James Franklin lightens intensity in new practice for experienced Penn State squad

Picking Captains Football
Penn State head coach James Franklin gives instruction during the a 2014 Nittany Lions practice.

James Franklin and his wife had a discussion about how much has changed in the three years he’s been at the helm of Penn State football.

Those three years will turn into at least nine thanks to a six-year contract extension Franklin recently signed.

“For me, it’s about stability,” he said. “We are starting to build something here that I think can be really special.”

He expanded by saying the contract extension not only provides stability for the team, but also for his family, the assistant coaches’ families and the players.

“You guys know I still believe that we still have a lot of work to do with a lot of different areas, but I think we’ve made tremendous progress,” Franklin said, “and this allows us to continue in that direction.”

He said it will pay dividends that the squad, recently ranked No. 6 in the AP preseason poll, is now full of veterans.

After all, he added, the team is probably the healthiest it’s been at this point in the season since Franklin has been at Penn State. He credits it to depth on the roster and a change in approach.

Because of this, the guys are taking it easy in practice with limited contact to avoid risking injuries. But that’s not a problem. He already knows what his players are capable of.

“To me, building mental and physical toughness — we’ve established that to a degree,” Franklin said. “We know who Jason Cabinda is; we know who Marcus Allen is; we know who Torrence Brown is; we know who Saquon Barkley is.”

Making noise

Besides talking football, of course, Jason Cabinda and Saeed Blacknall speak another language — and Chris Campbell can’t understand it for the life of him.

“Him and Saeed,” Campbell said, then paused to chuckle, “they make animal noises. You can’t understand what their conversation is. They do it all the time.”

They were even speaking — or grunting — it during practice Wednesday.

“They have conversations, and only those two know what they’re talking about,” he said, then added he can’t even make out what kind of animal it sounds like.

Quarterback Trace McSorley also had trouble finding words to describe the communication.

“[Cabinda] will use like — one noun will be everything; you can use it for anything,” McSorley said. “I can’t even explain it. You almost have to hear it to be able to understand it for yourself.”

Animal noises aside, something else has caught Campbell’s eye — freshman Tariq Castro-Fields.

Also a cornerback like Campbell, Castro-Fields has been seeking out the senior for advice.

“If he messes up on the field,” Campbell said, “he will come to me all the time and be like, ‘I did this wrong. Can you tell me how to fix it?’ And anytime he messed up on film, he’ll bring me the iPad and be like, ‘What could I have done better on this play?’”

Castro-Fields isn’t the only one going the extra mile to improve.

According to Franklin, wide receiver Juwan Johnson has made the biggest stride out of anyone this offseason.

“We think he has the chance to have a really big year for us,” he said.