Brown’s ‘journey’ at PSU may be over
Following are the highlights of James Franklin’s Tuesday press conference:
Saturday’s game: At Indiana, 3:30 p.m., Fox Sports1
Main storyline: Franklin confirmed projected starting tailback Journey Brown could “potentially” miss the entire season due to a medical condition he’s being treated for that was discovered during the offseason. Franklin did not elaborate, other than to say “it’s not decided yet.” Brown led the 2019 team in rushing with 890 yards (6.8 per carry) and finished strong with 202 yards against Memphis in the Cotton Bowl. He is currently not listed on the roster, but Franklin said Brown will be around the team and will remain a valued leader. As for whether Brown will play this year or with the Nittany Lions again, Franklin said, “We don’t know what the future holds.”
And the new No. 1 tailback is: The depth chart released Tuesday listed sophomore Noah Cain as the starter followed by Devyn Ford and either freshman Caziah Holmes or 230-pound fellow freshman Keyvone Lee.
Who are the Hoosiers: Penn State leads the all-time series, 22-1, the lone blotch coming in 2013. Franklin, though, believes the Nits face a very tough out Saturday, saying, “This is the best Indiana team I have seen in my six years in the (Big Ten) conference.” Indiana went 8-4 last year and fell to the Lions, 34-27, at Beaver Stadium.
Travel plans in age of COVID-19: Penn State has made some adjustments to its travel routine, although it still will fly out Friday. Franklin said the team will not eat in the plane, as it typically does, in order to “keep their masks on.” Rather than Bloomington, the Nits are staying closer to Indianapolis, which has a better offering of hotels with spacious ballrooms for eating and meeting. Players will have single rooms, rather than doubling up. Those not on the travel roster have been cautioned “to be disciplined” as Franklin has learned from colleagues at other schools “one of the biggest problems is the players who stay behind.” A Zoom meeting with parents traveling to the game was also held to remind of social distancing. Franklin arrived at Tuesday’s presser wearing a mask but took it off to conduct the Q&A session. “We still need the right amount of respect for this virus,” he said.
Catching on: Freshman Parker Washington and Cam Sullivan-Brown are the starting receivers opposite Jahan Dotson. Franklin raved about Washington, a freshman from Texas who has wowed with a number of one-handed receptions that Franklin actually discourages because he wants his receivers focused on the “basic” catches. And yet, Washington, a 205-pounder “built like a running back,” Franklin said “has earned the quarterbacks’ trust and he’s got “elite ball skills.”
Camp surprise: Asked to name somebody who has jumped out, not necessarily expected, Franklin credited lanky Joey Porter Jr., son of the former Pittsburgh Steeler who has won a cornerback job ahead of State College’s Keaton Ellis, opposite Tariq Castro-Fields. The safeties are Lamont Wade and Jaquan Brisker, prompting Franklin to say, “We’re as good as we’ve been in the secondary.”
New OC effect: Franklin said quarterback Sean Clifford appears “much more comfortable in the pocket,” perhaps a point of emphasis under new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca.
No Micah, no problem: Micah Parsons opted out of the season earlier this fall, leaving the starting trio to Jesse Luketa, Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith. Depth will come from Lance Dixon, Charlie Katshir and freshman Curtis Jacobs, who has “flashed,” Franklin said. As a group, he said, “You guys will be impressed.”
Special teamer: Kickoff man Jordan Stout, who specializes in touchbacks, will be the punter and handle the holding duties. Hollidaysburg’s Vlad Hilling did not make the three-deep.
Social justice: The football program will wear a patch, helmet stickers and warmup shirts to promote unity and social justice. A logo was unveiled Tuesday featuring the outline of the state of Pennsylvania with diverse interlocking hands in Penn State’s blue and white color. Franklin said he’s proud that much discussion went into the venture, adding, “The last thing you want to do is take part in things that are divisive. We want to be a leader in our country on this topic.”
Good vibe: Overall, Franklin expressed optimism. “We’re in a good place,” he said. “I want to sleep well Friday night, and I’m going to because we’ve done everything we possibly can to be ready.”
— Compiled by Neil Rudel