Penn State head coach James Franklin talked about the Nittany Lions’ quarterback situation, provided an "update" on tight end Mike Gesicki, and offered insight into the Lions’ areas for improvement along the offensive line.
He also addressed Penn State’s upcoming challenging matchup with Northwestern.
Check out the highlights from Franklin’s weekly press conference at Beaver Stadium, here:
* Transcript provided courtesy ASAP Sports
COACH FRANKLIN: Tremendous respect for Coach Fitzgerald and what he’s been able to do there. You know what you’re getting with them. They are going to have a few things in the game plan, offense, defense and special teams like we all do, but you know, I would probably compare them a lot like Iowa, the two most tenured coaches in the Big Ten. Very little change in his career there in his staffs. Offensively, defensively and special teams, they are going to play hard. They are going to be fundamentally sound. They have got good schemes. But what you see is what you get. You know, it’s been a really nice model for them and it’s going to be a challenge.
We’ve got two guys on our team that have brothers that play for them, Charlie Fessler and Tyler Gillikin. They will be playing intramural football this week. They will not be associated with our program. They will be out. Obviously kidding. But Charlie and Tyler, obviously Charlie’s brother is a wide receiver — I said Charlie. Billy and Blake; Billy’s brother, Charlie is a wide receiver for them. And Blake’s brother, Tyler, is a long snapper for them.
I remember going to Blake’s house for the official visits and there was scuff marks and holes and everything all over the walls because his brother, Tyler, used to snap it to him and he would drop it and do a light punt in the house, so there was stuff all over the place. That should be pretty cool.
I know talking to Mrs. Gillikin this week, she’s already got a jersey that’s been made that’s sewed in half, so she’s going to spend the first half on one sideline and the next half on the other one.
So we are excited about the opportunity. Obviously got a lot of respect for their quarterback, Clayton Thorson; got a lot of respect for Justin Jackson, one of the more productive running backs in the Big Ten. It should be a really good challenge. Tyler Lancaster, their defensive tackle, is a guy that we’ve identified as a problem and we have to be prepared for him.
Last thing I’d like to say and then I’ll be quiet, is I just want to praise our staff. Very, very fortunate to come to work with a bunch of really good people, men, women; that’s coaches, that’s doctors, that’s trainers, that’s strength staff. Got really good people that are not concerned about who gets the credit. They are working hard every single day to put our players in the best position to be successful, and I don’t tell them enough.
You know, I wanted to take a moment to do that. And then for us, it’s just focusing on continuing to get better. That’s just what we’ve got to do every single day and the rest of the season is just continue to get better.
I apologize I messed up some names and had a hard time figuring ten out of 11 there for a moment. But open up to questions.
Q. Aside from the two blocks, has there been a common thread in Tyler’s misses and have you considered giving kickoff responsibilities to someone else so he can focus only on field goals like he did the last two years?
COACH FRANKLIN: He’s been awesome on kickoff. I think we are better on kickoff now than we’ve been; so no. We’ll get it fixed.
I think really to be honest with you, if you take the blocks out of there, he’s doing pretty good. He’s doing pretty good. We’re just going to continue to work through it. We’ve got a new holder. We’ve got a new snapper, and like I said, the blocks really aren’t on him. You know, our operation time was fine. I wouldn’t say the kicks were overly low. We just, when you don’t block a guy through a gap and he comes screaming through free, you know, they are going to block the kick.
So no. Right now, we feel very comfortable with what he’s doing on kickoff and we know he can be great as a field goal guy. We’ve just got to make sure that everybody that’s around Tyler is supporting him.
Q. You talked about Irv Charles at the start there, and he’s been really a weapon for you on special teams as a coverage player. He had that good catch obviously against Minnesota last year. Looks like a physically-imposing kid. How close do you think is he to becoming maybe more of a factor in the passing game, and is there anything in your mind that’s holding him back?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, he’s been great on special teams. Making a bunch of big plays on special teams. He’s getting opportunities in the game in terms of reps.
You know, we don’t go into games saying we’re going to throw the ball to Mike Gesicki ten times. It’s however the game goes and however the game flows, and Irv, as well as a bunch of our guys know, they just have to keep working hard and when the opportunities come, take advantage of it. It’s nothing more than that.
