STATE COLLEGE – As he has been since he was hired as Penn State’s head football coach in January, James Franklin was front and center Saturday during the Nittany Lions’ Blue White Game, the scrimmage that marks the end of spring drills.
He positioned himself behind the offensive formation throughout the game “basically to control the quarterback” and between the first and second quarters addressed the crowd and led a “We are Penn State” cheer in front of a crowd announced of more than 72,000.
The Blue defeated the White, 37-0, which was no surprise since most of the expected starters were assigned to the Blue squad.
“I think the defense is ahead (of the offense),” Franklin said. “We have a little bit better depth, right now, on the defensive side of the ball, especially up front.”
Because of that, and a lack of depth along the offensive line, offensive linemen donned gray jerseys and played for both offenses. It’s probably the biggest concern, Franklin said, the team has moving forward.
“I think this is probably unique. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a situation where you don’t even have a scholarship two-deep,” Franklins said. “We’re going to find a way to make it work. We’re going to have to rely on some freshmen, maybe at positions you don’t typically rely on them at. That’s going to be across the board.”
With most of the starters limited to a handful of series, it was a day for backups, such as running back Cole Chiappialle.
The sophomore from Beaver Falls was the game’s leading rusher with nine carries for 63 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 17 yards.
While he doesn’t figure to see the field a lot with Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch ahead of him on the depth chart, Franklin said he thinks he will be a contributor.
“He’s got great vision, great toughness and balance. I think there’s a role for him in this football program. He needs to be a huge contributor on special teams,” the coach said.
“He showed up from Day 1 with his attitude, with his attention to detail. He showed up every single day in practice making plays. I’ve been very, very impressed with him. I want there to be more guys like him.”
Part of finding more contributors like Chiappialle, and figuring out every player’s role in the fall, starts Monday, Franklin said.
“I will meet with every single player on the team. It might take two weeks, it might take three weeks. Then the coaches will hit the road to dominate . the state. And then we’ll dominate the states.”
Franklin said he and his staff are trying to identify the best players, regardless of their status.
“If you’re the best player, you will play,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re a senior or a freshman, we’re going to play the best guy.”