Penn State Football: James Franklin's 5 Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice
When James Franklin took over at Penn State in early January, he wasn't too familiar with his current roster.
Being a head coach in the SEC doesn't leave much time for scouting Big Ten teams not on the schedule.
Just three months later, he has been able to observe his Nittany Lions through a winter conditioning period and, as of Saturday, has spent 15 practices with those players.
There's no doubt he has a better feel now for the strengths of his team, as well as the issues he'll have to work with this fall.
With depth concerns across the board and no established front-line wide receiver in place, Franklin has plenty on his plate.
What are the top issues for the new Nittany Lions head coach now that spring practice is behind him?
Choosing a Backup Quarterback
While it's nice to know who his starting quarterback is before summer camp begins, Franklin has a situation on his hands when it comes to picking Christian Hackenberg's backup.
Michael O'Connor and D.J. Crook look like the two men in the race, but there are some long-term implications.
O'Connor has higher upside and may even be better equipped right now. However, he is a true freshman, and a redshirt season would put a year of eligibility between him and Hackenberg.
On the other hand, if Hackenberg were to miss significant snaps and the backup was needed to win games, Franklin would need to prioritize getting the more talented player in the game.
The backup will get significantly more snaps in practice than the third stringer, and the decision will need to be made before the end of August.
Finding Playmakers at Wide Receiver
Outside of a 56-yard pass from Geno Lewis to Matt Zanellato, the wide receivers were lackluster at best.
Luckily for Franklin, help is on the way in the form of freshman wideouts Chris Godwin, Saeed Blacknall and Troy Apke.
Freshman athlete De'Andre Thompkins is already on campus and showed off his speed on a 22-yard run around the edge. He'll factor into the offense this summer, one way or another.
DaeSean Hamilton and Lewis have the tools to become big-play receivers, but they may not be there just yet.
This staff hopes to find success with a player on this roster similar to what Franklin and Co. experienced at Vanderbilt with All-SEC wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
Everything About the Offensive Line
When Franklin took over, guys like Anthony Alosi, Miles Dieffenbach and Andrew Nelson looked primed to contribute along the offensive line this spring.
A few short months later, Dieffenbach may be out for the season with a torn ACL, Nelson missed the majority of spring camp with a bum knee, and Alosi has been suspended indefinitely due to criminal charges.
Meanwhile, Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia moved from defensive tackle to offensive guard this winter and may be called on for significant playing time in the fall.
In fact, Dowrey could be considered the favorite to start at one of the guard positions.
Plenty of time in the coming months will be spent analyzing film of the available offensive linemen on the staff, while Franklin and offensive line coach Herb Hand try to find the best mix of players to protect Hackenberg.
Getting the Freshmen Up to Speed
The sanctions hurt Penn State by way of depth in 2013, and 2014 will likely be worse.
There will be freshmen on the three-deep depth chart at nearly every position, including quarterback, wide receiver and all along the offensive line.
Of the 25 newbies, including early enrollees, it's quite possible that nearly 20 of them will see action in 2014.
Franklin and his staff will need to get those guys up to speed as quickly as possible before they're thrown into the fire.
Keeping Everyone Healthy
It was no fluke that Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak combined for one carry during the spring game, while Hackenberg threw only 10 passes.
Franklin knows where his bread is buttered, and he can't risk losing any of his proven commodities during what amounts to an overhyped practice.
Much like Bill O'Brien did last summer, Franklin will need to get creative when it comes to live practices with limited contact.
A couple of losses at the wrong positions could make for a long inaugural season for the new head coach.