Penn State's Franklin unsure if Cedar Cliff grad Breneman will play in opener

Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE — Penn State coach James Franklin said Tuesday he is unsure if tight end Adam Breneman will be able to play this season because of an unspecified injury.

Breneman, a graduate of nearby Cedar Cliff High School, was not in pads at a team practice open to reporters last week and instead worked with strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt.

Franklin, who does not usually announce or address injuries unless they are season ending, did not specify Breneman's injury.

"There's no doubt we'd love to have Adam available for this week," Franklin said. "And you'd love to have his playmaking abilities as well as his maturity. He's one of the more positive guys in our program and one of the more natural leaders."

When asked if he expected Breneman back this season, Franklin said bluntly: "I don't know."

The uncertainty dampens expectations that Breneman would take on a bigger role in the Nittany Lions offense this season. Penn State opens at Temple on Saturday.

But Franklin is confident Penn State has enough players to support quarterback Christian Hackenberg. The junior quarterback was sacked 44 times last season and Penn State's running game was ranked 120th in the country behind an inexperienced offensive line.

Other options: Without Breneman, Penn State still has a handful of options for Hackenberg to throw to. The Nittany Lions will also field an offensive line that appears much more stable than the revolving cast of players used there in 2014.

"I feel much better about it," Franklin said. "And I see Christian so much more relaxed and so much more confident right now as a player and as a leader because of that."

And Hackenberg has grown into his captaincy nicely, Franklin said.

The quarterback has been directing his younger teammates — most of them in their first and second seasons — at every practice open to reporters. Penn State has 12 players listed among the starters and second-stringers who have either never played or made their debuts last season. Five of them are wide receivers who should help replace Breneman's targets early.

Second-year wideouts Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton are expected to start on Saturday with DeAndre Thompkins expected to make his debut in the slot. Hamilton led the Big Ten with 82 catches. Brandon Polk also emerged in training camp.

"It's one of those things where you have to rely on each other," Hackeberg said. "I think although we have some younger guys, those guys are experienced and played last year. It's a very experienced group from that standpoint so I think we'll be ready to roll."

Breneman has injury-plagued past: Even without a tight end many of the coaches thought could develop into the receiving threat and strong blocker Franklin covets.

"He's had some issues since he's been at Penn State but we're supporting him academically where he's killing it," Franklin said of Breneman. "Adam's doing extremely well (in the classroom)."

Breneman, whose father Brian played tight end at Spring Grove High School, redshirted last season after suffering a left knee injury in spring practice and hasn't played since the 2013 season finale at Wisconsin.

A coveted recruit for Bill O'Brien in 2013, Breneman caught 15 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman. Over the final four games, Breneman and Hackenberg started to develop better chemistry and eight of Breneman's catches and all three of his touchdowns came over the final four games.

Without Breneman, Penn State will turn to a host of tight ends vying for reps in an offense stocked with young, unproven talent.

Kyle Carter returns after catching 16 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown in 2014. Mike Gesicki and Brent Wilkerson are also back with Gesicki, who played in 12 games last season, penciled in as the starter.

"I think you'd like to have four but we do have three we feel pretty good about," Franklin said.

Kline not on depth chart: Dallastown High School graduate Ben Kline, a senior linebacker for PSU, was not listed on the two-deep depth chart.

Kline has battled injuries throughout his Nittany Lion career.