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Penn State begins to learn new football coaching staff's terminology, routes

Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State coach James Franklin answers questions by radio announcer Jeff Byers at the intermission of the wrestling match against Purdue at Recreation Hall on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in University Park.

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Spring storylines

Five things to watch during Penn State spring practice:


Some apparent position changes we have become aware of: Derek Dowrey from defensive to offensive line, Anthony Smith from cornerback to safety, Adrian Amos back to safety from corner, Mike Hull from outside linebacker to the inside. Will they stick? Will others emerge?


Five January enrollees go through their first practices with the Nittany Lions on Monday. Will any of them begin to show he can contribute immediately? The best bet is defensive tackle Tarow Barney, a junior-college transfer who's at a position of need. Wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins also has a shot to make a quick impression. Plus, eyes will be on four-star quarterback Michael O'Connor.


Starting spots won't be won or lost in March and April, but be sure coaches will be getting an early read on issues such as who will step in for Allen Robinson at wide receiver, who'll seize the three available starting spots on the offensive line and what players will fill vacancies at defensive tackle and in the secondary.


Players have seen the new coaching staff's philosophies played out on film from 2013 Vanderbilt's team. But this is their first chance, in a formal, full-squad practice setting, to begin to execute their new system.


From a pep rally-style signing day to bold declarations during news conferences, the new James Franklin-led coaching staff has been publicly done things differently than predecessors. How will that affect spring practice? Will more be open to media? Might we have Twitter updates from coaches? Perhaps a daily YouTube video wrapping up practice? Anything seems possible within the modus operandi of these coaches.

Sunday, March 16, 2014, 10:06 p.m.

UNIVERSITY PARK — Since being hired as Penn State's coach more than two months ago, James Franklin has talked big.

Big on recruiting. Big on Beaver Stadium attendance. Big on returning the program to nationally elite status.

When it comes to the most elementary of on-field official acts, though, Franklin sees no need to be brash.

Franklin and his staff will oversee their first Penn State practice Monday when the Lions open up with their first of 15 spring practices at the Lasch Building fields.

“We're not out to win spring ball,” Franklin said.

“Some coaches are so worried about winning spring practice — we just want to get better fundamentally and technique-wise.”

The Lions will practice Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays for each of the next four weeks with the exception of April 4.

The final spring practice will be the annual Blue-White Game at 1:30 p.m. April 12 at Beaver Stadium.

With players adjusting to a new coaching staff, spring is vital to learning and digesting new schemes and terminology.

“You really want to learn the playbook and get that down and everything to the point it's just like we knew our old playbook,” tight end Jesse James said.

Players have been watching film of Vanderbilt, the Franklin staff's former team.

Monday provides the first opportunity in a formal setting for players to act out some of the slight modifications made to how Bill O'Brien handled things.

Players don't describe the changes as overly significant outside of some verbiage.

“We've got to change our blocking steps a little bit, and the routes are a little bit different and the reads,” James said.

Franklin said his staff didn't watch too much film of Penn State's 2013 season for purposes of evaluating his players. Like O'Brien did, they're taking more of a “clean slate” approach.

“We're more trying to get our teach tapes and our install tapes put together,” Franklin said. “I want to lay the foundation in terms of work ethic, mentality and how we compete. Lay the foundation from a knowledge standpoint of how our offense, defense and special teams schemes work now, so when we come back in the summer the guys have a legitimate chance to compete for starting jobs.”

Position battles won't be won or lost in March and April, but players recognize this is their first chance to impress their new bosses. They might not be overtly competing for playing time, yet, but the groundwork established over these next four weeks will better equip them to do so when the time comes in August.

“Spring is a lot more about individual development for every guy on the team,” safety Jesse Della Valle said. “Everyone is kind of focusing on sharpening his skills, sharpening his footwork, things like that.

“Personally, I want to make sure that I'm ready to play, I'm mentally prepared, I'm physically prepared and … getting better going into camp in the summer.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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