STATE COLLEGE, Pa. | Penn State Coach James Franklin capped off Week 1 of training camp by hosting the program’s annual Football Media Day at Beaver Stadium. Before opening practice for about 20 minutes, Franklin and his team gave an outlook on the 2022 season, which begins September 1 in Purdue.
How did it go? Here are some insights and observations from Penn State Football Media Day.
Questions about the training camp
Franklin has put the spotlight on Penn State’s depth, which he says is better equipped to make up for any positional errors than it has in years past. But the Lions are still in the process of resolving some issues.
Two are on defense, specifically as a linebacker and safe against Ji’Ayir Brown. Franklin likes the “legitimate competition” at the middle linebacker between Kobe King and Tyler Elsdon, who missed part of spring training through injury. Additionally, true freshman Keon Wylie started his career at the position, which is likely to add some situational depth this season.
Offensively, Franklin again underestimated his expectations for the offensive line, saying he would take a “more measured approach” and allow the linemen to prove themselves. However, players and coaches said they saw notable improvements on both the line and running back. In fact, running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider said only serious injuries would limit improving running game.
Manny Diaz is a whirlwind
The Penn State defensive coordinator may not have brought the turnover chain with him from Miami, but he did bring his turnover mentality.
“Manny Diaz is very keen on turnovers,” Franklin said. A few hours later, Diaz sat next to a passing machine that was firing close-range fastballs at Penn State defenders. He analyzed every catch and drop.
“Must be in easy mode now because you can’t miss,” Diaz said at one point.
Diaz was a Dynamo Saturday, sprinting through drills with non-stop babble. In that regard, he resembles former defense coordinator Brent Pry, who carried the same energy. But he was also tireless in sales production.
“That’s why,” Franklin said, “we’re getting our hands on so many more balls.”
Why Sean Clifford is doing more yoga
The Penn State quarterback sounded both relaxed and energetic on Saturday, which he attributed in part to being a quarterback and entrepreneur. It could also have something to do with him adding more yoga to his workout schedule.
Clifford and strength coach Chuck Losey made yoga a bigger part of the quarterback’s training regimen to improve his flexibility and mobility.
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“I’ve learned that mobility is key,” said Clifford. “That was a big focus for me. Strength training is one thing. It’s great when you come in as a newbie and you need to gain some weight. But when you get to my age, I’m 24 now, realistically it’s all about how I feel move better and play better.”
Secondary depth shines
Franklin singled out returning cornerback Johnny Dixon as a standout early camp player, a sign of the depth of the defensive backfield. Franklin said that made the starters realize how they “could be replaced.”
Joey Porter, Jr. and Kalen King project as starting corners, but the Lions are deep in position. Dixon, Daequan Hardy and Marquis Wilson have cornerback experience, and the team promises young safeties Zakee Wheatley and Jaylen Reed and veteran Keaton Ellis.
Maybe it’s a good thing that Penn State is opening the season against Purdue’s top-flight passing offense.
Some unique punters appear
Three punters compete to replace Jordan Stout, all with unique stories. The early leader was Barney Amor, a sixth-grader who started at Colgate and joined the team as a walk-on in 2021. He has two bachelor’s degrees from Colgate and a master’s degree from Penn State.
Gabriel Nwosu, a Maryland walk-on, is the player who stands out the most from the crowd. He’s 6-7, 276 pounds (has slimmed down since the Blue and White game) and is developing a lot of strength. Then there’s true freshman Alex Bacchetta, a scholarship specialist who was the nation’s highest-ranked player of the 2022 recruiting cycle, according to Kohl’s Kicking.
The practice game
The Saturday practice window was short, less than 20 minutes, during which the Lions conducted mostly special team drills. But one moment stood out.
Freshman linebacker Abdul Carter, who wears the coveted No. 11 defense at Penn State, played a ball with one hand during interception practice led by Diaz. The game even made Diaz gasp.
Carter is a player to watch in a position that needs depth.
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AllPennState is Penn State’s place for news, opinions and perspectives on the SI.com network. Editor Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @ Mark Wogenrich. And subscribe to more great content on the SI.com network (buttons on the home page).