On special teams he’s had some opportunity and the plays are coming his way, but it’s really nothing more than that. We’ve got depth and talent across the board at a bunch of positions. Irv is one of those guys, as well, very talented.
I think like I had mentioned a couple weeks ago, something that’s probably a little bit different in our program than has been in the past is some guys are going to have to have a little bit of patience. That’s a very important quality and trait to learn early in life, because things don’t always come at the time that you want them to come. You want them to come at the time they are supposed to come. Just control the things you can control, which is continue to work hard and continue to develop and continue to grow; when opportunities come, capitalize on them.
Q. The tight ends behind Mike Gesicki have developed in the past season. Any update you can give on Mike?
COACH FRANKLIN: No update on Mike. I know you’ve got to ask, and I think you all know what my answer is going to be, but no update. Looks great.
Then the tight ends, we’re excited about the development. I think Pancoast has played really well this year in the opportunity that he’s gotten in.
I think Jonathan Holland has got a very, very bright future and is continuing to grow. He’s another one of those guys learning and understanding patience; when opportunities come, take advantage of them. Obviously he got some opportunities last week. Both of those guys did. There’s going to be more opportunities as this season progresses.
But you know, really no updates. I mean, we expect Mike to play on Saturday, as well as the other tight ends, as well as the other tight ends.
Q. How has the team’s defensive speed changed over the last two to three years and how is that translating into your defensive production this year?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think our special teams defensive speed, team speed in general, it not even close. I mean, right now, I talked to our defense about how we are running the ball, and I think we are running the ball really good. I would say like a great defense, we are running the ball.
But I would still make the argument we probably have consistently eight or nine of the 11 that are hauling rear end to get to the ball every play and there’s a few guys on the back side that maybe don’t think they are going to factor in.
For us to get where we want to go, we need all 11, but it’s been really good. If you watch the tape, the play last week I thought was a really good example as Amani goes to make the tackle, and what I loved is he was aggressive and he went after the tackle with the right leverage. He had outside, and he missed the tackle, but he forced the defender back inside — excuse me, forced the ball carrier back inside and he forced the ball carrier to kind of stutter his feet.
Although you would love Amani to make the tackle, when he missed the tackle now here comes big ‘ole Rob Windsor and a bunch of guys running from inside out and they make the tackle. To me that’s what good defenses do: They play aggressive, they go for the tackle, they go to make the big hit, and if they miss, there’s guys there to cover for them.
I think our team speed in general has improved dramatically. I think the defensive side of the ball, and also special teams; I think it’s been a major factor, there’s no doubt. And obviously Saquon is somebody that everyone thinks about when you talk about speed. I think we would all agree that he’s gotten faster. You know, three years ago, he got caught on a lot of those long runs.
So I think overall, we’re doing a great job of developing the guys and continuing to create more speed on offense, defense and special teams.
Q. Two-part quarterback question for you. One, I know Tommy Stevens played a good bit first three games. Why did he not get in the last two? And secondly, could you just describe a couple of the things that stand out to you most about why — how Trace is a better quarterback now than he was at this point last year?
COACH FRANKLIN: First of all, Tommy is doing great. It’s no different than when you guys ask about a certain guy getting a ball or why we run a certain scheme; it’s all based on the game plan that we put together. If Joe feels like the package that we have fits the team that we’re playing that week, then we use it. You know, there’s some formations that you guys see one week that you don’t see the next week.
And it’s the same deal with personnel and it’s the same deal with having two quarterbacks on the field. If we think it’s going to help our team win, then Joe puts it in the game plan. And if not, then we don’t. You know, we have a lot of discussions about that. Obviously want to keep Tommy as involved and as engaged as we possibly can. You know, it’s a challenging situation, there’s no doubt about it. I think that’s common.
I went through it. Most quarterbacks across the country go through it. But we think Tommy has got a very, very bright future and we want to keep him involved as much as we possibly can, especially if it it’s the game plan and gives us an advantage over our opponent.
What was the other part of your question?
Q. Just about a couple of the things that stand out to you most about how Trace is a better quarterback now than he was last year at this point.
