Penn State Notebook | James Franklin discusses depth chart and camp standouts

Story posted August 24, 2022 in CommRadio, Sports by Alex Rocco

After a team walk-through, James Franklin met with the media for the second to last time before the season kickoffs in eight days.

With his focus on Penn State’s opening contest against Purdue, the roster and depth chart is starting to form.

Franklin talked about the depth chart starting to fill in, some new names emerging and players switching positions during his press conference.

Here are a few takeaways from Franklin’s media availability on Tuesday night.

Takeaway king reigns supreme

Last week, Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. called safety Zakee Wheatley a “maniac” on the gridiron, and he captured another title.

After being named the “takeaway king” of spring camp, the redshirt freshman followed it up with keeping his crown after leading Penn State in takeaways during fall camp.

Franklin acknowledged the back-to-back feat is “pretty impressive,” and it could indicate who will fill the void left by Jaquan Brisker.

Wheatley is battling it out with Keaton Ellis and Jaylen Reed for the first-team role opposite Ji’Ayir Brown.

“I know I say this, and it sounds ridiculous, but he’s one of those guys that the ball just likes him,” Franklin said of Wheatley. “Part of that is doing what you’re supposed to do consistently to be in position for when the opportunities come. ... He did it in the spring, and now he’s done it in the fall. He’s trending in the right direction. There’s no doubt about it.”

The transition from cornerback to safety for Wheatley has him primed to play a huge role on the defense.

Tyrece Mills changes positions

At photo day last weekend, Lackawanna Community College transfer Tyrece Mills took pictures with the linebackers after being listed as a defensive back earlier in the offseason.

On Tuesday night, Franklin confirmed Mills' switch and the decision process behind it.
“We always looked at him through the recruiting process as a guy who’d be a boundary safety or a field linebacker. Based on testing numbers when he got here, athletically, “what group did he match up best with?” It started to go in that direction,” Franklin said. “When we make those moves, it’s because it’s in the kid’s and program’s best interests. Can he play safety? Yes. Do we feel like he would be a better linebacker? Yes.”

Over the past few seasons, the blue and white have identified talent from Lackawanna, with Mills joining fellow safety Brown and offensive lineman J.B. Nelson as former Falcons playing in Happy Valley. 

A year ago, with the Falcons, Mills recorded 35 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and five pass breakups in seven contests.

Sal Wormley generates “buzz.”

Last year in training camp, Sal Wormley was in a position to win the left guard spot, but an injury cost him his entire season.

Wormley is back healthy and seems to have regained that favor with Penn State’s coaching staff, as Franklin called him “the buzz of camp on the offensive line.”

“We were really excited about him last year. We felt like he was putting himself in a position to be a starter,” Franklin said. “We were excited about how he was practicing and how he was playing. He’s come right back to where he was.”

The Nittany Lions struggled mightily running the ball last season, with no player rushing over 100 yards in a single game.

The offensive line was a big factor in the running woes, and running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider is thrilled to have Wormley back.

“That was a big piece we lost going into the season last year,” Seider said. “It’s good to see his recovery and get back to where he’s playing at a high level. He’s another piece to that puzzle that you trust.”

Although last year he was projected to start at left guard, this campaign he’s competing with Harvard transfer Hunter Nourzad at right guard.

Roster turnover

Another point of emphasis for Franklin was how starters are falling into place along with battles for the second and third spots heating up.

A major question surrounding the Nittany Lions defense is who is going to start at Mike linebacker.

The competition is between redshirt freshman Kobe King and sophomore Tyler Elsdon, and although Franklin mentioned no decision is final, he did note Elsdon had a slight advantage over King.

“That's what we're going to try to do tonight and tomorrow,” Franklin said. “We've done it as a staff, but I'm talking about having conversations with the players.”

Franklin went on to mention there are more decisions to be made on the second and third strings that the staff is continuing to work on.

The Langhorne, Pennsylvania, native detailed the hard conversations he goes through talking to his players about their roles on the team.

“They’re tough conversations,” Franklin said. “They’re tough conversations to have as a coach. They’re tough for a player to hear.”

Even though Franklin claimed the final depth chart will be decided in the next 24-48 hours, the depth chart won’t be released to the public until the start of next week.

Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email