Fresh start for coach Franklin, players as Penn State camp opens
It might have been taken as clichéd coachspeak when James Franklin said soon after taking the Penn State coaching job in January that all players were starting with a “clean slate” and that “there are no returning starters at any position — any position.”
Franklin — officially, at least — has backed up those words as preseason camp begins Monday in University Park.
When Penn State released its official “depth chart” late last month, players weren't listed in order of projected starters or by way of returning starters from last season. The so-called depth chart was merely a grouping of players by position, ranked entirely by class.
“I want the message to our players and everybody involved to be that you're going to have to come and compete and earn your job every single year and every single day,” Franklin said.
While examining a seniority-based depth chart reveals little about the projected makeup of the starting lineup and top rotation players for the Aug. 30 season opener against Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland, it does shed some light on just how inexperienced — by class — the Nittany Lions are.
A look at some of the telling — and, if you're a PSU fan, chilling — numbers:
• There are only two healthy seniors (by eligibility) on the entire offense.
• On defense, there are only four seniors who originally enrolled at Penn State on scholarship.
• Leaving out veteran left tackle Donovan Smith and accounting only for healthy players who are returning from last season, the class-by-eligibility at the top of the depth chart at the other four offensive line spots reads, from right to left: freshman, junior, freshman, freshman. Remember, the top of the depth chart is listed by class.
• Two of the three wide receiver positions (the “Z” and the “F”) have one sophomore at the top, followed by freshmen. (An aside: The eight players listed at the Z and F have zero combined career college receptions).
• After fifth-year senior Mike Hull, there are three scholarship sophomores and then only walk-ons and true freshmen among healthy linebackers.
• Despite arriving on campus less than 14 months ago, Christian Hackenberg is the lone quarterback on the team to have so much as jogged onto a college football field during a game.
It's easy to see how the NCAA sanctions of 2012 — with its scholarship restrictions and allowance for then-current players to transfer without penalty — are beginning to show, arguably, their grimmest effects this season.
“It's going to be very, very important to us to create depth throughout our roster and play as many guys as we possibly can,” Franklin said.
Franklin insists none of the incoming freshmen were promised immediate playing time while being recruited, but he does allow that they will be given a “legitimate chance to compete for a starting position ... or playing time.”
On the practice field Monday, they'll get their first formal chance to show they can earn it.