make all the throws on the field, and obviously he can beat you with his feet. When you've got a guy back there doing those types of things, it becomes very challenging to defend.
Q. Connor McGovern is a guy who has been getting some hype as next level. What do you think, what traits do you think he already possesses to be an NFL player and what traits and abilities do you think he still needs to work on to get there?
JAMES FRANKLIN: We're worried about beating App State, not too focused on the NFL. The Florida season has really started, to be honest with you. I love that our guys are part of these preseason recognitions and awards and things like that, but obviously Connor started for us since he was a true freshman on the offensive line, which is somewhat unusual in college football, and specifically with our circumstances that we walked into at Penn State, very fortunate for him.
So he's big, he's strong, he's smart. He's been very productive. We're expecting him to take the next step as an offensive lineman in our program. He's got the flexibility and the size that we think he can play really kind of all the positions, center guard and tackle as well.
So we'll see. We want to give ourselves the best chance to put the best five guys on the field, whether that is Connor at center, whether that's him at guard. I do think there's some flexibility, and I think that's probably why he's attractive to people is because you're talking about a 6'5", 300-pound young man who is playing center and has flexibility.
So we're excited about him. But anything further than that, I'll sit down with Connor and his family when the time is appropriate. The fact that his father is a superintendent, I know how important education is in their family as well.
Q. How do you separate yourself from a football perspective from the last game, the Fiesta Bowl until if we say today starts the season, how do you separate your program and your team from a football perspective in that timeframe?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I'm not sure I know what you mean, "separate."
Q. From other competition, what do you stress what's the most important thing, whether it's the weight, the recruiting, what do you stress from a football coach perspective during that timeframe?
JAMES FRANKLIN: What I would say to you is we spend a lot of time talking about what is the next step for us. And to be honest with you, I think it's more about refining the things that we're already doing.
The reality is for you to have a program that is a consistent top 10 or top 5 program, you can't do it by just being good in one area. You can't just do it being good in a scheme. You can't just do it good from a development standpoint. You can't just do it from a recruiting perspective.
For you to have a top 5, top 10 program, you're going to have to be strong in all of those areas. I think if you have weaknesses, that's what you need to be spending your offseason doing, is attacking those weaknesses.
For us I think we've done a pretty good job. The area I'm most proud of is how we've developed players. I think that's what we do best. You look at what we were able to do the last couple of years and where we're going in terms of every other aspect of our program from a facilities standpoint, from a recruiting perspective, from a scheme perspective, from fundamentals and techniques, I think we're doing some pretty good things in each area and that's what it's going to take.
We've just got to keep refining those things. We've got great chemistry in our locker room right now. We've got a players-led program. The three young men that are with us today I think are fantastic representatives of our university and our program and what we're doing and how we're doing it.
So that's really -- it's not one specific thing. I'm not a favorite guy. I'm also not someone that kind of looks and says our success is going to be determined by one specific area. It's being as well rounded as we possibly can be and continue to evolve and continue to grow and make sure that we have a good understanding of what's going on in our conference as well as across the country in college football.
Q. You've had a chance now two years being in the hunt for a playoff spot. Now that we're four years into this thing, how would you evaluate the overall effectiveness of the current system?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I like the current system. I'm going to be honest with you, I didn't have a whole lot of problem with the system before it. I think one of the things that I think is probably the biggest challenge with the system that we're in is it's subjective. And I think whenever you have a subjective system like we do, you want to control as many of the variables as you possibly can.
And right now, when you've got a group of people trying to decide who is going to make the playoffs and they can't compare apples to apples, makes it really challenging.
When we get to a point where everybody's playing under the same scenario, I think that would be the best situation. So the amount of conference games across the entire country, every conference is doing it the same way, we're all playing the same number of conference games. We're all playing FCS opponents or we're not. We're all playing the same number of Power Five out-of-conference opponents, things like that.
If we can control some of the variables, that's going to give people who have a challenging job already, that's going to help them. When you're comparing one program to another or one conference to another, some of those things don't have to be factored in.
That would be probably the one thing that I would like to see changed to allow those people to do the best job they possibly can. People talk about expanding the playoffs and things like that. I don't necessarily -- I'm not on the same page with that. This game we started out playing 10 games then we went to 11 games and then 12 games, and now with the playoffs you're talking about 15 games. That's a lot of games.
We haven't expanded the rosters. I do think that what we've done this year with the redshirt rule really helps with that because coaches and players get into some challenging situations where late in the season you have an injury and you're trying to decide whether you're going to burn a kid's redshirt season for one game or two games at the end of the season. I think that was a really, really positive rule for our student-athletes and for the game as a whole.
But those are the things I'd like to see probably done to help the people that are making the decision about what teams get in and what teams don't, I think that would make a whole lot of sense for our game.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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