Franklin wants true scrimmage

UNIVERSITY PARK – Offensive line depth will be a concern for Penn State this fall, plus it will play a role in determining how much actual football can be played during next weekend’s Blue-White Game.

Actually, make that the Blue-White-Gray Game.

Coach James Franklin plans to have the offensive linemen wear gray jerseys so they can play on both teams if needed during Saturday’s spring game.

“I know everybody is so consumed by the uniforms around here,” Franklin joked Saturday. “Gray, it’s not a new statement. We’re not thinking about wearing gray next year. It’s just for this situation.”

There’s so little depth on the line that fielding two units for an entire scrimmage could be difficult, so some players may have to shuttle back and forth between squads. Having them wear gray would make that easier.

“The format is really dictated on where we’re at in terms of depth and bodies by the time the game comes along,” Franklin said of what fans can expect to see. “At this point, we still plan on having a true spring game. We’ll see how this week goes and affects that.”

The Nittany Lions already were thin on the O-line and have to replace three starters, then they took another hit when left guard Miles Dieffenbach suffered an ACL injury last week. If Dieffenbach can’t play this season, left tackle Donovan Smith will be the lone returning starter on the line.

There’s a lot of competition but not much experience for the other starting spots. That means pressing younger guys into action and counting on them to develop quicker.

“Time and reps,” Franklin said of the keys, “but we only get so much time with them and you only get so many reps. That’s the challenge.”

A lot of the development, the coach added, has to come off the field through intense film study.

“[We want] those guys to commit to coming in and watching a bunch of film, not only from practice but all last season and the season before,” Franklin said.

“Even if it’s a different team, it’s still the same plays. Being able to grind, and each play kind of pausing the film pre-snap and say, ‘How would I call this front? What blitz are they bringing? What is my assignment going to be?'”

As is usually the case, Franklin said the defense is ahead of the offense after 11 spring practices. The coach singled out middle linebacker Mike Hull, saying he “has played extremely well,” as well as safety Adrian Amos, calling him “an impressive guy.”

“On defense, I feel pretty good about the D-line, I feel pretty good about [middle] linebacker and I feel pretty good about the secondary,” Franklin said. “The other thing I think with defense, you can solve some of your problems. So say you don’t feel as good about all three linebackers, you can go nickel and dime and do some things like that.

“On offense, if you don’t have five offensive linemen, it’s not like you can choose to play with three. It is what it is.”

The offense does have Christian Hackenberg at quarterback, and that’s certainly a plus.

“I’ve been very impressed with Hackenberg,” Franklin said. “Everybody told me ahead of time, but until you see it live, I’ve been very, very impressed with him.”

The coach also singled out Smith on offense, saying he’s had a “really, really good camp.”

“The attitude, the work ethic has been great,” Franklin said of the team’s work this spring. “I think that they’re retaining a lot of the information. We’re starting to play faster, which is going to be important to us. But there’s been some guys that obviously have been doing some impressive things.”