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Observations From Penn State Football Practice

Penn State opened practice during its football media day. Here's what we saw.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. | Penn State coach James Franklin capped Week 1 of training camp by hosting the program's annual football media day at Beaver Stadium. Before opening practice for about 20 minutes, Franklin and his team previewed the 2022 season, which gets underway Sept. 1 at Purdue.

How did things go? Here are a few insights and observations from Penn State football media day.

Training camp questions

Franklin has shined a spotlight on Penn State's depth, which he said is better equipped to compensate for any positional lapses than in years past. But the Lions still are sorting through some issues.

Two are on defense, notably at linebacker and at safety opposite Ji'Ayir Brown. Franklin likes the "legitimate competition" at middle linebacker between Kobe King and Tyler Elsdon, who missed part of spring practice with an injury. In addition, true freshman Keon Wylie has started his career at the position, likely to provide situational depth this season.

Offensively, Franklin again underplayed his expectations for the offensive line, saying he would take a more "measured approach" and allow the linemen to prove themselves. However, players and coaches said they have seen notable improvements on both the line and at running back. In fact, running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider said only serious injuries would limit the run game's improvement.

Manny Diaz is a whirlwind  

Penn State's defensive coordinator might not have brought the turnover chain from Miami, but he has brought his turnover mindset.

"Manny Diaz is emphasizing turnovers like crazy," Franklin said. A few hours later, Diaz sat hunched beside a passing machine which rifled short-range fastballs to Penn State defenders. He analyzed every catch and drop.

'Must be on easy mode now, because you can't miss," Diaz said at one point.

Diaz was a dynamo Saturday, sprinting through drills with non-stop chatter. In that way he's similar to former defensive coordinator Brent Pry, who carried the same energy. But he also has been relentless about turnover production.

"Because of that," Franklin said, "we're getting our hands on so many more balls."

Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz

Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has brought his emphasis of turnovers from Miami.

Why Sean Clifford is doing more yoga

The Penn State quarterback sounded both relaxed and energized Saturday, which he attributed in part to being a quarterback and entrepreneur. It might also have something to do with adding more yoga to his training schedule.

Clifford and strength coach Chuck Losey made yoga a bigger part of the quarterback's regimen to improve his flexibility and mobility.

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"I've learned that mobility is key," Clifford said. "That's been a big emphasis for me. Strength training is one thing. It's great when you come in as a freshman and you've got to put on some weight. But when you get up to my age, I'm 24 now, realistically it's all about how can I move better, how can I make plays better."

Secondary depth is shining

Franklin singled out returning cornerback Johnny Dixon as an early camp standout as a signal of the defensive backfield's depth. Franklin said that has prodded the starters to realize how they "could be replaced."

Joey Porter, Jr. and Kalen King project as the starting corners, but the Lions are deep at the position. Dixon, Daequan Hardy and Marquis Wilson have cornerback experience, and the staff holds promise for young safeties Zakee Wheatley and Jaylen Reed along with veteran Keaton Ellis.

Perhaps it's good that Penn State opens the season against Purdue's high-powered passing offense.

Some unique punters emerge

Three punters are competing to replace Jordan Stout, all with unique stories. The early leader has been Barney Amor, a sixth-year senior who punted at Colgate and joined the team as a walk-on in 2021. He has two undergraduate degrees from Colgate and already has a Master's from Penn State.

Gabriel Nwosu, a walk-on from Maryland, is the punter who stands out most from the crowd. He's 6-7, 276 pounds (having slimmed down since the Blue-White Game) and generates plenty of power. Then there's true freshman Alex Bacchetta, a scholarship specialist who was the nation's top-ranked punter of the 2022 recruiting cycle, according to Kohl's Kicking.

The play of practice

Saturday's practice viewing window was short, less than 20 minutes, during which the Lions conducted mostly special-teams drills. But one moment stood out.

Freshman linebacker Abdul Carter, who wears the coveted No. 11 in Penn State's defense, one-handed a ball during the Diaz-run interception drills. The play made even Diaz gasp.

Carter is a player to watch at a position that needs depth.

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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button's on the home page) for more great content across the network.