COACH FRANKLIN: To be honest with you, it’s not even really close. Kris had mentioned a few things to me that she saw: You know, last year, the first five games, our record was 3-2. Right now our record is 5-0. I think the most important stat that you have as a quarterback is wins, and he’s 5-0 compared to 3-2. So I think to me the discussion should end right there.
But I will go further: Completion percentage, first five games from last year was 58 percent. He’s at 65 percent. Okay, even if you want to take the last five games of the year last year. The last five games of the year last year, he was 61 percent last year. He’s 65 right now in the first five.
Touchdown interception ratio, last year in the first five games, he had six touchdowns and three interceptions, and right now he has 12 and four.
I don’t think it’s even close, kind of in every category that you can look at. If you compare him to the last five, he’s pretty much on par. You can make an argument better in some categories. If you compare it to the first five games of last year, he’s by far ahead.
I think he’s pretty much better in every metric possible.
Q. Special teams. Your kickoff return, punt return and punt coverage teams are in the Top 15 nationally. I’m just wondering, how do you develop — how have you developed that unit to be as successful as it’s been over the last season, maybe season and a half?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think it’s really over the last three and a half years. It’s what we do in terms of the amount of times in meetings on it; it’s the amount of time that we invest in practice. I’ve been a lot of places, and everybody talks about the importance of special teams, but if you look at meeting time, if you look at practice time, it doesn’t really — it tells a different story.
So for us, we’ve been investing in fundamentals. We’ve been investing in techniques, and it’s starting to pay off. I think obviously now with schemes and fundamentals and techniques, and we have more depth and we have more speed.
And I think obviously Tyler Davis is doing a tremendous job on kickoff. You look at Blake Gillikin is doing a great jobs in terms of punting and pinning people on the sideline and pinning people inside the 20-yard line or inside the ten.
You look at Kyle Vasey doing a good job in terms of his operation times and getting the ball back to the holder or the punter, and then a bunch of long athletes that are running down the field that are fast.
I mean, I was standing on the sideline the other day, after I think a kickoff, and Dae’Lun Darien walks by me, and he’s 6-4 and beautiful; and Irvin Charles walks by and he’s 6-4 and beautiful; and then Cam Brown walks by and he’s 6-4 and long and beautiful and angular. And I’m saying, just imagine being on the kickoff return team and you’ve got these guys running down the field. Then obviously Nick Scott has been a big-time playmaker for a number of years.
You know, it’s fun. The guys are having fun playing. They are playing fast. They are playing aggressive. They are making big plays in coverage. They are making big plays in returns right now.
I still think we can get better, I really do. But what’s happening now is kind of what we talked about three or four years ago is there’s just pieces of the puzzle now. You’ve got to plan; you’ve got a vision. You have the depth, you have the talent, you’ve got the scheme, you’ve got the fundamentals, and when you have all these things working together, then you have a chance to do something really good.
That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to keep get better every single day and keep getting better every single week, and I think that’s the exciting part. In all phases, offense, defense, special teams, I still think we can get better and we’re going to need to. We’re going to need to as the season goes on, there’s no doubt about it.
Q. Offensive line. When you watch them on film, what are the specific areas that you look at and say: That’s where we can get better; that’s where this group has upside and room for improvement.
COACH FRANKLIN: I think the biggest thing is finishing. I think for the most part, we’re in good position and for the most part, our fundamentals and techniques have been good. There’s a few plays where I think, you know, our inexperience has showed up a little bit at times.
But for the most part, we’ve got a hat on a hat. We’re in the right position, and we’ve got to sustain the block for a half second longer and we’re through there. We sustained the block on Trace’s one run a few weeks ago and it’s a 45-yard gain, if not a touchdown. We sustain a block on one of Saquon’s runs instead of a four-yard gain or a six-yard begin; with Saquon, it’s a big one.
I think that’s the biggest difference for us right now is straining and finishing blocks. Are there some times where the defense makes a great call and they get us for a tackle for a loss or something like that or a zero-yardage play? Yeah, that’s going to happen.
But for us, I think the biggest difference for us is just straining a little bit longer. Finishing blocks from an aggressive demeanor, from an aggressive perspective. That’s the next step for us. Instead of just being, you know, content with covering my guy up, let’s create a little bit more space. Let’s grind; let’s strain; let’s finish, a little bit more. I think I could say that about the O-Line and I could say that about every position.
