Nittany Lions Shift Focus to UCF

Penn State coach James Franklin addresses several key areas as his squad breaks preseason camp.

With a week and a half remaining before its season-opening game against UCF in Dublin, Penn State's preseason focus is now turning to the Knights.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, first-year Nittany Lion coach James Franklin said the training camp portion of the preseason -- where the focus was primarily on improvement and self-evaluation -- is essentially over.

“We basically ended camp last night and are kind of starting on UCF today with scout team and things like that,” Franklin said.

He admitted some of the off-season was spent sizing up the Knights. But that prep work was put on the back burner when camp began earlier this month.

“Now we're going back after having a better idea of who we are on offense, defense and special teams,” Franklin said. “We're at the very beginning of (UCF prep) right now, although we've done some legwork ahead of time.”

So where does Penn State stand in some key areas as camp is breaking? Read on:

• The offensive line, which will feature four new starters, continues to be a work in progress. Though Franklin was not specific, he said injuries have prevented the unit from developing chemistry to this point.

“We haven't really had the same five guys at the same five spots for multiple practices,” he said. “That's where we're at now. … Now, it's how do we get the best five on the field, complementing each other, playing as a unit and getting some consistency there.”

PSU will not have a standard two-deep on the offensive line. The staff will identify the top “seven or eight” men and “those guys are gonna have to be trained at multiple spots -- which makes that consistency and cohesiveness that you need in the unit difficult.”

Franklin added that converted defensive tackles Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia -- who now project as the starting offensive guards -- are still adjusting to playing their new positions.

“What they do have is they are both really smart and really motivated, and they're both very tough and really good athletes for offensive linemen.”

“What they do have is they are both really smart and really motivated, and they're both very tough and really good athletes for offensive linemen,” Franklin said. “We just have to keep working them and finding ways to gain that experience through practice and video.”

• Linebacker is another area where depth is an issue. But Franklin said he is comfortable with the projected starting three of Mike Hull (middle), and Brandon Bell (outside) and Nyeem Wartman (outside).

Franklin has been heaping praise on Hull for months, and there was more of it Wednesday as he said the senior captain “always has a huge impact” when he's on the field. He lauded the outside 'backers, too.

“Bell and Wartman have had really good camps,” Franklin said. “They've done some nice things.”

Meanwhile, true freshman OLB Jason Cabinda is “a guy whose shown us he's gonna be able to help us in some role.” Franklin also mentioned backup MLB Gary Wooten as being in the mix for playing time.

Beyond that, though, linebacker depth may have to be addressed by using a “Star” LB/DB hybrid or simply by playing a nickel.

• Things sure have changed from the days where Penn State's head coach refused to talk about true freshmen.

Besides Cabinda, rookies who Franklin mentioned by name as figuring into things were receivers Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall, tight end Mike Gesicki, safety Marcus Allen, and cornerback Grant Haley.

• Speaking of cornerbacks, junior Jordan Lucas appears to have one spot nailed down. What about the other?

“Trevor (Williams) has the most reps and experience,” Franklin said. “But the other guys are making a case for themselves, as well.”

The other guys include junior Da'Quan Davis and Haley. Franklin said PSU will have as many as five corners ready to play.

• Franklin has been very positive about his defensive line talent since the spring. Wednesday, he singled out end Carl Nassib (“he's had a great camp; his motor is unbelievable”) and tackle Austin Johnson (“he's so big and athletic, and has a great motor and is difficult to deal with”) for shining in the preseason.

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