Penn State's James Franklin enters spring with plan to rectify Lions' woes in trenches

DONNIE COLLINS
The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens' Voice (TNS)
James Franklin

Fans might be more focused on the quarterback position or on how Penn State will replace some established stars at wide receiver or safety this fall.

For James Franklin, though, it's time to start rebuilding what has been a significant problem for several seasons.

As the Nittany Lions began the first of its 15 allotted spring practices Monday, they did so with an offensive line that doesn't promise to look much like the one that fought through more downs than ups in 2021.

"We all know that's an area we need to improve on," Franklin said during his annual spring practice press conference.

It's March, and it wouldn't be the first time spring plans changed by the time opening day arrived. But the Nittany Lions started spring camp Monday with only one offensive lineman in the spot he started in last season, senior right tackle Caedan Wallace.

Senior Juice Scruggs, who earned honorable mention all-Big Ten honors as a right guard last season, opens the spring as the first-string center. The other three first-teamers are all among Penn State's highest-regarded young prospects: Sophomore left tackle Olu Fashanu, redshirt freshman left guard Landon Tengwall and junior Sal Wormley, who missed all of last season with an injury.

The template this spring will be a simple one for the offense and the line: Build toward a better running game.

In 2021, the Nittany Lions infamously struggled on the ground, not getting a single running back over 100 yards in a game for the first time in more than four decades. Their 3.2 yards per carry ranked them 118th out of 130 teams in the nation, a fact that irked Franklin more than two months after the season ended in the Outback Bowl in Tampa on Jan. 1.

Franklin insisted the spring practices would be run-game focused in an attempt to improve. He said there is plenty of time in the summer to work on refining the passing game, and having a veteran like sixth-year senior Sean Clifford under center helps in that regard. But, Franklin added that it's difficult to build cohesion up front in the running game from a technique and emphasis perspective without making it a priority in the spring.

"From the time the season ended until now, we really made sure we were having detailed conversations about what we're trying to do schematically, who we are, what we want to emphasize," Franklin said. "We have to make sure we get enough reps in the spring."