James Franklin: Looking ahead

Q: What have you enjoyed most during your first spring at Penn State?

A: The thing that amazes me, although I grew up in Pennsylvania and I did come to camp here, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time [here], to be honest with you. Never been to a game before, things like that. So getting on campus and seeing the pride in this school, the pride in this state, going around the country and going around the state, the high schools and get a chance to meet people the sense of pride in this place is unbelievable.

Q: As we approach the end of spring ball, how much of a challenge has it been for you and the staff to evaluate all of the players in such a short period of time?

A: I think we’ve got a pretty good feel and pretty good pulse of the team now and our strengths and weaknesses. Everybody has strengths, and everybody has weaknesses to overcome. We’re going to have to be creative and find ways to do it. But we’ve got great kids here and they’re smart, got a real smart coaching staff and creative guys, and we’ve got to find ways to get it done. Nobody wants to hear about the issues or the challenges or excuses, we’ve just got to find ways to get it done. That’s what we do every morning, wake up excited to come into work and find ways to represent Penn State the right way.

Q: What does having an SEC mentality mean to you, and why is it important to bring to Penn State?

A: To be honest with you, I’ve never mentioned that. Other people have written that or talked about that. I’ve never mentioned that. I want to just bring a winning, competitive, passionate philosophy here. I want people to watch our games and say, you know what, that team plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played, with passion and pride and fly around and great emotion and enjoy going out there on Saturday. You only get so many opportunities in this game. It’s not like other sports like baseball and basketball, where you get so many opportunities. We get 14, 15 opportunities a year to go out and play this great game. You better take advantage of every single play and play it as if it’s your last.

Q: Is there much difference between the Big Ten and SEC in overall team speed?

A: I don’t know. It’s too early for me to say that. I haven’t been in this league long enough and studied it. I think people have tremendous respect for the Big Ten, I think people have tremendous respect for the SEC and what those two conferences have done. I’m excited about what we’re going to be able to do here at Penn State with the experience that my staff has had in a lot of different places and bringing all those experiences that we think make sense for Penn State and add them to our repertoire. A lot of times you’ve got to be careful because you try to bring a certain philosophy that doesn’t fit that institution. The plan has to be specific for the institution that you’re at, and I think we have a bunch of people that understand what it’s all about and are excited about being here.

Q: What has been the strongest unit on the team this spring?

A: The unit that we probably have the most depth at is defensive line. We’ve been able to move a couple of those over to O-line to help us and still feel comfortable that we’ve got some guys we’re going to be able to compete in this league with.

Q: Are you concerned at this point about the depth on the offensive line, and where do you stand there?

A: I think wide receiver, linebacker and O-line are the three positions we’re going to have to be creative, we’re going to have to play some young guys. The way we’re going to call the game, having to play young guys, having to play some of these freshmen that are coming in, it is what it is. But we have between now and the start of camp to resolve some of these issues.

Q: Who are some players who have really stood out this spring?

A: I’ll probably do it by position. At quarterback there’s this guy [Christian] Hackenberg, I don’t know if you ever heard about him. Offensive tackle, Donovan Smith has done some really, really nice things. At running back, both [Bill] Belton and [Zach] Zwinak have done some nice things, I think Lynch has done some nice things, as well. Wide receiver, Geno [Lewis] has really kind of stood out. He’s got tremendous leaping ability to make plays on the ball. At tight end, Jesse James, a big, physical guy. D-line I think in general, I think you can probably go across the board a bunch of those guys. [Anthony] Zettel’s the kind of guy that I’ve been very impressed with watching his motor and his passion for the game. Linebacker Mike Hull. And the secondary, a combination of both [Adrian] Amos and Jordan Lucas. I think [Sam] Ficken has also, from a special teams perspective, has done a nice job.

Q: How much extra emphasis, if any, is placed on the Blue-White Game from an evaluation standpoint, or do you just treat it as one practice?

A: This is just one practice. It’s more for the fans, it’s more for the alumni, it’s more for the community than anything. This is another practice for us. I will say this: It’s a little bit different going into the stadium. We haven’t been able to get in there this year. I’d like to be able to go in there more for the Saturday scrimmages when the weather’s better. Some guys, they practice like crazy out on the practice field, and you go in the stadium it’s just different for them. Some guys step up more, and some guys fall off. So I think going into that stadium and seeing how guys are going to react with some fans in there, 80,000 going crazy, I think that’s a good form of evaluation, as well.

Q: As you wrap up the spring, what areas will you stress to the players to focus on this summer so they’re ready for fall camp.

A: I think it’s everything. We’ve laid a nice foundation this spring, we’ve got to build on it. That’s getting bigger, stronger, faster, quicker. That’s playing the game faster because of their confidence in the schemes and knowing what to do. . That’s going to be very important that we can go out and play fast and that we can play without hesitation.

Q: Recruiting has gone very well so far, so how good do you feel about what you’ve been able to put together in a short period of time?

A: I’ve been pleased. I think the staff’s working really hard. We’ve got a lot of things to sell here. I’m excited about where we’re going. I wish we had a little bit more scholarships. We’re not going to have the maximum amount of scholarships in this class, and I wish we had more because I think we could sign 25 to 30 really good players this year.

Q: You are getting the scholarships back the next couple of years, so how important is that?

A: It’s great, but I want them all back now. It is good, and I know we’re making progress. But every one of them is like gold. They’re too important. What we’ve got to do a good job is not only getting the high-end guys that everybody in America wants, but just as valuable as that is not making mistakes, bringing the right guys in here. That’s what’s in the best interests of Penn State, and that’s what’s in the best interests of the kid. You want to bring guys here that have a chance to play and have a great career.