STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State’s first-team offense worked through the 2-minute drill Monday night in Holuba Hall, giving Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders situational work together, during a practice in which Nittany Lions showed they still have plenty of room to grow.
“I thought today was good, but the hard part for me is I want us to play really competitive and I want us to play with a lot of emotion and the hard part is to teach a team how do you take that to the edge without crossing the line,” coach James Franklin said Monday night following Penn State’s 13th practice of the spring. “I thought today we got a lot of really good work in, got a lot of situations covered, but I thought there was a few times where we became undisciplined.”
One instance Franklin referenced was when walk-on cornerback Jabari Butler picked off reserve quarterback Michael Shuster in the 2-minute drill. Rather than going to the ground with the ball, Butler was weaving in and out going for the return. The celebration that followed from the far sideline where Brent Pry’s defense waited for Butler also irked Franklin. File that under another lesson learned that he mentioned to the defense after practice.
“We’re cutting back across the field, making 50 people miss, exposing the football and then throwing the football up into the stands and I think we all saw that game a few years ago where they got a penalty like that and then they kicked off and returned the kickoff,” he said. “Just lapses of discipline today that I wasn’t really happy with, but overall I thought it was a very, very good practice. We’ve just got to mature at a few spots.”
Those moments are part of the growing pains that Penn State is working through this spring, one where the defense has plenty of holes to fill while the offense primarily needs a right guard, tight end and a running back who can help fill the massive void left by Saquon Barkley.
But what this team lacks in experience it is trying to make up for by playing with a little bit of that edge that Franklin mentioned. This also could be one of the fastest teams that takes the field during Franklin’s time at Penn State, two details that cornerback Amani Oruwariye has noticed this spring.
“We have swagger,” Oruwariye said. “We made a couple plays on some balls today on interceptions and it’s just guys being confident. We had a couple of times where guys threw the ball which is a little undisciplined of us, but guys are just playing confident and that comes with swagger. … We need that swagger. It shows that we’re confident in our work ethic and how we’re playing.”
Other observations from Monday:
• McSorley was picked off on a deep shot by safety Nick Scott during that 2-minute drill. It’s unclear who the intended receiver was but DeAndre Thompkins and Danny Dalton were both near the ball.
• Scott also had an interception during the team’s scrimmage last Saturday in Beaver Stadium, Oruwariye said, adding that Scott might be leading the pack with 3 picks this spring.
• Penn State’s first-team offensive line featured Michal Menet at right guard and Chasz Wright at right tackle. Will Fries repped at left tackle with the second team.
• Franklin said at one point last season that one could make the argument that the Lions are more of a 4-2-5 team. One has to wonder if that’s what they’ll play out of more often this season, as well. Their strength, at least for the time being, is in the secondary as opposed to the linebacking corps. So Oruwariye, Scott, John Reid, Garrett Taylor and Lamont Wade could be on the field together at times.
• Cam Brown worked in the middle linebacker spot during the 10-minute portion of practice that was open to the media. Micah Parsons was at the Will while Jarvis Miller and Koa Farmer worked at the Sam, too. But, don’t read into the linebacker situation too much as Franklin said he doesn’t expect to name a starter in the middle until well into fall camp.
For the time being he said there are too many players to even list at the middle linebacker position since they view their box linebackers as interchangeable. Saturday is another chance to evaluate all of them. What does Franklin need to see from whomever ends up landing that starting middle linebacker spot?
“It’s everything,” Franklin said. “It’s physically are they able to do it. It’s mentally are they able to do it. The verbal aspect of that from a leadership standpoint and trying to be able to understand it enough and understand what the offense is trying to do formationally to confidently bark out those call. It’s all those things.
“Right now, I wouldn’t say that we know what the answer is,” he continued. “I think we’ll be confident by the time camp ends, but I don’t think it’ll even be the beginning of camp. We’ll be pretty far into camp before we decide because we’ve got some pretty inexperienced guys and some veteran guys that are battling for that spot. For me, the picture hasn’t cleaned up yet. Coach Pry kind of feels the same way. It’s not one thing. It’s a combination of all those things.”
• Which receivers have tested the secondary this spring?
“We’re trying to kind of find that guy who can take the next step and obviously we haven’t had Juwan [Johnson] too much, but guys like [Mac] Hippenhammer, [Brandon] Polk and KJ Hamler are trying to step up and be that guy,” Oruwariye said.
• The format for the Blue-White game will continue to be the same as it’s been during Franklin’s tenure with the 1s (Blue squad) going against the 2s and 3s. Penn State practiced outside Saturday in Beaver Stadium, the team’s first outdoors workout this spring.
“It’s just another opportunity to go out and evaluate the guys,” Franklin said of the Blue-White game. “I’d like to get into the stadium more in spring ball. I’d like to get into the stadium more in camp, but with the weather this year we weren’t really able to do that. Just going into the stadium for some guys — Micah Parsons comes up to me wide-eyed on Saturday about being in the stadium.”
• Penn State recruited Nick Tarburton as a defensive end and after he arrived at 262 pounds it made more sense to keep him there. However, Tarburton slimmed down a bit after his arrival and got a shot at linebacker and “really did some nice things” Franklin said. The long-term plan, however, remains using him at defensive end.
“He’s already done some nice things for us there, but that was really from the beginning of recruiting him that was a possibility and his body would tell us what he was going to be,” Franklin said.
• Franklin said Tarburton and Parsons will have a large amount of family members and friends on hand for the spring game. Franklin said Parsons’ dad is renting a bus to bring a lot of people from Harrisburg.
• Penn State will have a jog-through for the spring game for the 14th practice on Friday to help prepare for the logistics of the spring game.