Penn State's James Franklin likes defense's personality

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
  • Brent Pry is in his first season as Penn State's defensive coordinator.
  • Head coach James Franklin said he saw more "personality" from his defense on Wednesday.
  • Among the missing on Wednesday were linebacker Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman-White.

STATE COLLEGE — Penn State's defense had perhaps its best practice of the spring Wednesday, a notable point for head coach James Franklin as that unit undergoes its own changes.

Penn State coach James Franklin has led his Nittany Lions to seven straight victories.

Offense has been the dominant theme this spring for the Lions, who are installing a new system, introducing two new offensive coaches and auditioning for a new starting quarterback. But the defense underwent its share of offseason change, getting a new coordinator and new coach of its own.

Coordinator Brent Pry, promoted after Bob Shoop left for Tennessee, has retained many of the defense's concepts of the past two seasons. But he has been limited this spring by injuries to several returning players and a focus on helping the offense install its new system.

After Wednesday's practice, however, Franklin said he saw more energy and "personality" from the defense.

"We're playing a lot more with what I call personality, with our linebackers and secondary disguising some of the pressures," Franklin said. "I think in the past we've been a little bit predictable — we've been very good, but we've been predictable with our indicators. … Today was the first time the defense played with a lot of confidence."

Penn State has been without several defensive players this spring, notably linebackers Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman-White. Franklin does not discuss injuries but has given no indication that any are serious. Wartman-White is being eased back after sustaining a knee injury last season.

Franklin said that he has seen some better situational tackling, something that has been a focus of spring drills. Like most teams, Penn State is tackling on a limited basis, and the end of Wednesday's practice featured a situation scrimmage with no tackling.

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Introducing Saquon Barkley: Following several individual interviews this spring, running back Saquon Barkley met the media for the first time at Penn State. The Whitehall High graduate said he was nervous, but he handled the 10-minute session with ease.

Barkley was asked about the video that surfaced last August of former Penn State defensive tackle Anthony Zettel roundhouse-kicking a water bottle in the locker room. The video, which went viral, showed Barkley alertly ducking the missile directed toward his head.

"If I didn't move fast enough," Barkley said, "I might not even have had a freshman season."

Franklin said that Barkley has taken more of his reps in non-live periods, in part to get more time for fellow backs Andre Robinson and Mark Allen. Still, he remains a tough stop: On Wednesday, Barkley had two exceptional runs, including one after a catch.

In addition, Franklin said he expects Barkley to take more of a leadership role this season.

"Obviously when you're a true freshman, it's hard to have a big leadership role," Franklin said. "Then, when you earn a starting job and play the way he has, then, yeah, that's something that's important to him."

Offensive line experimentation: Paris Palmer, who played left tackle last season, spent parts of Wednesday's practice at right tackle. Franklin said the move came about Monday, when Palmer missed practice and right tackle Andrew Nelson shifted to the left side.

Franklin liked what he saw, so Nelson returned to left tackle for Wednesday's practice, working with Noah Beh on the right side. Palmer took reps with the second team, as Sterling Jenkins played on the left side.

Franklin called such experimentation common for spring. Freshman Connor McGovern, for instance, has been working at tackle but is expected to play center for the Lions.

"Sometimes you make those types of moves because of the situation you're in, and it ends up being a blessing in disguise," Franklin said. "We're still kind of searching for the best five, not only getting the right people on the bus but getting them in the right seats as well."

Noteworthy: Matt Millen will serve as the analyst for the Big Ten Network's broadcast of the Blue-White Game. The game will be shown live on BTN2Go, the network's mobile platform, and rebroadcast on BTN several times the following week.

IF YOU GO: Admission and parking are free. … A player autograph session will be held prior to the game..

Blue-White Game: 

When: 2 p.m. April 16

Where: Beaver Stadium

TV: Live on BTN2Go, tape-delayed on Big Ten Network.