Penn State suspended two players, including a returning all-Big Ten defensive end, for the summer for a violation of team rules, coach James Franklin said Friday.
Defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, an all-American candidate, and running back Journey Brown will be eligible to return to the team Aug. 1 before training camp begins. They were suspended following spring practice, Franklin said. The coach did not disclose the reason for the suspensions.
Gross-Matos, a junior, is Penn State’s most productive returning defensive player, becoming just the 11th player in team history to record 20 tackles for a loss in a season. He also made eight sacks and was named first-team all-Big Ten.
Franklin said that Gross-Matos worked out this summer at home in Virginia. At last week’s Lift for Life event in State College, strength coach Dwight Galt said that Gross-Matos “has had a really good summer” and he expects the defensive end will be in “really, really good shape” for training camp, which begins in early August.
“I talk to him all the time,” Franklin said Friday. “He’s doing great, working out with the family, doing really good.”
Brown, a redshirt sophomore running back, averaged 5.5 yards per carry in limited action last year. On Friday, Franklin said he expects a big season from Brown.
"It would not surprise me if he has a breakout year,” Franklin said. “He has an unbelievable body. He’s big, strong, fast, explosive, and the game is coming more naturally to him. He’s starting to play with the speed and athleticism that he has, and he’s just maturing and growing up.”
Speed to burn: Despite several significant question marks, particularly on offense, Franklin is pointing to a roster that he has reshaped positively as the defining trait of his team’s upcoming season.
“We are young, we are talented and we are probably the fastest football team that I’ve been a part of in my nine years as a head football coach,” Franklin said. “So we’re excited about having that speed and athleticism on the football field.”
Penn State returns 14 starters from last year’s 9-4 team that underwent significant offseason transition. A dozen players transferred, including quarterback Tommy Stevens, forcing the Lions to address several positions on their depth chart.
Franklin noted that the offensive questions start at quarterback. He praised Sean Clifford and Will Levis as veterans whose competition for the starting spot will last into camp.
“Whenever you lose a quarterback that played as many games and started as many games as Trace McSorley did for us, and was able to win at such a high level, obviously there’s question marks going into the season,” Franklin said. “But we’ve been fortunate to be able to recruit extremely well, and we’re very confident in the way we develop that position as well. … We’ll make the decision when the decision has has been made, when it’s obvious to everybody who our starting quarterback is going to be."
Elsewhere on offense, Franklin said he expects his receivers to “take a step” after struggling with drops and production in 2018 and added that the tight end position, with Pat Freiermuth and Nick Bowers, "has a chance to be a strength for us."
On defense, Franklin again said his defensive ends could comprise one of the nation’s best units and he has similar high hopes at linebacker and cornerback. Further, Franklin said the defense appears further ahead at defensive tackle and safety than he thought during spring drills.
“There are a lot of good things going on,” Franklin said. “We obviously have to use that foundation to continue to grow and take that next step as an organization.”