PSU camp ‘consistent’
STATE COLLEGE — Penn State had as good of a training camp as it could have hoped for, and now the team is in game prep mode getting set for Saturday’s opener against Akron.
The Nittany Lions made it through camp healthy and were able to get a lot of players some reps at positions all across the field.
“We’re in a really good place right now,” coach James Franklin said Tuesday. “Probably the most consistent training camp that I’ve been associated with. That’s probably the word that best describes how our offseason and how our camp went.”
Franklin was asked later on to describe what he meant by having a consistent camp.
“The programs that I’ve been associated with, you get into the dog days of summer camp, and there’s always one or two practices where the guys are sore or it’s hot or they are tired or whatever it is, and you’ve got to pull it out of them,” the coach said.
“You’ve got to go out there and you’re using every method and every technique you’ve got to try to get them to practice as hard as you think that they need to practice. We didn’t have that.”
The leaders on the team, he added, “really brought the right energy and mindset out to practice every single day, and we practiced really, really well.”
One big part of the way the Lions practiced during camp came about because of the program’s improved depth, which Franklin has spoken of repeatedly over the past year.
The coaches were able to get a lot of second- and third-teamers a large number of reps, with the more established veterans already having proven themselves.
Now that camp is over, the focus switches to game prep mode and making sure all the players are ready physically and mentally to be at their best come kickoff time.
“The maturity of our team helps with that,” Franklin said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have played a lot of football for us. I think that helps.”
As far as getting ready to play a game, Franklin and the coaches did something a little different during camp.
“One of the things that we made a conscious choice of this year is to go into the stadium and play in the stadium more,” Franklin said. “You know, get in there and practice in the stadium. Because some guys, they just get in that environment, whether it’s packed with 107,000 fans or not, it’s just, it’s different in there, even with the JumboTrons on and the music going.
“So we went in there and the crowd noise going and the bands going and all that kind of stuff to try to get our guys a little bit more comfortable of being in there.”
There were no real surprises on PSU’s initial depth chart of the season, primarily because the Lions return key players in positions across the board.
Even in situations like at receiver, while DeAndre Thompkins is listed ahead of Saeed Blacknall at the Z spot, both will play significant time.
The offensive line will be Ryan Bates at left tackle, Steven Gonzalez at left guard, Connor McGovern at center, Brendan Mahon at right guard and Chasz Wright at right tackle. Andrew Nelson, who isn’t quite 100 percent yet after a knee injury last year, is second team right tackle.
Bates has the all-important spot at left tackle and is happy to have a permanent home after moving around some last year.
“I feel more comfortable at tackle, just naturally,” he said. “I trust my ability. I’ve always considered myself to have good feet and that always helps being on the outside, like they say, on your own island.”
Tyler Davis will kick off with Joey Julius away from the team. Miles Sanders and Brandon Polk are listed as the top two kickoff returners, while Thompkins is the top punt returner.
Lewisburg’s Brandon Smith is No. 2 at middle linebacker behind Jason Cabinda and No. 3 at weak side linebacker behind starter Manny Bowen and Cam Brown.
Altoona’s Kevin Givens is second-team defensive tackle, and Hollidaysburg’s Zach Simpson is the backup center. Central receiver Alex Hoenstine isn’t listed on the depth chart and most likely will receive a redshirt.
Freshmen to play
Franklin singled out three true freshmen who will be playing immediately this season: highly touted cornerback Lamont Wade, cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields and explosive defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos.
Those players likely will see some time on defense, but being able to use them on special teams also is important.
“That’s probably a major factor in when you decide to burn a guy’s redshirt and play him as a true freshman is how much of a role do you see them having on special teams,” Franklin said.
Bates showed up to the press conference podium wearing glasses, then told a funny story on how that came about.
“I went home some time through the summer, and my mom is, ‘Hey, why don’t you get your eyes checked,'” Bates said. “I was like, whatever, I have nothing to do. Apparently I can’t see. Apparently I need glasses.”
Bates, who drew a lot of laughs with his answer, later said he’s nearsighted and won’t need to wear contacts or glasses on the field.
Defensive tackle Curtis Cothran was asked who’s the best basketball player on the team and mentioned some names, including defensive end Torrence Brown, receiver DaeSean Hamilton and defensive tackle Parker Cothren.
There was some laughter when Cothran was reminded about forgetting to mention tight end Mike Gesicki, and he quickly edited his answer.
“Oh, Mike Gesicki is definitely the best basketball player on the team,” he said.