Franklin preaching improvement for Lions

UNIVERSITY PARK — The old saying goes that “the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra,” and that’s how Penn State coach James Franklin says this year’s team can improve on the 2016 Big Ten championship season.

It comes down to the little things that players take care of in all phases of their preparation.

“If we can get 1 percent better in the way we take notes in meetings, that’s going to help,” Franklin said. “If we can be 1 percent better in how we sleep, our nutrition or hydration, how we take care of our bodies, that’s going to help.”

Things such as sleep and nutrition usually don’t come to mind when people think of how a football player can improve, but Franklin has repeatedly mentioned those things.

“Everybody focuses on the Xs and Os, everybody focuses on the bench press, everybody focuses on the schemes,” the coach said. “So if we can do a better job than anybody in the country in focusing in those other areas … I think it can have a really big impact. And those 1 percents in each one of those areas, they add up.”

Last year was magical by any standard for Penn State, which leads to huge expectations this season. But as he has at every step in recent months, Franklin was quick to point out that everyone in the program has turned the page.

“Last year is last year, and this year is this year,” he said. “We want to take all those experiences and maturity that we gained from last year and then continue growing and evolving.”

Depth decisions

In an effort to help push and motivate the players, Franklin said the coaches will come up with an internal depth chart each Sunday and will be relaying to the players where they stand. In the past, decisions surrounding the team’s depth has been more subtle to the players, but now that there’s more competition for jobs, it has warranted a change.

“I want that depth chart to reflect, if we were playing a game on Saturday, who would be the guys that were getting reps in and what’s the order of it, and I want to communicate that to the players,” Franklin said. “So I want the players to know, right after this week, if the No. 3 guy just beat you out and you were the No. 2 guy and you’re no longer that guy.

“I don’t want it to be a subtle thing in practice where you’ve noticed one or two reps that guy is starting to get more of. No, he beat you out, and you know that. So now you have the opportunity to fix that before the first game. So you clearly know where you stand week in and week out, and I think that’s really important. It’s going to magnify the competition. It’s going to give the players really good, honest feedback of where they’re at.”

Contract talks

Franklin is still without a contract extension — AD Sandy Barbour said recently the process is taking longer than expected — and he didn’t want to dive too much into that when asked Saturday.

“I’m in football mode now, so I’m focused on the season,” he said. “We’ve been talking about (contract stuff) for a while, and I feel good about it. I don’t have any concerns. But my focus is on our team and the 2017 season completely.”

Kicking off

Every indication given Saturday was that Tyler Davis will handle kickoff duties for the Lions this season, with Joey Julius no longer a member of the team.

Impact freshmen

Franklin only singled out two players when asked about true freshmen who are fighting for spots on the depth chart — defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields.

“Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of guys, but these are the guys we’re already saying are going to factor in,” Franklin said. “Over the next week or two, there’s going to be other guys because we have no problem playing true freshmen. We encourage it.”

CTE awareness

Franklin is aware of the recent studies that indicate a huge number of former football players have suffered from CTE.

“I’m obviously aware of what’s going on in our sport and our society and the focus and the concern,” he said. “It’s something that we all have to be aware of and we have to be open to it. You look at football, there’s been a lot of rule changes the last couple of years because people realize we’ve got to take a hard look at these things because the most important thing is the health (of the players).

“I also am a defender of the game of football, that I believe in it, that I believe in the importance in our society,” Franklin added. “I believe in the importance in the education system. I believe in the importance of developing leadership. And obviously, I’m biased, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that we can’t ignore the studies and the research that’s going on out there.”

Pry on Darnold

Defensive coordinator Brent Pry offered up a candid comment in that the Lions probably underestimated USC quarterback Sam Darnold going into the Rose Bowl last year. Darnold is now widely considered a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.