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Penn State's Drew Allar 'Ready to Take the Next Step'

Coach James Franklin says the quarterback looks leaner and is "moving better" as spring practice begins.

For Penn State football coach James Franklin, spring practice comes with a countdown clock. How much can the Nittany Lions accomplish in 15 days over the next month? And how quickly can they do it?

"I think there does seem to be a sense of urgency," Franklin said Tuesday before the first workout. "The reality is, we've got three new coordinators, so for me to compare this first day to the last couple of first days [in previous seasons], that probably doesn't make sense. But there does need to be a sense of urgency between now and the end of training camp. I don't think there's any doubt about that."

Franklin's first media availability of spring drills brought some interesting insight about the 2024 Nittany Lions. Here are a few things we learned.

The new-look Drew Allar

Penn State's rising junior quarterback remains every bit of 6-5, 240 pounds. But Franklin said Allar looks and moves better now after a third winter in the weight room.

"I think he's ready to take the next step," Franklin said of Allar. "I think he's excited about some of the things that we're doing. He's had a great offseason. He's moving better. He looks better. He looks leaner. His weight is still very similar, but I think he's changed his body composition in a lot of ways."

That was notable from a head coach who has spent two years saying that Allar is more athletic than people suspect. Maybe the quarterback runs a little more in coordinator Andy Kotelnicki's offense?

Penn State quarterbacks Drew Allar (15) and Beau Pribula go through drills during the first day of spring practice in State College.

Penn State quarterbacks Drew Allar (15) and Beau Pribula go through drills during the first day of spring football practice in State College.

The offensive line will be tested

With three starters headed to the NFL, Penn State already had some key spring auditions to hold on the line. But two of those linemen will be sidelined. Franklin said that tackles Drew Shelton and Garrett Sexton will miss spring drills because of undisclosed injuries. Shelton is recovering from offseason surgery, meaning he'll be sidelined for a key developmental stretch. Still, Shelton remains the top candidate to replace Olu Fashanu at left tackle.

But injuries mean more reps for others, similar to a few years ago, when Penn State's line barely was healthy during spring drills. Redshirt freshman J'ven Williams will get a long look at left tackle, and Anthony Donkoh looks to be slotted on the right side. However, Wisconsin transfer Nolan Rucci already has bulked up in winter conditioning, adding about 15 pounds to his 6-7 frame. "I don't think he broke 300 pounds the entire time he was at the previous school and looks great," Franklin said.

Is the No. 3 running back a true freshman?

Quinton Martin has an opportunity to earn a role on offense this spring. The freshman running back enrolled early, made a strong first impression in winter workouts. He's raw, Franklin said, but has promise.

"We were a little bit surprised when he got here," Franklin said. "A really good football player, a really good football program [Belle Vernon High] but was kind of raw in terms of running a 40 and getting in a stance in the weight room and things like that. So we just think he's going to continue to kind of grow and explode dramatically over these next couple of months."

As for fellow Pennsylvania running back London Montgomery, Franklin would like to see him gain some weight.

"Every time he gets on the football field he really does some good things for us, but he has not changed his body a whole lot," Franklin said. "I think he's still only 185 pounds, so that's going to make it challenging for him. But in terms of football, he's pretty good. He's done some really good things for us at practice. He's just got to understand there's some things that he's going to have to do off the field to allow those things to translate on the field."

Penn State running back Quinton Martin runs a drill during Nittany Lions spring practice in State College.

Penn State running back Quinton Martin runs a drill during the first day of spring football practice in State College.

Seeking voices

This was an interesting observation from Franklin. Having coached for nearly 30 years, Franklin has experience across generations. And this group of players trends toward the quieter side, at least regarding leadership. Franklin appreciates that but wants more voices to emerge.

"A bunch about guys have to be willing to step outside of their comfort zone as leaders and be vocal leaders," Franklin said. "This generation, I think most guys want to be leaders through example and don't necessarily want to speak up and challenge and necessarily call out teammates from time to time. I've even talked about them being comfortable to walk into my office and have honest conversations with me. I want more of that. I want that type of feedback. I think it's really important."

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