Penn State Notebook | James Franklin provides clarity on depth chart before season opener

Story posted August 30, 2022 in CommRadio, Sports by Alex Rocco

With Penn State’s season opener just two days away, many of its biggest roster questions were answered by James Franklin during the weekly media availability on Monday.

The blue and white had several battles at middle linebacker, offensive linebacker, kicker, punter and even quarterback, with all those questions being resolved.

Entering the season, fans presumed redshirt freshman Christian Veilleux had the backup quarterback position locked up. Franklin sent shock waves through the media room by announcing five-star, and true freshman Drew Allar was named the backup.

Franklin noted the decision to name Allar the backup is “not set in stone” and that it will “continue to be a competition.”

“When we take all of the information, coach’s opinion based on their gut and experience, data from everything that we keep track of, that Drew has earned that opportunity in Week 1,” Franklin said.

While Allar being named the backup was unexpected, Franklin gave clarity on one of the team's most pressing needs, the middle linebacker position.

After Ellis Brooks, Brandon Smith and Jesse Luketa went to the NFL, Penn State had a glaring issue at linebacker, leaving many wondering who would be left to step up.

Sophomore linebacker Tyler Elsdon will take the majority of snaps at middle linebacker to start the season. At the same time, redshirt freshman Kobe King will also see playing time at the position.

Arguably the blue and white’s best player a year ago was special teams star, Jordan Stout. Replacing Stout won’t be easy, but the Nittany Lions named Barney Amor, a walk-on transfer from Colgate who earned a full scholarship last week, will be Penn State's starting punter.

Although Stout primarily was known for his punting, he transitioned into a field goal kicker, and assuming those duties is once again Jake Pinegar. Pinegar will be Penn State’s kicker from short-range, while Sander Sahaydak will handle the long field goal attempts.

The only remaining question lies at the kickoff specialist, which is an ongoing competition between Sahaydak and Gabriel Nwosu.

“Barney’s done a really nice job. I think there’s good competition at that position,” Franklin said. “We’re going to rotate every kickoff between Sander Sahaydak and Gabe Nwosu.”

Franklin also praised Pinegar, who has gone through several ups and downs during his tenure in Happy Valley.

After a stellar 2019 campaign that saw Pinegar convert 91.67 percent of his field goals, he struggled mightily in 2020, making 69 percent of his field goals.

Last season, he barely saw the field and made one of two field goals in the Nittany Lions' bowl game loss against Arkansas.

Despite not seeing the field much a year ago, Franklin gave a bode of confidence to his newly named starting kicker.

“The guy’s a two-year starter for us and then ends up losing his starting role and doesn’t just run to the transfer portal at first sign of diversity. He stays and sticks it out, and here he is,” Franklin said. “He’s one of our leaders on our team, and he’s had a really good camp. I think he’s going to have a big year for us, and I’m really proud of him for a lot of reasons.”

It's no secret Penn State struggled on the offensive line last season, and it was one of the glaring weaknesses of the team.

To fix the offensive line, the program utilized the transfer portal and scooped up one of the best available offensive linemen, Hunter Nourzad.

With Penn State lacking in depth on the offensive line, Nourzad has been getting plenty of reps to make his transition to Big Ten play smoother.

“Right now, we look at Hunter being able to play both guard and center. We probably won’t ask him to do all those things in Game 1, but he will play,” Franklin said. “Our plan is to play in starter reps in both guards. We’d like to be able to do that a little more on the offensive line.”

Nourzad’s ability to play guard and center is crucial to the success of the offensive line, and although Franklin didn’t answer if Nourzad will start at right guard over Sal Wormley, he made it apparent Nourzad will see the field often.

Fellow transfer Chop Robinson finds himself in a similar situation to Nourzad, as he will get starter reps while being behind Adisa Issac and Nick Tarburton.

The last position Franklin highlighted was the wide receivers and the depth they have at the position. Franklin mentioned he would love to be two-deep at every wide receiver spot, but currently, the team isn’t in the position to do that.

“I’d say there’s probably five guys that I would feel comfortable putting out there with maybe the sixth guy being right on the edge,” Franklin said. “With our starters, most of those guys will be ‘tap’ guys, not rotational guys. They will stay in until they need a blow and when they tap their helmet. The backup will come in for him to give him a blow for a few plays.”

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