STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- James Franklin shied away from discussing strategy and game-planning Monday afternoon, but he still managed to draw laughs for his reasoning.
“One of the things I’ve always struggled with,” Franklin said, “is how do I answer your questions and give you the information that you need with also not talking directly to [Central Florida coach] George O’Leary? Because he’s watching right now.”
Franklin then stopped, turned his head toward the cameras and waved: “Hi, George!”
Penn State’s first-year head coach was as animated as ever during the first day of fall practice. He reiterated a lot of key points from his time at Chicago's Big Ten media days, but there were still several new nuggets of information.
Here are some of those newsworthy highlights:
Focus not yet on season opener: Franklin spoke to the team Sunday night and told them that would be the last time they discuss Central Florida for at least two weeks. For now, it’s all Penn State.
“Our focus right now is on Penn State and becoming the best Penn State we can possibly be,” he said.
Faster team: Franklin didn’t feel comfortable talking about specific true freshmen since he hasn’t yet really had a chance to see them practice. But he did compliment the overall team speed -- and how the freshmen have really added to that.
“We’ve had five guys this spring on our team that ran a sub-4.5,” he said. “I think we got more than that right now with the guys that have developed on our team but, with just the incoming freshman class, we ended up having 11 guys that ran a sub-4.5. So that’s exciting.”
Early enrollee De'Andre Thompkins (receiver) ran the fastest 40-yard dash -- somewhere in the 4.4s -- in the spring. But Franklin believed that true freshman cornerback Grant Haley surpassed him this summer.
Tight end U? Allen Robinson caught 97 balls last season, and he’s on the Jacksonville Jaguars now. So, obviously, that lost production has to come from somewhere -- and Franklin believes a lot of that will come from the tight ends.
He said the freshman receivers are still a bit of a wild card because they are still adjusting to the college game. But those tight ends? It’s a different story.
"That’s where we have the most veteran players. That’s where we have the most experience and depth," he said. "I’m excited about those young [receivers], but that’s what it is right now. It’s excitement -- based on what they did in high school ..."
Expect some time from speedster Akeel Lynch, too.
“If you look across the country, you really need three running backs for a whole season to keep those guys healthy and fresh, and rotate them so you have a chance to dictate the terms of the game and force your will on your opponent in the fourth quarter,” Franklin said. “And to also do those things late in the season.”
Priorities: The Xs and the Os of football are obviously important -- but Franklin believes they might not be as important as one other key element, at least early in camp. He said camp will start out aggressive, and then he’ll play practice by ear.
"I think this staff moreso than most staffs I’ve been on, we spend a lot of time focused on chemistry and morale," he said. "I think chemistry and morale are as important, if not more important, than the Xs and the Os and the toughness. But those things are important as well."