Penn State begins new era with James Franklin

Penn State begins new era with James Franklin

Published Aug. 12, 2014 6:08 p.m. ET

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) James Franklin slams on the brakes of his speeding golf cart, which comes to a screeching, skidding stop, and causes a few of the people in the small crowd milling around just inside Beaver Stadium to practically jump out of their shoes.

Franklin lets out a big laugh as he gets out of the cart.

Penn State's new coach believes in emphatically announcing his arrival. He's done just that since taking over in January, injecting his in-your-face enthusiasm into the program and cleaning up on the recruiting trail.

The toughest part is next. The Nittany Lions are still recovering from NCAA sanctions from the Jerry Sandusky scandal that included a massive reduction in scholarships. They are also still banned from postseason play.


Penn State lacks depth and experience throughout the roster, and is painfully thin at linebacker and along the offensive line.

There is also some front-line talent and potential spread around the Nittany Lions' depth chart, including one of the most promising quarterbacks in the country in Christian Hackenberg.

Here are five things to know heading into Year 1 of the James Franklin era at Penn State, one filled with much hope for the long-term and a fair amount of concern for the short-term:

HACK LEADS THE PACK: Hackenberg started every game for Penn State as a freshman and played about as well as could be expected for someone whose first practice with the team came in August. He threw for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions.

''Getting that first spring under my belt was good,'' Hackenberg said. ''Feel like the meetings and studying the film and studying the playbook all summer has really helped my confidence, and our team's confidence.''

The challenge for Hackenberg is to improve while mastering a new offense in the transition from former coach Bill O'Brien's system to Franklin's.

''But he's been great and I think the parallels and the similarity between the way Billy (O'Brien) does things and the way we do things has been really helpful,'' Franklin said.

TIGHT END U. The departure of star wide receiver Allen Robinson leaves Hackenberg looking for a new favorite target. There's talent and speed among the wide receivers, but not much experience.

''I actually think where a lot of the makeup for the production that we lost will come from the tight end position,'' Franklin said. ''I believe that that's where we have the most veteran players.''

Juniors Jesse James (25 catches, 333 yards) and Kyle Carter (18, 222) are two of the Big Ten's best, and coaches are already talking about freshman Mike Gesicki as player who can contribute immediately.

The position took a hit this week with the announcement that talented sophomore Adam Breneman has an undisclosed injury that will put him out indefinitely, but if there is one place Penn State can sustain that type of loss it's at tight end.

PRIME TIME FOR DEION: Defensive end Deion Barnes had a so-so sophomore season in 2013 after showing glimpses of stardom as a redshirt freshman. The Nittany Lions need the 255-pound junior to become one of the Big Ten's best pass rushers in 2014, and have plans to help him do that.

''We are going to make teams put you in a position where the weak person is going to protect you whether it's a running back or the weakest pass protectors, things like that, put him in a position to make plays,'' defensive coordinator John Shoop said.

SANCTIONS: Penn State got some relief from the scholarship sanctions last year, creating hope on campus that the NCAA might also decrease a four-year bowl ban that has two years left.

DUBLIN BOWL: For now, Penn State's bowl game will be at the start of the season when it plays Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland.