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Offense has big things in store

Special to Lewistown Sentinel

INDIANAPOLIS – Some coaches approach the preseason by taking a guarded attitude publicly.

That was not the case with James Franklin on Wednesday.

Speaking at Big Ten Media Day, Franklin brought optimism for the upcoming season, especially what he expects from his offense.

The Nittany Lions are coming off a 7-6 season and are 11-11 over the past two years.

“We’ve had a fantastic summer, and we’re excited about going into training camp (which starts Sunday),” Franklin said at Lucas Oil Stadium. “I love our overall depth. It’s as good as it’s been.”

Franklin, entering his ninth year at Penn State, noted that expected starting quarterback Sean Clifford is a three-year captain, but he quickly referenced backup candidates Christian Veilleux and true freshmen Drew Allar and Beau Pribula.

Allar was the nation’s top-rated quarterback in the 2022 recruiting class.

“With four quarterbacks we feel very strong about, we feel great about the competition in that room,” he said.

Speaking of “rooms,” Franklin singled out the Lions’ other skill position groups.

“I put our tight end room against any other program in the country,” he said. “Same thing with our running back room.”

Despite losing star receiver Jahan Dotson, a first-round pick (Washington Commanders), which he called “impactful,” Franklin predicted, “Our two-deep and our three starters have a chance to be as good if not better (than 2021).”

Parker Washington returns to go with Western Kentucky transfer Mitchell Tinsley.

Franklin stopped short of raving about the offensive line, which has been a program trouble spot.

“O-line is the group we talk about every year, and I tell you this is going to be the year for the next step at that position,” Franklin said. “I’m not going to do that this year. I’m going to let them prove that on the field, but I’m very pleased with the position and the depth we’ve created.”

Overall, he said, “I feel very good about what we’re going to be able to do on the offensive side of the ball.”

Defensively, Franklin is eager for the return of defensive tackle P.J. Mustipher, who was lost for the season at Iowa with a knee injury. Clifford was hurt that day, too, and the Lions lost six of their last eight games.

Mustipher missed spring practice but will be ready for the Sept. 1 opener at Purdue, Franklin said.

Mustipher, Clifford and safety Ji’Ayir Brown represented the Lions here, and Mustipher “crushed” a steak at St. Elmo’s that was “the biggest I’ve ever seen,” Franklin said.

“He’s in great spirits,” Franklin said. “He feels both mentally and physically back. We’re blessed and fortunate to have him as a leader of our defense, and I think you’ll see big things out of him this year.”

Defensive end Adisa Isaac also returns from injury that cost him the entire season and Maryland transfer Chop Robinson may start at the other end.

Franklin thinks the secondary, with Brown and Joey Porter Jr., “has a chance to be a strength,” but admitted the search is on for a middle linebacker beside Curtis Jacobs and Jonathan Sutherland.

“Linebacker is a question,” he said. “We feel really good about our two outside positions. At middle linebacker, we’ll have a competition that will go deep into camp.”

Franklin would not go into specifics about last week’s report that Clifford has spoken with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren about medical benefits and revenue sharing.

“That’s the nature of college football right now. You better be willing to have those discussions,” he said. “There’s been more changes in college football in the last three years than probably the last 25. Our players, specifically Sean, want what’s best for college athletics and Penn State and the Big Ten.”

Clifford declined to elaborate beyond his statement last week, saying, “Do I want to make changes for college athletics? Absolutely. But I’m here for Penn State football and Sept. 1.”

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