CHICAGO - James Franklin greeted the audience Monday at his first Big Ten football media day by joking that he had chosen to walk up the stairs to his room rather than go to his floor in an elevator that didn't have the Penn State logo on its door.
Given that Big Ten coaches by and large are not a jovial bunch, at least when they're addressing a crowd of media, Franklin got everyone's attention right away. The Nittany Lions' rookie head coach filled his allotted 15 minutes speaking of team depth, quarterback Christian Hackenberg, his inexperienced offensive line and next month's trip to Ireland.
"We've had Big Ten coaches' meetings already," Franklin said later in a side session with reporters. "A lot of us have known each other for years anyway, so there's relationships that are already there. You kind of know their style in recruiting . . . [and] their style in how they coach as well. Every day you're learning more. This has been great. I'm kind of enjoying it."
Much of Franklin's conversation settled on depth. The offensive line lost one of its two returning starters in fifth-year senior guard Miles Dieffenbach (torn anterior cruciate ligament), and a reported injury to starting linebacker Ben Kline (Achilles tendon) will hurt a position that was already thin.
Franklin said the issue with depth was not a lack of talent, but a lack of experience. And once training camp begins on Sunday, every player - even freshmen - will have a chance for playing time.
"I want the message to our players and everybody involved that you're going to have to come and compete and earn your job every single year and every single day," he said. "So we want to be able to come into camp with those freshmen, give them a legitimate job to compete for a starting position. And, if not, have an opportunity to compete for playing time in terms of depth.
"That's going to be very, very important to us, creating depth throughout our roster, playing as many guys as we possibly can, and then being able to call the game on offense, defense, and special teams to hide some of our deficiencies."
Of course, depth on the offensive line will be an issue because of the presence of Hackenberg, a sophomore who added 15 pounds in the offseason and carries 235 pounds on a 6-foot-4 frame. Franklin spoke of fitting the pieces of the puzzle in around him.
"I think he's a much better athlete and I think he runs a lot better than people give him credit for," Franklin said. "But he's going to have to continue to develop. And part of his development is us being able to surround him with the right type of talent. That's creating the depth and things like that."
Franklin said Penn State's season-opening trip to Ireland and a game against Central Florida was "an interesting challenge," and revealed that he and his administrative staff had reached out to Navy and Notre Dame, two teams that competed against each other in Ireland two years ago.
Franklin said the Nittany Lions' trainers, doctors and equipment personnel received great help from both institutions.
"We think we've got a pretty good plan going into it," he said. "We're going to need to be very disciplined. No doubt it's a challenge."