Media Day Observations
Walking on the field at Beaver Stadium is always a cool experience, whether it’s in the moments after a game, finishing the Paterno Family Beaver Stadium Run, or during the football team’s annual media day. This last example is doubly noteworthy since it arrives in August, when it starts to feel like football season.
Here are 10 takeaways from media day, including James Franklin’s press conference:
Anything is possible
Star sophomore running back Saquon Barkley may return kicks, with Special Teams Coach Charles Huff saying that when you have a player with Barkley’s ability, you need to find ways to get him the ball. And Franklin said there’ll be true competition at every position.
Trace McSorley still owns the edge over Tommy Stevens, Franklin said, though the former has the opportunity to maintain the gap, and the latter can close it. Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead talked a little about the players’ personalities, and said the two have a good, competitive relationship.
While McSorley currently has the edge, Franklin made sure to emphasize that it’s still a true competition, a point he made in his opening statement.
Moorhead’s direct approach
Given the opportunity to make an opening statement, here’s what Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead said, smiling a bit: “My opening statement is, I'm not much for opening statements. I hope everyone's enjoying their summer. It is great to see everyone, and I am excited for camp.”
He immediately took questions, answering them directly and with vindication. Shouldn’t be surprising, considering his offensive approach: fast, and to the point. Expect Penn State to push the offensive pace this season, and if you ever find yourself speaking with Moorhead, expect the Lions’ offensive leader to get right to the point.
Charles Huff was asked about some recent scuttlebutt regarding the NCAA possibly eliminating kickoff returns; Huff overseas special teams and doubles as the running backs coach. Huff’s response: “Whatever rules they give us, we'll adjust. I have heard talk of that. I know it's starting in the NFL, adjusting the kickoff. My arms don't reach that high. If they decide that's the direction they want to go, we'll adjust. But right now, we're going to prepare and try to be the best kickoff coverage team in the country.”
And when asked as a follow up if he thinks it makes sense to change the rules, Huff said he hadn’t done the research, and that he’d respect the opinions of those who are looking into it.
Defensive Coordinator Brent Pry was the last of three assistant coaches to speak with the media, and greeted the room by saying, “What’s up everybody?” Showing a little bravado and swagger, Pry embodied what he wants to see out of the defense: communication, confidence, and a sense of fun.
“We try and create an environment that's highly competitive, and sometimes there's some talk that goes along with it,” he said. “We do emphasize on the defense communication is a big-time fundamental for us, so we want them talking.”
Saquon Barkley is legit. Of course, you already know that. I volunteered with the Blue Band last year, recording pre-game, halftime, and post-game performances from the Beaver Stadium roof. This provided a great view of the field, and also showed just how much faster and stronger Barkley was than many of his opponents.
Barkley’s outstanding freshman season has catapulted him onto magazine covers and made him the subject of endless stories this offseason. Franklin said his star running back has handled the new attention well, citing Barkley’s upbringing.
“The Good Lord doesn't give you everything. For whatever reason he's been given more than most,” Franklin said, and then adding:
“I think his parents and his community and his high school did a great job in raising him. I also think that we gave him time to be a student and to be a football player and to grow before getting a chance to kind of be with you guys (media). He's really comfortable doing that right now. So he's just confident. He's in a great place, and I know he's excited about this season.”
Josh Gattis’ social (media) game
When asked who’s the best assistant coach to follow, the answer was unanimous: Wide Receiver Coach Josh Gattis. The North Carolina native said he views his social media channels as his brand, which extends beyond being a football coach. It’s a great way to connect, he said, and he strives to keep his posts genuine, managing his profile and making posts himself.
We’ll have more on this in a story in the coming weeks, though in the meantime, visit Gattis’ Twitter profile and give him a follow. According to his colleagues, you won’t regret it.
Ricky Rahne and The Big Lebowski
Tight Ends Coach/Passing Game Coordinator Ricky Rahne recently posted a GIF from The Big Lebowski on his Twitter account. The GIF is of Jeff Bridges dancing, and it’s a good example of the social content that he and other assistant coaches routinely post to their social accounts. As of Thursday afternoon, it had amassed 28 retweets and 151 likes, and Rahne made the post in anticipation of the start of camp.
“We were told the other day that GIFs get more attention, so I went with that. We’re supposed to be who we are, and that’s who I am,” Rahne said. “I’ve probably seen that movie more times than I would like, so I figured I’d throw it on there.”
Media day has exponentially grown, with more and more emphasis placed on video production. Athletics rolled out extended streaming video coverage in the afternoon, titled “Extra Point” with Penn State alumnus Brian Tripp speaking with a slew of players. This complimented the Periscope videos that the football team was streaming. And during the opening press conferences, a videographer used a dolly track in the room to add movement to the shots. This last tactic is usually seen on film sets, though looked right at home in the Beaver Stadium media room.
So where is media day headed? What will it look like in 5-10 years?
“That’s a great question,” Tripp said, giving it more thought. Penn State football will always be a draw, he surmised, and it’ll be interesting to see how Athletics (and the media) expand and evolve their coverage moving forward.
“You’ve probably already been asked this”
Media day means redundancy, as players are asked the same question (or a variation) for nearly an hour, as beat writers move around the field. It’s not good or bad, just a result. Still, the coaches and players don’t mind — or if they do, they don’t show it. Barkley among them, who said he’d been asked about special teams (and returning kicks) the most during the 50-minute player availability.
This conversation happened with only a few minutes left, so naturally, he answered the question again. Good kid. Good smile. And one heck of a running back.
The consensus within the Penn State community is either 8-4 or 7-5, including among the many beat writers. I think there’s just as good a chance that the Lions finish 10-2 as they do 5-7, so choosing the middle ground probably makes sense.
I’ll side with 8-4. Call me an optimist.