Monday, July 21, 2014
B1G media day preview: Penn State
By Josh Moyer
At this time next week, we'll all be reporting from Chicago and letting you know just what the conference's coaches and players have to say. But, until then, we're continuing our series by looking at three questions facing each Big Ten team and the potential answers we could hear at the Hilton Chicago on July 28 and 29.
Next up is Penn State, which will bring head coach James Franklin along with a trio of seniors: Running back Bill Belton, linebacker Mike Hull and kicker Sam Ficken. Here's some of what they may be asked:
1. How will Penn State once again overcome its depth issues?
This has been a recurring issue for the Nittany Lions since the sanctions hit two seasons ago. They've overcome this obstacle so far, but this year brings about its own set of challenges. For one -- and this is something we've talked about at length here -- the offensive line is thinnest, depth-wise, and the biggest question mark on this team. With a serious injury to offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach, Penn State returns just one starter on the line and might give a lot of playing time to two guards who were at defensive tackle six months ago. The linebacker position is also an overall point of concern, and the receiver position lacks experience. Expect Penn State's players at media day to deflect or downplay this matter all the while stressing how important the freshmen will be this season.
2. How will the defense be different in 2014?
Penn State's new defensive coordinator, Bob Shoop, is tasked with turning around a defense that many thought underachieved last season. The Lions' secondary was simply porous in 2013 and its red zone efforts weren't much better. This season, Shoop wants to keep opposing offenses on their toes by playing upon two premises: “Relentless pursuit and never-ending pressure.” Shoop sacrificed some strength for speed inside by moving Anthony Zettel to defensive tackle on a permanent basis, and he's committed to using a safety/linebacker hybrid at one of those linebacker spots. MLB Hull will be given a lot more free rein to roam around the field, and you can bet he'll praise the changes at media day. Shoop is giving Hull a lot more responsibility this season, and Hull is welcoming it.
3. Can Franklin live up to all the hype?
Franklin came in on Day 1 and made three bold statements: Penn State would dominate the region in recruiting, it would sell out every home game and it would eventually return to national prominence. Since then, he hasn't just doubled-down on those comments, he's made a point to reiterate them at just about every media outing. With the splash he's made in recruiting -- between drawing the ire of the SEC and seeing his 2015 class ranked at No. 4 nationally -- it wouldn't be premature to already check off that box. He's enlivened this fan base, but the real question here is can he win? Franklin is one of the few must-see podium interviews at media day, but he tries to avoid controversy when he can. He declined to discuss the SEC's statements regarding his satellite camps and he believed one of his comments was overblown when he said regional opponents didn't stand a chance. But Franklin can be bold and entertaining when he wants to, and it'll be interesting to see if he delivers around this time next week. What will he say? Well, other than maybe tossing in a joke about Christian Hackenberg's recent haircut, it's anyone's guess. He's a wildcard.