STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Quarterback Trace McSorley raised his voice to a level that hadn’t been heard before — at least not by reporters — as he pulled aside Danny Dalton for a teachable moment during Penn State’s Wednesday night spring practice.
Dalton, one of the Nittany Lions’ many tight ends vying for an increased role this year, got an earful from Penn State’s fiery quarterback after he was caught from behind and Cam Brown forced a fumble. The quarterback then tapped Dalton on the helmet after the exchange was over on the sideline as if to pick him up and say all is well.
It was just one of those off nights for the Nittany Lions on the practice field, and McSorley wasn’t the only one fired up following Penn State’s practice inside Holuba Hall.
“I wasn’t happy with today,” James Franklin said after the 11th practice of the spring. “We’re a mature football team. You guys know we never run guys after practice, that’s junior high stuff. I thought we were sloppy today. You guys know I’m a pretty positive guy, but I thought we were too sloppy, had too many penalties, balls on the ground, dropped balls, just a lack of discipline. I was not pleased today, but overall I thought we’ve had a damn good spring, but I was not pleased with today.”
Franklin had his players line the sideline for a series of wind sprints to conclude the workout, only to huddle them up and then send them back out for another sprint. He paced the field as they ran back and forth. The team’s lack of focus was something that he said ultimately falls on him and on Penn State’s leadership.
“Great teams, good teams don’t do that,” Franklin said of the sloppy practice. “Obviously we’ve got a lot of growing up to do. It was unacceptable on every level. We’ll never accept poor performances in the classroom, we’ll never accept poor performances on the football field and we’ll never accept poor behaviors in the community.”
Chemistry and leadership are often built during the offseason and Franklin was pleased that McSorley stepped up and displayed vocal leadership when getting on Dalton.
While McSorley is the player teammates huddle around before games on Saturdays in the fall, his experience heading into his senior season should help the younger players understand what it takes in the spring to achieve success. Franklin hopes others continue to be more vocal, as well.
If that means laying into a teammate for a lack of execution and then picking them right back up afterward, Franklin is all for it.
“I think he saw some things like I saw today that are unacceptable. Lack of focus, lack of finish, lack of mentality, lack of championship habits which is what we talk about all the time,” Franklin said of McSorley. “I would hope guys like Trace and Nick Scott, guys who’ve played a lot of football for us would speak up and hold themselves accountable and hold other guys accountable and call people out.
“I think that’s one of our problems now in our society and especially specific to sports and specific to young people, everybody wants to be a leader by example and no one wants to be a vocal leader,” Franklin continued. “I don’t care, in any organization, on any team you have to have some verbal leaders that are willing to speak up and tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.”
Franklin’s message to the team after he huddled them after the second set of sprints didn’t fall on deaf ears.
“We just need to pick it up,” running back Miles Sanders said. “We let this day slip away from us. … I think this is our 11th practice, so, yeah, we just let this day slip away from us..”
Other observations from the 11th practice of the spring:
• Franklin said defensive end Shane Simmons is now more than 250 pounds after being “undersized” last year during his redshirt freshman season. Shaka Toney’s weight is also up as Franklin said Toney is “finally getting bigger and stronger.” Franklin said defensive end needs to be an area of strength while the defensive tackles mature.
• Sanders spent extra time this offseason working on catching passes out of the backfield. How has Sanders looked this spring?
“The challenge is he’ll make four people miss and go 80 [yards] and we’re all like, ‘Next play’ because we’ve been spoiled with Saquon Barkley for the last couple years,” Franklin said. “I do think Miles is in that conversation in terms of what he’s been able show and what he’s been able to do so far.”
• Penn State worked a few scenarios toward the end of the practice, including one from late in the game with Ohio State. Franklin likes to go back and highlight different scenarios from crunch time from seasons past to reinforce why they’re out there going through so many scenarios even on a dreary day in mid April.
• Punter Blake Gillikin, whom Franklin said last week could also take on kickoff duties this season, did so Wednesday. Gillikin is also the team’s No. 2 kicker for the spring and is also the holder. Realistically, punting, holding and kickoffs could all be on his plate this fall.
• Redshirt freshman CJ Thorpe might be Penn State’s top lineman in the run game, Franklin said. Thorpe’s nastiness was praised last year on the scout team and has carried over to the spring. For a line that was criticized by Franklin for lacking that nasty streak at points last season, that’s a development worth noting. However, Thorpe needs to improve in pass protection.
“I want us to play with that mentality, to play with that edge,” Franklin said.
• Fellow redshirt freshman O-lineman Des Holmes is excelling in pass protection and needs to continue improving in the run game, Franklin said. Both Homes and Thorpe are 315-plus pounds and got what Franklin called “unbelievable” reviews for their scout team work last season.
• McSorley has been high on Dalton this spring, praising him just last week for his development. Penn State needs someone to step up at tight end, which perhaps was part of McSorley’s momentary frustration.