Penn State on Saturday will host its largest contingent of fans at Beaver Stadium since 2019, but it's still not comparable to what some programs are doing around the country. Coach James Franklin noted the recruiting implications of that Wednesday.
Penn State will host first-year students and players' families Saturday for its final spring football practice while offering a virtual experience for those fans who cannot attend. No walk-ups, no tailgating, Penn State said.
Normally, Penn State's Blue-White Game is a huge social gathering and recruiting weekend as well, though the NCAA dead period and COVID-19 will preclude both for a bit longer.
With that as a backdrop, Franklin told a recruiting story during his post-practice media availability that underscored some of the constraints he and other coaches face. Franklin can't mention specific names because of NCAA rules regarding recruiting, yet it was interesting.
"One of the challenges we have is, we're recruiting guys that want to come to our spring game and who are going down South," Franklin said. "One kid we’re recruiting here in the state of Pennsylvania, he's going down South, and you would never even know that there was a pandemic. They're having a wide-open spring game with fans and full capacity and everything else. He's going to go get that experience, and obviously we'd love to be able to provide a similar type of experience. But I do think [Saturday] is a step in the right direction, and we're appreciative of that."
So it goes in recruiting, where everyone grabs an edge. Watch Franklin's full answer above. And here are some other notes from spring drills:
Gauging the running backs
Noah Cain, who was injured on Penn State's first offensive series of 2020, is "a little bit further ahead" this spring than Franklin expected. Cain has practiced, though not in live drills, and Franklin has said he expects the back to be ready for the season.
As for the rest of the backfield, Franklin reiterated that he's still looking for consistency, particularly from Devyn Ford.
"Devyn Ford has shown flashes, but I think as a group in general we still need to be a little bit more consistent," Franklin said. "I think there's still a lot left in the tank at the position, and even with Devyn. You make the argument that's also exciting, because they've shown flashes. But it's all about consistency, day in and day out. ... I'm seeing Devyn do good things more often and more consistently, but it's still not where we need it to be."
A spark in the secondary
Freshman cornerback Kalen King, who enrolled in January with twin brother Kobe, continues to be the most-praised young player this spring. Franklin said King and Johnny Dixon, who transferred from South Carolina, have given him a fresh perspective on the secondary.
"I thought we had a chance to be good [in the secondary], but the additions of Johnny Dixon and Kalen King have changed things," Franklin said. "And I think we have a lot more guys that we can play with and win with. Kalen King is probably the most advanced freshman that we have had since we've been here in terms of his ability to practice and compete both physically and mentally. He's really doing well."
Good work for the QBs
Franklin said his quarterbacks, particularly Ta'Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux, have gotten plenty of good work and extra responsibility this spring. Franklin said he feels good about starter Sean Clifford and having developed both young quarterbacks as backups.
Regarding the NCAA Transfer Portal, and whether he might add another quarterback, Franklin said he plans to remain vigilant for possible offers. He also expects the portal wave to crest twice more; after spring drills and before the season starts.
So what's happening Saturday?
Penn State's final spring practice will include some "bells and whistles" of a traditional Blue-White Game but will hew closer to a traditional practice in format. Franklin defined the difference.
"I think you can make arguments both ways," Franklin said. "The Blue-White Game is usually an opportunity to divide the team and the coaching staff up and play as close to a game as you can. But there's also the value in the practices, where you're going 1s against 1s and 2s against 2s. It's more offense vs. defense and you're getting situations covered.
"Sometimes with a scrimmage, to make it more digestible for the fans and for TV, that it's more to what they're used to watching. But when it's something like this and it's more of a practice, you can make an argument that we'll get a lot out of it from that perspective as well."
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