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Takeaways from Penn State's First Spring Football Practice

The new coordinators take charge, and Julian Fleming debuts as the Nittany Lions open spring drills.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. |  A warm and sunny State College afternoon was a good reminder that spring is nearing. But in case you needed another one, Penn State on Tuesday held its first spring football practice outside Holuba Hall, officially kicking off the 2024 season.

The early enrollees of Penn State's 2024 recruiting class and the transfer-portal newcomers took part in football activities as Nittany Lions for the first time, while head coach James Franklin’s trio of new coordinators finally got onto the field. Here's what we saw at practice No. 1.

The new coordinators take charge

Offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki’s voice and energy were quickly noticeable as he prodded for more urgency in a ball-security drill, and wide receiver Julian Fleming was near the top of each drill’s rotation in his highly anticipated return to Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Tom Allen was vocal with his new group of linebackers. Abdul Carter made his debut at defensive end after playing the past two seasons at linebacker.

"I think Tom is really, really enjoying being a coordinator again," Franklin said.

Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Allen instructs his players during spring football practice in State College.

Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Allen takes the field for the first time as the Nittany Lions begin spring football practice.

Franklin believes in his receivers

A lack of talent didn't cause Penn State’s struggles at wide receiver in 2023, at least as far as Franklin is concerned. He contended that Penn State’s receivers typically stack up with other schools’ in most athletic measurements. Franklin then said some changes Kotelnicki will make can help boost Drew Allar and the passing game.

Receivers coach Marques Hagans, who was right alongside Kotelnicki during drills Tuesday, is in his second year. And Fleming's presence, on the field and in the locker room, will help. Multiple staff members have raved about his impact thus far.

“I didn't really feel like we needed to go out and do a whole lot in the transfer portal, but we needed to make sure we had enough competition at every single position to bring out the best and not only those guys individually, but also us as a team,” Franklin said. “I think Julian has helped with that as well as the younger players already in our program taking the next step.

“When I say younger players, that's really all of them, including some of the veteran guys that now have played a decent amount of football that we anticipate and fully expect them to take the next step.”

Penn State receiver Julian Fleming runs a drill during spring football practice in State College.

Penn State receiver Julian Fleming runs a drill during spring football practice in State College.

The safeties are thriving

Franklin said emphatically that fourth-year safety Zakee Wheatley is having “by far” the best offseason of his career, which could have ripple effects through the secondary. Stalwart safety Jaylen Reed is a candidate to play the nickel cornerback position this year, which has been renamed the “Lion” in Allen’s defense. Reed could be part of a committee to replace significant production from NFL hopeful Daequan Hardy.

"[K.J.] Winston, Reed, Wheatley, and [King] Mack played a decent amount of football last year and should create some flexibility, allow us to get three safeties on the field as we're determining who that nickel is going to be, whether it comes from the corner position or whether it comes from the safety position,” Franklin said. “Those three guys specifically, but really all four of them we have a ton of confidence in.”

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Max Ralph is a Penn State senior studying Broadcast Journalism with minors in sports studies and Japanese. He previously covered Penn State football for two years with The Daily Collegian and has reported with the Associated Press and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Follow him on Twitter (X) @maxralph_ and Instagram @mralph_59.

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