Franklin using versatility to fix depth issues on Penn State's limited roster

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STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania — Training players to compete at multiple positions is how new Penn State coach James Franklin plans to combat a team depth chart that's not all that deep.

Particularly thin on an offensive line that will be charged to keep sophomore star quarterback Christian Hackenberg upright as well as create space for veteran running backs Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch, Franklin gets to test his philosophy in Ireland on Saturday where Penn State is set to face Central Florida.

Penn State remains 10 scholarships shy of the NCAA limit of 85 because of sanctions imposed after the Jerry Sandusky scandal in November 2011.

"We have to train guys for multiple positions and that's going to allow you to get your best 11 guys on the field," Franklin said Tuesday. "It's something that we're going to have to do and we're going to have to embrace it until we're in a situation where we have similar depth as other people in the country and get some of our scholarships back.

Only left tackle Donovan Smith and center Angelo Mangiro have playing experience, and Smith's playing time far exceeded that of Mangiro's last season. Projected starters Andrew Nelson (right tackle), Brian Gaia (right guard) and either Derek Dowrey or Brendan Mahon at left guard are untested.

"On the O-line we have to train those guys and at wide receiver and all the positions," Franklin said. "It's probably how we'll call the game.

"At wide receiver, our tight ends have more depth and more experience so you'll probably see more tight ends on the field. We rotate those guys typically the way we do in practice.

"The way we do it, you may have a guy taking some reps with the 1's and the 2's or a guy taking some reps with the 2's and the 3's and vice-versa. The closer we get to game time, we really want to have those things solidified, but we're really going to have to keep working it all year long," he said.

Franklin believes offensive coordinator John Donovan and offensive line coach Herb Hand "have done the best with the situation that we're in," and feels comfortable with it.

He maintains that the best players will play against UCF on Saturday and on into the Nittany Lions' Big Ten schedule that begins Sept. 13 at Rutgers.

"If you have a strength, you need to find ways to get those guys on the field," he said. "It's like people who run a 4-3. Well, if your four linebackers are better than you defensive linemen, then maybe you ought to play a 3-4.

"We want to keep our guys fresh in the fourth quarter and that also pays dividends late in the season. We want to keep our guys fresh and as healthy as we possibly can."

The trip to Ireland was arranged between Bill O'Brien, who left Penn State after two seasons to be head coach of the NFL's Houston Texans, and Central Florida coach George O'Leary. The idea for Penn State, O'Brien said last year, was to create in Dublin the feel of a bowl game, something in which Penn State cannot compete until after the 2016 regular season because of NCAA sanctions.

"This is not going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Franklin said.

"For us, this is a business trip to go and play in a football game. We work really hard to make sure all of our players graduate with a meaningful degree from Penn State so they can work to go back (to Ireland) at some point with their family or their friends to enjoy the countryside.

"But this trip is not a trip to enjoy the countryside. We're going to play a football game. There will be some activities but very little of that.

"In football, you get 12 to 14 opportunities and you better make every single one of them special," Franklin said.

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