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Key Storylines Before Penn State's Spring Practice

James Franklin
© Dale Zanine- USA Today Network

Penn State head coach James Franklin spoke to the media for the first time this month as the Nittany Lions gear up for their spring game on April 13.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from Franklin's media availability.

Improving Penn State's Explosive Play Rate

There was lots of scrutiny surrounding the Penn State offense a year ago with its lack of big plays throughout the season. Franklin made the decision to fire offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich late last season and replaced him with Andy Kotelnicki. Kotelnicki found success during his time at Kansas partially through what they were able to do with play-action passes.

"I think some of the things that we can do to compliment the run game in the play-action pass to create explosive plays to really open the field," Franklin said.

Penn State vs. Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl
© Dale Zanine- USA Today Network

Penn State's Depth at Offensive Tackle

With players such as Olumuyiwa Fashanu and Caedan Wallace on their way to the NFL, filling the offensive tackle is more of a need than ever before. Franklin mentioned several players who have put in work to potentially fill those spots including J'ven Williams and JB Nelson who both saw playing time last season as well as several new names. Nelson is someone who Franklin stated could play at both the guard and tackle spots. Incoming transfer Nolan Rucci has Franklin excited about bringing him back to Pennsylvania.

"Obviously, his family has strong Penn State ties and was a highly recruited young man... so to have him back, he's already up to 315 pounds, which has a little bit been his issue."

Those players all have a chance to compete at camp, especially with the announcement that Drew Shelton underwent surgery after the season ended.

Penn State coaches conferring
© Matthew O'Haren- USA Today Network

Abdul Carter's Position Change

After news broke that Carter would be moving from linebacker to defensive end last month, he has now had a chance to practice at a position he's less familiar with. Franklin stressed that the results aren't going to come overnight and patience is required for this kind of a change. "I know Abdul is excited about it, and we're looking forward to having an opportunity to work with him, but it is a big change," Franklin said. "He's never really done this before." Franklin also mentioned that part of the reason a change was made was due to his confidence that there is a good amount of depth already at the position.

Abdul Carter
© Tommy Gilligan- USA Today Network

Zakee Wheatley: Breakout Candidate?

When asked who's had the best spring thus far, Franklin stated it's Wheatley and it's not even close. The redshirt junior had appeared in all 13 games last season and recorded 24 total tackles. Franklin expects Wheatley to take a huge step next season in a safety room featuring KJ Winston and Jaylen Reed. Wheatley's play this spring has Franklin making some adjustments to his defense. "That also allows us to maybe use Reed in the nickel position that we're going to call the lion position," Franklin said.

Zakee Wheatley
© Joseph Maiorana- USA Today Network

Confidence in the Penn State Receiver Room

After struggles at certain points of last season, Franklin and the Nittany Lions elected to stick with a very similar group at receiver who he thinks can compete with the best in the country.

"I don't think we've ever had really a talent issue at wideout," Franklin said. "If you look at our guys, athletic numbers, testing numbers, I think it's as good as anywhere in the country"

The main exception to that was Ohio State transfer Julian Fleming who also returned to his home state and created needed competition at the position.

"I didn't really feel like we needed to go out and do a whole lot in the transfer portal, but we needed to make sure we had enough competition at every single position to bring out the best and not only those guys individually, but also us as a team," Franklin said. "I think Julian has helped with that as well as the younger players already in our program taking the next step."

Franklin also mentioned another year of experience for wide receivers coach Marcus Hagans who enters his second season has been a benefit.

With day one of Penn State spring practice in the books, there will be a lot of storylines to follow before the Nittany Lions spring game.

The Nittany Lions open their 2024 season on the road against West Virginia on August 31.


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