STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- It was signing day, but it also was a weird day since the usual pageantry that follows the first Wednesday in February was replaced by the humming of fax machines that took place back in December.
Signing day 2018, or the second signing period, resulted in the addition of one member for the Nittany Lions and while it was a big one in four-star offensive tackle Rasheed Walker when Franklin met with the media via a teleconference -- because the university was shut down for a snow day, of course -- he also shed light on several other topics surrounding the team.
The Nittany Lions are in the midst of winter workouts and they have plenty of new faces on the coaching staff. Wednesday also served as an introductory news conference of sorts for running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider and wide receivers coach David Corley. I'll have separate stories on Seider and Corley on Thursday and Friday, but for now here's a rundown of the many non-signing day things that Franklin and his two newest assistants touched on.
Penn State will always recruit nationally by position, but the hiring of Seider, whose roots are in South Florida where he spent time as a high school coach, where he grew up and also where he's made a name for himself as a top recruiter also means a shift in philosophies for Penn State.
"You don't hire Ja'Juan unless you're going to make a recruiting shift and you don't hire Ja'Juan and not recruit Florida, it doesn't make any sense," Franklin said. "We have recruited Florida in the past, but obviously, once you make this decision, you're going to recruit it harder. He's going to get us into some doors because of his relationships and his reputation that maybe we weren't involved in before.
"Now you combine us finishing in the top-10 the last two years, with Ja'Juan's relationships down there, and I think we can continue to make some progress," Franklin continued. "We've been able to get a few kids, but I think this can change some things."
This has been the most intriguing part of the Seider hire since it was made last month and while both Corley and Seider are former quarterbacks, Franklin also likes that both have coached multiple positions. That gives the staff some position flexibility, something they've already showcased as Corley was hired to coach the running backs but was switched to wide receivers after Seider was hired a couple weeks later.
Seider said he will also recruit part of Ohio and Erie, Pennsylvania. As for Corley, who came to Penn State after last coaching at Army, he will recruit the Tidewater, Virginia area, Northern Virginia, Atlanta and part of New Jersey. Corley, whose ties to William & Mary make the Virginia territory a no-brainer, said he also spent 6 years recruiting Atlanta when he worked at William & Mary.
Penn State's kicking competition will be wide open and it likely won't heat up until all participants are on campus this summer. Carson Landis and Nick DeAngelis, both returning walk-ons, will be competing for the job, as will scholarship incoming freshman kicker Jake Pinegar and walk-ons Vlad Hilling, Rafael Checa and Cade Pollard.
The one person Franklin doesn't want in the competition is punter Blake Gillikin. While Franklin ideally wants one player to handle kickoffs and another to handle field goals and extra points, he wants his punter focused on his one job as well. Still, Franklin referenced a couple times excitement for players who he wasn't allowed to name, which in all likelihood points to walk-ons like Hilling who the head coach per NCAA rules isn't allowed to address by name.
"You've got Jake Pinegar coming in who is long and athletic and like you say, got a strong leg and then we've got some other guys that I'm not allowed to talk about that we're really excited about coming in," Franklin said. "It's going to be an open competition. The best guys are going to have an opportunity to play."
Franklin said he'd like the team to have some better depth at punter and given that Gillikin is entering his junior season that could be one spot they could look to invest a scholarship in during the 2019 cycle.
Cornerback John Reid missed all of last season with a knee injury he sustained on April Fools Day. Ahead of the Fiesta Bowl Reid told me he was ahead of schedule and was optimistic about being ready for spring ball.
Franklin said the cornerback is participating in winter workouts which started this week and that they expect Reid will be full go by the start of spring ball. Now, realistically they don't need Reid ready for spring ball, but the fact that he's working out in the morning with the team certainly bodes well for his return. Reid, after taking a redshirt last season, will have two years of eligibility remaining.
"The coaches are excited about working with him. I know John is excited about getting back on the field," Franklin said. "But yeah, so far, so good. We're expecting him to have a huge role on our team, not only as a player but also as a leader. You know, should be pretty excited to get him back."
How have Penn State's six early enrollees looked in those 5 a.m. workouts? Well, the Lions only had one so far since Wednesday's snow day canceled their second early workout. However, in the month that the freshman have been on campus Franklin did pass along a few pieces of information.
• "Trent Gordon's been a pleasant surprise," he said of the cornerback. "We had high expectations, and his first impression was probably higher than what we expected. He kind of blew us away in the first morning workout and really competitive and really smooth and really efficient with his movements."
• "(Linebacker Jesse) Luketa is a big, raw, athletic guy who is very competitive and been really impressed with him and how he's approached everything. ... His body is already starting to change. He's going to be a monster."
• "(Micah) Parsons is what we thought. He's strong, he's explosive, he's fast, but again, all these guys are being very supportive of one another. They are asking a lot of questions. They have humbled themselves and the morning workouts typically do that, and I know the older guys have been impressed with them."
• "(Nick) Tarburton is another big, strong guy that' come in here. His body is already changing. I think he's already lost 10, 15 pounds, is moving really well, is very competitive, is very conscientious. Been very, very impressed with him."
Franklin also added that Tarburton was recruited as a linebacker/defensive end hybrid guy so we'll have to see where he projects down the road.
• "(Safety Isaiah) Humphries, you know; what you would expect from a 4.0 student, very mature, very smart, very analytical and right now, obviously is doing a great job in the morning workouts in terms of his approach and his willingness."
• On tight end Zack Kuntz: "The thing I'm probably surprised about with Kuntz is how strong he is. Typically when you've got a guy who is built like him at 6-7 and 220 pounds, they don't necessarily -- it's going to take them a long time to develop the strength and power needed to play, but I already see him packing it on and he came in stronger than we anticipated. So he's already put on muscle mass. He's already getting stronger in the weight room. We already knew he ran well because he ran so well in camp."
WHAT COULD'VE BEEN
Penn State could've used another receiver or safety in the class, per Franklin's estimations. With three receivers in the class and three more who redshirted last year the Lions should still be in a good spot despite Solomon Enis picking Utah and Shaquon Anderson-Butts having to go the junior college route.
The safety void, one where they took just Humphries after Isheem Young allegedly robbed a Wawa in South Philadelphia last summer and is due back in court this week, is one spot where the Lions could move a corner to safety down the road, Franklin said. Between Gordon and Jordan Miner, who measures in at 6-1, plus the cornerbacks in their last class they could add one that way if need be.
Franklin when asked who is the best quarterback between him, Corley and Seider: "It's clear that James Franklin is the best small college quarterback on the staff," he said with a laugh, "I mean, that's -- there's no argument there. But part of that is because I'm really the only small college quarterback on the staff. I-AA and I-A, which is what those two guys played, clearly beats a Division-II guy. Although, the Division-II guy was a badass."
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