Penn State Football Practice Notebook - 9/1/21
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A perpetual deluge of rain did not dampen Penn State football’s preparations for the Big Ten season opener in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, Sept. 4. The Nittany Lions conducted evening practice indoors at Holuba Hall.
After making key observations throughout the practice session and press conference, three topics of interest stand out as the clock winds down to kickoff at noon on Saturday.
Rasheed Walker expands his role as a 2021 Team Captain
Redshirt junior Rasheed Walker became one of six team captains for the 2021 football season. With 26 career games and 22 starts at the left tackle position, Walker returns to the blue and white roster after earning second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2020. He shares the honor with redshirt junior offensive lineman Mike Miranda and senior wide receiver Jahan Dotson.
Head coach James Franklin acknowledged Walker’s growth throughout his years at Penn State thus far. “His improvement physically and mentally and as a leader is probably as dramatic as any guy I’ve been a part of and coach Galt felt the same way,” Franklin said. Franklin is referring to Assistant Athletics Director, Performance Enhancement Dwight Galt, III.
The 2021 season will be Walker’s first time leading the team as a captain. In terms of how many votes he received, “That was pretty much a landslide,” Franklin said.
Penn State’s decision regarding captains utilizes a multi-faceted approach with both athletes and various football personnel included in the voting process. Franklin explained that unlike other organizations, the football staff in its entirety votes on who is worthy of the captain title, in addition to player input.
Franklin highlighted the strength staff as a key component in the voting.
“They’re with them [the players] year round and see how they work and how they lead when the coaches aren’t around,” Franklin said.
Walker has support of the team behind him as he begins his maiden voyage as captain. Discussions are early regarding Walker’s 2022 NFL Draft prospect potential, but his name has been in the mix as a top selection as of late.
Battles for starting positions are still ongoing
Kickoff in Camp Randall Stadium may be two days away, but certain starting positions are still up for grabs.
Notably, redshirt senior Anthony Whigan and senior Eric Wilson are competing for the starting left tackle spot. Whigan joined the Nittany Lions in 2019 after transferring from Lackawanna Community College. He came off of a successful 2018 season with Lackawanna that included a victory at the El Toro Bowl. Whigan has 11 career games under his belt with the blue and white, with most of his reps coming on special teams.
Transferring from Harvard after three seasons, Wilson looks to prove himself worthy of taking the field against the Badgers on Saturday. He actively played in 22 games at the historic Ivy League school all before 2020 when the university decided to forego the season.
Franklin revealed both Whigan and Wilson will share playing time, but was hesitant to confirm a 50/50 share when asked by a reporter.
Confirmed starting player information has been hard to come by this offseason, especially since Franklin announced that Penn State Football will not release its 2021 depth chart to the public. The decision to maintain confidentiality leaves fans and analysts to wonder exactly who to watch for on the field this season.
Penn State’s tight end trio received plenty of buzz from quarterback Sean Clifford during his portion of the press conference.
“They’re all NFL-caliber guys who make plays when the ball is in the air,” Clifford said, addressing his tight end weapons Theo Johnson, Tyler Warren and Brenton Strange. Both Johnson and Warren made their Penn State true freshman debut in 2020.
Strange accounted for two touchdowns last season, including a 28-yard touchdown reception from Clifford against the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Team communication on and off the field takes priority
Beginning a football season in an opponent’s stadium has its own difficulties, but Penn State Football does not shy away from simulating those difficult atmospheres in practice.
Hobula Hall roared with the sound of crowd noise tapes to emulate the moments of gametime play calling. Franklin encourages these techniques as a way to train his players.
“We do music on one side and crowd noise on the opposite [side] to try to prepare for that...make it louder than it will be on gameday,” Franklin said.
Clifford uses his own strategies to build team comradery. A pregame quarterback walk down the field will be done as a group rather than just by individual quarterbacks.
Clifford visualizes the walk as a way to “get our minds really ready and lock in… it’s a good thing that we do,” Clifford said.
Traveling to Madison, Wisconsin heading into a hostile environment means that communication must be tight and concise. Clifford emphasized the vitality of communication between himself and his teammates. Under immense pressure, communicating and understanding play calls can make or break important downs.
Emma Holtz is a second-year majoring in public relations. To contact her, email email@example.com.
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Third Year / Public Relations