Franklin praises depth

UNIVERSITY PARK — James Franklin heaped praise on junior defensive end Shaka Toney while singling out a handful of players who deserve more attention with Penn State entering fall camp.

“On defense, Shaka Toney has got a strong voice with our team,” Franklin said Saturday.

“He’s very well respected, not only for what he does on the field, but really, Shaka, from what our players say, Shaka is one of the great friends and teammates on the team for everybody. He’s the guy that they all seem to go to with issues or concerns or things or advice.”

Toney tied the Penn State record with four sacks in a game last year at Indiana. Remarkably enough, all four came in the fourth quarter.

Franklin said Toney “has got so much respect (on the team), is so explosive. He’s great for our offense, tackles with his get-off and his speed. Tested really well this offseason. Think he’s going to have a huge year for us.”

Those last comments from Franklin came during the opening remarks of his media day press conference. He made sure to point out several players he believes deserve more credit before being asked any questions by the media.

The first was Nick Bowers, a fifth-year senior tight end who caught six passes for 50 yards and one touchdown last year.

“Bowers is a guy that had a bunch of injuries throughout his career and has battled through them and his family has been unbelievable and he’s been unbelievable,” Franklin said. “I think he’s going to have a huge year for us.

“He’s also a guy that’s a senior, and again, has had a lot of varieties and has battled through it and has just been a fantastic teammate. He’s been a fantastic student here and in the community.”

Senior offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez will be a key member of the team. He considered leaving early for the NFL, as linemen Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern did, but decided to return to PSU.

“He had a decision to make at the end of last year,” Franklin said. “He made the right decision and came back. Really excited about his experience and development. Excited about what he’s going to do in camp from a leadership perspective, and I think he’s going to have a big year for us, as well.”

Junior defensive end Shane Simmons could be in line for a breakout season, Franklin added.

“Shane Simmons, a similar background as Bowers,” the coach said. “Has battled a bunch of injuries the last couple years. Every year we go into the season saying it’s going to be his breakout year, and he’s as healthy as he’s been since we recruited him. You’re going to see him. He looks beautiful. He’s 260 pounds. Moving extremely well.”

Lastly, Franklin said cornerback John Reid is back to looking like his old self. Reid missed the 2017 season after suffering a knee injury that spring, and he was up and down at times last year shaking off the rust.

“Not only did he look as good as he did pre-injury, but better from an experience, from a maturity, from an understanding of our defense and our culture,” Franklin said.