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Sights and Sounds From Penn State Football Practice

Go behind the scenes at Penn State's second practice of 2021 training camp.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — "Camera guy good?"

The shout came from behind the play at Penn State's second practice of training camp, during a drill pitting defensive backs vs. receivers in close quarters. After defending a fade pass, Brisker barreled into a Penn State videographer, the risk of competing in a confined space.

Both Brisker and the videographer were fine, as was the camera, and practice No. 2 resumed at a hectic pace. The Lions were four weeks from taking the field at Wisconsin and had plenty to accomplish.

Yet, compared to the unconventional 2020 preseason, Penn State is way ahead of where it was last year.

"We're probably more aggressive than we've ever been, in terms of the number of defenses we're seeing early in camp, and the same on offense," Franklin said before practice at the team's media day. "Part of that is, I think, just kind of the style that we want to play and how we want to do it. Part of that is how we've been able to maximize the offseason and walkthroughs from an NCAA and Big Ten perspective."

Safety Jaquan Brisker (1) breaks up a pass. His next stop was the videographer (right).

Safety Jaquan Brisker (1) breaks up a pass. His next stop was the videographer (right).

Penn State welcomed the media back to practice and in-person interviews Saturday for the first time since 2019, offering a 25-minute viewing window into the afternoon session. The Lions conducted mostly technical drills during the open portion of practice, though a few themes emerged.

Before practice, Franklin said his players are "bigger, stronger and faster" than ever. That was particularly evident with some of the younger players, who went through their first or second set of winter workouts.

Practice also carried a lot of voltage, especially from the assistant coaches who ran positional drills. Here's a look at what we saw and heard from media day and practice.

Will Penn State's offense resemble 2016 again?

One of Franklin's main preseason themes has been to cast Mike Yurcich's 2021 offense in the spread terms fans might remember from the Joe Moorhead days. Franklin and Yurcich certainly aren't promising mirror images or 1:1 comparisons, but the head coach projects more than a few similarities — notably spreading defenses, getting offensive weapons into free space and running the ball effectively.

"I guess going back to [former offensive coordinator] Joe Moorhead, yeah, I think it's similar to that," Franklin said. "Even when we first got to Vanderbilt, we had a lot of spread concepts. Then we kind of took it to a whole other level with Joe. We're back to that. That's really kind of who we wanted to be the entire time that we've been here.

"With the athletes that we have at receiver and at tight end — and running back, that was another big part of it — it's just getting as many guys involved, get as many guys touches, getting as many guys in space as possible. But then, you still want to make sure you have the ability to run with power and you want to be able to run in situational football."

Quarterback Sean Clifford meets the media.

Quarterback Sean Clifford meets the media.

Mike Yurcich isn't shy about his expectations

Yurcich didn't get into many specifics Saturday and offered a healthy dose of coachspeak, such as, "This is a very humbling game, and once you think you’ve arrived, or once you think, 'Hey, he's really good, he’s where we need him to be,' you’re going to get caught from behind."

But Yurcich did set a public expectation level for the offense. It's surely similar to every offensive coordinator, but Yurcich was quite stark. Asked specifically about the receivers, the coordinator broadened his expectations to the entire offense.

"Where are we as a receivers room? Not where we need to be, none of them," Yurcich said. "I don't care which individual you look at on our offensive unit, we're not where we need to be yet. We're always going to have that mentality. ... Regardless of what the last practice was, regardless of what the last game's result was, there has to be an attitude of relentless pursuit to get better and to improve."

Penn State has options at defensive end

Franklin confirmed that defensive end Adisa Isaac likely will miss the 2021 season, a difficult blow for Isaac and a line that already lost three starters from last season. But Franklin and defensive coordinator Brent Pry suggested the team has strong replacement options. Pry even recalled the 2016 season when injuries tore through his linebacker unit, saying that if he can get through that, he can get through anything.

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Pry spotlighted Temple transfer Arnold Ebiketie, linebacker/end hybrid Jesse Luketa, redshirt sophomore Smith Vilbert, redshirt freshman Zuriah Fisher and redshirt freshman Amin Vanover, who moved from tackle to end recently.

Pry was particularly high on Vilbert, whom he compared to former Penn State star Yetur Gross-Matos and found to be an impressive basketball player in high school.

"Smith’s finally turning the corner and really he’s a football player for the first time, not a basketball player playing football," Pry said.

Gauging the assistants

The media saw some Penn State assistants, notably Yurcich, offensive line coach Phil Trautwein, defensive line coach John Scott Jr. and receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield, on the practice field for the first time. They carry themselves differently but are quite technical in their approaches.

Trautwein isn't afraid to get into a stance with his linemen. Scott doesn't have the booming voice of former line coach Sean Spencer but pushes with personality. He nudged defensive tackle Fatorma Mulbah through a drill by calling him "probably the strongest person in the eastern United States." Stubblefield rarely stops smiling.

Defensive tackle Fatorma Mulbah (left) during a blocking drill.

Defensive tackle Fatorma Mulbah (left) during a blocking drill.

Yurcich, meanwhile, has some energy as well. Players call him "the Juice" because of his field persona.

Veteran coaches, meanwhile, looked their part. Cornerbacks coach Terry Smith ran an interesting drill, during which he fired difficult-to-catch balls at defensive backs' knees, shoulders and hips. The drill was meant to improve Penn State's four-interception performance of last season.

"Nobody's going to throw the ball right to you," Smith told the contorting players.

Franklin stalked the entire session imploring players to be louder. He was particularly emphatic about that during a series of kick-return drills.

Penn State opens the season at Camp Randall Stadium, one of the Big Ten's loudest venues, and hasn't played a true fans-in-the-stands road game since visiting Ohio State in November 2019. No wonder Franklin already has begun asking for players to speak up.

Faces in new places

As noted above, Luketa is practicing at end and linebacker, where he played last year. Luketa's shift to end likely coincided with Isaac's injury.

Marquis Wilson is listed as an "athlete" on the roster, meaning he could play defensive back and receiver. Pry said Wilson is working primarily with the defense now, though he practiced with the receivers in the spring.

Former cornerback Keaton Ellis is playing free safety, though Pry said he's comfortable playing Ellis at multiple spots in the secondary.

Pry also said that safety and special teams leader Jonathan Sutherland captain is practicing a bit at linebacker.

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