Franklin downplays line tips

PSU football notebook

UNIVERSITY PARK — It’s been suggested multiple times in recent weeks by one football analyst that Penn State’s offense has been tipping plays, thereby making it easier for opposing defenses to know if a run or pass is coming.

The allegations have been made by former NFL linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who’s now an analyst for ESPN. Vilma said he first noticed something while watching film of the Northwestern game Oct. 7.

“I started seeing some tells with the way the offense was lining up and what some players on the offense — particularly on the offensive line — were doing,” Vilma said Friday on ESPN Radio. “You knew whether it was run or pass based on one of the offensive tackles. One of the offensive tackles was very, very lazy in his stance.

“So when it was a pass, he was very upright, and you could tell that he needed to kick back and get back for a pass. When it was a run, he was leaning in, he was locked in to make sure he goes and gets his guy. It was particularly noticeable when he started getting tired. As all linemen do, they get tired. He would then start to really lean in on his runs, sit back on his passes. And I said, ‘I could call run-pass this whole game. Run-pass, run-pass.’ I was right.”

Could that really have been happening? You hear about pitchers tipping pitches in baseball occasionally, but rarely has it ever come up that a football team is tipping plays.

James Franklin was asked Tuesday if there’s anything to what Vilma was saying. And Franklin didn’t deny it, but added that sort of thing can happen with all football teams.

“I can say that about every offense in the country,” Franklin said. “There’s tells. That’s what our defense does. That’s what our offense does.

“Are there some things that we can do better? Yes. No doubt about it. But that’s a lot of stuff we did during the bye week, is scout ourselves from the opposite side of the ball. And whether it’s the tight ends’ alignment or whether it’s the backs’ alignment or depth of those things, there’s tells. And every offense has them, and every defense has them. That’s what we spend our weeks studying.”

Even if what Franklin says is true, Vilma’s comments have gotten a lot of run, simply because you just don’t hear about this sort of thing much in football.

Penn State is averaging 37.7 points, so despite the recent run-game struggles, Franklin came to one conclusion.

“If the tells were so obvious … and if everybody knew what they were doing on most of our plays, I would think we’d be scoring a lot less than that,” the coach said.

Blocking concerns

Franklin again admitted the team needs to be more physical on the offensive line and was asked numerous questions about concerns with blocking for the running game.

There will be no personnel changes, he first mentioned.

“We’re playing the guys that we feel like give us the best chance to win on Saturdays,” Franklin said.

He later had an interesting, and very telling, comment about guard Brendan Mahon.

“Mahon has got the ability to be one of the most physical offensive linemen in the country,” Franklin said. “He’s an older guy. He’s a senior. I think when he does it, the rest will follow. So probably going to have another conversation with him this week, and the impact that he can have and the legacy that he can leave here.”

What’s fascinating about that is Mahon is a senior getting ready to play the final home game of his career. And yet he’s still not fully bought in to being extremely physical, to the point where Franklin has to remind him at this late stage.

That’s the sort of thing that should be a huge concern within a program, as is the fact that Mahon is even still playing despite the apparent issues.

TE blocking concern

Mike Gesicki is one of the top pass-catching tight ends in PSU history, and Tuesday he was named one of eight semifinalists for the Mackey Award, given to the nation’s best tight end. Former PSU player Adam Breneman, now at UMass, also is a Mackey semifinalist.

But Gesicki has had issues with his blocking, so much that he was called out for it on Saturday’s broadcast by analyst and former PSU player Matt Millen.

“It’s embarrassing,” Millen said on TV about Gesicki’s blocking. “I don’t want to dog the guy. At the next level, it’s got to get better than that. It’s got to get better at this level.”

Gesicki was asked if he was aware of those comments and his reaction to them.

“It’s going to take a lot more than a commentator ripping into me to shut me down,” Gesicki said. “I’ve received many other hurtful and disrespectful comments and all that kind of stuff, so honestly, the only critique that I’m worried about is coming from (tight ends) Coach (Ricky) Rahne.”

Blocking has been an issue throughout Gesicki’s career. He was labeled a tight end in high school but really was receiver who never had to block anyone like a tight end does.

“I’m going to have to continue to improve in my blocking abilities,” Gesicki said. “I think I’m more than willing to block. I think I’ve taken a bunch of steps forward in my blocking abilities. Something I honestly take pride in. So I’m going to own everything on film. Obviously there are plays every single game that I’d like back.”

If one or more linemen and Gesicki are having trouble blocking, it’s easy to see why PSU’s running game has been shut down lately.

“Mike has come a long ways,” Franklin said of Gesicki’s blocking, “considering when he got here, he had never blocked anyone in his life. He made tremendous progress early on and continues to chip away at that. He understands it. It’s been very clear conversations for me and Coach Rahne … so he understands very clearly what he needs to do. I don’t think there is any gray area there.”

McSorley on list

Trace McSorley was named one of five finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. The other four are Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and N.C. State’s Ryan Finley.

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