Now nearly three months on the job, James Franklin has heard one question more than any other. And it’s not even close.
“The uniforms,” Penn State’s new coach said. “Everyone wants to know about the uniforms.”
That would be a reference to the names that appeared on the backs of the jerseys in 2012, a decision made by his predecessor, Bill O’Brien, to honor the players who stayed on board through the NCAA sanctions.
Franklin hasn’t made a final decision on that bit of Nittany Lions lore for the 2014 season. But the uniforms for today’s Blue-White Game will crystallize a much bigger issue for the team.
A litany of injuries along the offensive line will force the linemen to split time between both teams in today’s scrimmage at Beaver Stadium, which once again features free admission and parking.
As such, the linemen, as well as some special teams members, will be decked out in gray jerseys with blue numbers instead of the traditional blue and white.
The Blue-White Game itself returns to a traditional scoring system as opposed to the offense vs. defense setup that O’Brien employed. Most if not all of the team’s projected starters will suit up for the Blue squad. There will also be a running clock after the first quarter ends.
For those making the trip to State College, here are a few things to focus on.
The eye of the fan will likely be drawn to those unfamiliar gray jerseys to begin with. And many of the numbers may be unfamiliar.
Penn State is listing 13 total offensive linemen on the rosters for the game, but a handful almost certainly won’t take the field. Miles Dieffenbach, Angelo Mangiro and Andrew Nelson — all projected starters — have missed much of the spring with injuries, with Dieffenbach possibly out for several months with a knee injury.
Franklin does not comment on injuries.
Regardless of who actually plays today, fans will immediately recognize big No. 76, Donovan Smith. The junior has taken on even more responsibility this spring because of the injuries that have landed converted defensive tackles Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia at the first-team guard spots.
“I’m going out there, and I trust the other four guys on the line with me to handle their business,” Smith said. “My role is the go-to guy in terms of protections and understanding things.
“When something happens, you’ve got to move forward and fill the shoes. That’s exactly what we’re doing in terms of leadership. It’s an honor to be an upperclassman that’s been here for awhile and that the younger guys look to.”
Wendy Laurent and Brendan Mahon could open at center at right tackle, respectively, if Mangiro and Nelson are sidelined.
One name noticeably absent from the Blue-White rosters is another lineman, backup Anthony Alosi. The junior was charged earlier this spring with misdemeanor simple assault from an alleged incident in January. Penn State has not issued comment about Alosi’s status, though he remains listed on the main roster.
A SNEAK PEEK
If Franklin has a runner-up for his most frequently asked questions, it would be anything about Christian Hackenberg.
The Freshman All-America selection from last season has the foundation for a career as an NFL starting quarterback. Before Matt McGloin emerged recently, that was something the Lions hadn’t had since Kerry Collins was drafted nearly 20 years ago.
But with O’Brien gone, there’s a question of what exactly the offense will look like under the new staff. For his part, Hackenberg said that he expects to continue to run a pro-style attack with Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan.
“After running one offense for a year and getting used to it, it’s tough to learn a completely new one,” Hackenberg said. “But really, they’re similar.”
Chances are, there won’t be anything too revealing about the scheme today. But those in attendance should still be able to enjoy seeing Hackenberg throwing once again.
Franklin, for one, is excited to see more.
“I’ve been very impressed with Hackenberg,” Franklin said. “Everybody told me ahead of time (about him), but until you see it live…”
MADE TO BE BROKEN?
Franklin’s promise to deliver 107,000 fans to every Penn State home game this season doesn’t include the Blue-White Game.
So he’s settling for Happy Valley’s all-time spring game attendance record instead.
The number Franklin is aiming for today is 80,000, which would eclipse the school’s previous (estimated) high-water mark of 76,500 for the scrimmage.
Helping matters is a very favorable weather forecast in Centre County on the heels of a rainy and depressing Friday in Luzerne County. Temperatures are expected to brush close to 70 with the sun out all afternoon.
Former WVC star Eugene Lewis is hoping to get a nice NEPA turnout in the stands.
“We have some new players coming out, and you can definitely look forward to that,” Lewis said. “You can look forward to the offense we have now and look forward to a lot of big plays, a lot of big things.
“I’m excited for the game, my teammates are excited and we’re excited to see (all the fans) out there.”