Blue White Illustrated

March 2024

Penn State Sports Magazine

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M A R C H 2 0 2 4 5 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M A huge proponent of scouting, Penn State head coach James Franklin understands his internal tendencies. He describes himself as an "over-clari- fier" — a quality his wife, Fumi, "hates" — and the characteristic tends to play out during press conferences. Meeting with the media last month for the first time in the calendar year, Franklin put the sentiment to the test. In a span of 32 minutes, he was asked about the budding partnership of the Big Ten and SEC in shaping the future of college football. He was asked about newcomers to the program, including coordinators Tom Allen and Andy Kotelnicki, as well as transfers Julian Fleming, Nolan Rucci, A.J. Harris and Jalen Kimber. He was also asked about his program's spring priorities. Given the detail of his responses, though, that was it. Specifically recalling his hiring of Al- len, Franklin spoke for nearly seven min- utes, revealing the depth of the process, the time it took, and a broader reality facing Penn State this offseason. With their coach committed to creating a detail-oriented program, the Nittany Li- ons are, in every sense, in the muck right now as they work to craft an identity for themselves. "The first thing — and we're working on this right now every morning — is coming up with Penn State offense, de- fense and special teams," Franklin said. "All three coordinators were hired under the idea that we need to do what's best for Penn State moving forward. "What are the things terminology- wise that can stay the same? What are the things that should change and need to change? And what are the non-ne- gotiables for the coordinators? All these things were discussed in the interview process, but it's another thing doing it." Boiled down, the process raises inter- esting questions about who and what Penn State will be in 2024. A skeptical reader might lament that the Nittany Lions are back to the draw- ing board during an offseason cycle brimming with experience and poten- tial. As much as 2023 was pegged as a slightly-ahead-of-schedule season for the team in its quest to reach the Col- lege Football Playoff for the first time, the 2024 season stood out even more. Even without the obvious talent exiting for the NFL this offseason — offensive tackle Olumuyiwa Fashanu, defensive ends Chop Robinson and Adisa Isaac, cornerbacks Johnny Dixon and Kalen King, to name a few — the celebrated No. 7-ranked recruiting class of 2022 would be rounding into form. Quarterback Drew Allar, running back Nicholas Singleton and defensive end Dani Dennis-Sutton have ample experi- ence heading into their junior seasons. Along with such classmates as defensive end/linebacker Abdul Carter, safety Kevin Winston Jr., defensive tackle Zane Durant, offensive lineman Drew Shelton and running back Kaytron Allen, among others, Penn State still has a roster brim- ming with talent despite its offseason personnel losses. That those critical players, and the ones surrounding them, are spend- ing their winter coming to grips with changes — real or perceived — instead of nailing down the minutiae of last sea- son's successes is a point of frustration. "I think the players would like for us to be further along in terms of installs, but we want to make sure that we're doing it right," Franklin said. "We want to make sure that we're all on the same page and we're not having to go back and re-teach things. I think it's been really good. I think all three coordinators have done a really good job of jumping in with both feet." A more realistic accounting of Penn State's offseason turnover is two-fold. The first reality is that even if there hadn't been any coaching attrition, the process would have been much the same, with players focused on making the necessary adjustments following the 2023 season. That happens every year. The second point is of equal impor- tance. Penn State, for all of its potential last year, came up woefully short of its loftiest goals. After turning in particu- larly dispiriting offensive performances against Ohio State and Michigan, the team's path to achievement might fea- ture many of the same players in 2024, but logically cannot feature the same approach if a different outcome is de- sired. "It's getting to a point where we feel really good about how we're going to move forward and what's in Penn State's best interest on offense, defense and special teams, as a coaching staff first, and then obviously, you'll put the play- ers in a position to feel good about it as well," Franklin said. "It didn't feel like … we should be starting all over on offense, defense and special teams. That was a big part of the process of hiring coor- dinators. So, I think that — those two things, the staff first and then players second — is the most important thing." It's this precision-oriented offseason process — which is not yet even midway through completion — that will help shape Penn State's on-field persona in 2024. ■ Franklin, who is detail-oriented by nature, has spent the offseason working with his new coordinators to thor- oughly define Penn State's identity in all three phases of the game for 2024. PHOTO BY GREG PICKEL O P I N I O N NAT E BAU E R N AT E . B A U E R @ O N 3 . C O M HOT READ Rigorous Process Helps Define PSU's Path Forward

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