Defensively, we’ve got to consistently hit our gaps. There’s times where, you know, we’re not getting into the gap we’re responsible for, and all of a sudden now they run the ball through that gap and we’ve got a problem.
You know, it’s across the board, offense and division and special teams: We can strain a little bit more.
I think a couple weeks ago, this past Saturday is a great example. Saquon returns this one for a touchdown — why? Because we are all on the same page and we all strain and get him to the next level; he’s one-on-one with the kicker. I like our matchup.
A few weeks ago we run a bounce return back to the field and we’ve got one guy that’s returning the wrong return, and if he’s running the right return, we’ve got everybody blocked and Saquon scores again.
It’s the little things; it’s the details; it’s the focus. It’s the finishing; it’s the straining. It’s a little bit — that’s been my argument to the whole team is if the coaches, if the trainers, if the doctors, if the players, if everybody can just get a little bit better, just one percent better, then that’s going to add up.
All those little percentage points are going to add up and they are going to help us and hopefully give us a little bit more margin for error.
Q. Another coverage units question for you. Charles Huff talked a few years ago about swarming to the ball, and I would guess most special teams coaches would talk about that if they thought it would work. What is it about him that you have been most impressed with in building those coverage teams, and how much of special teams, especially on coverage, is buying into that kind of mentality?
COACH FRANKLIN: To be honest with you, I think that’s a little bit — I don’t want to be repetitive, but I think it’s very similar to the answer I just gave to the question — a few questions ago, is it’s a combination of everything.
It’s the vision; it’s the plan; it’s the investment that we make in terms of meeting time; it’s the investment we make in terms of practice time; it’s the development of our players and fundamentals and techniques; it’s the depth that we have been able to create.
We’re a faster team, which equates to being a faster special teams, which equates to being a faster offense and defense. It’s our punter being able to get the hang time and the ball location consistently that we’re looking for, and the same thing on kickoff.
It’s not one thing. It’s a combination of all these things that I think we’ve talked about three or four years ago. But now, we have more pieces of the puzzle to put it all together and that’s just kind of where we’re at. Really it’s not like we’ve changed schemes. It’s not like we’ve changed emphasis. We’re just at a point in the program now where we have accumulation of reps and experience buildup and a little bit more team speed and a little bit more depth and the same thing at the specialist positions.
Q. Northwestern usually doesn’t have the most celebrated athletes in the conference, but invariably is tough. What qualities does it have that make it so challenging to play against?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I guess I wouldn’t agree with that. I think you look, they have players every year that are drafted. They have won at a high level. They are able to compete against everybody at the highest level.
I think whenever you’re at an academic school like Northwestern — I was at one with Vanderbilt. Everybody just likes the story to be that you don’t have the same type of athletes. I don’t know if I necessarily would agree with that.
Like I said, they have a bunch of guys every year that make All Big Ten, and they have a bunch of guys that get drafted and go to the NFL. They are tough; they are hard-nosed; they are smart; they are disciplined. They got really good schemes. They’ve had a lot of consistency in their program on their coaching staff for a number of years.
I know Pat and their athletic director. I have a really good relationship; Jim Phillips. Pat’s been there a long time. He played there, and there’s just a vision. There’s a lot of cohesion there. I think they are a blue collar, hard-nosed, tough, smart and talented in my opinion, and that’s why they are a tough out because they have all the necessary ingredients to be successful.
Q. What is Trace’s latitude at the line of scrimmage as far as changing the play, and at what point does that happen? How would you evaluate his decision making?
COACH FRANKLIN: That’s been kind of his deal from the beginning.
I tell you what’s, it’s impressive sitting in the quarter back meetings. It’s impressive sitting in the offensive meetings. I mean, he’s got the stuff down, he really does.
In terms of this system compared to other systems, obviously the check-with-me system when you look back to the sideline the coaches are handling that, which in a lot of ways makes a lot of sense. I know a lot of times the NFL guys are not as complimentary of this system sometimes, which I disagree with.
I think you look at us, we’re a West Coast passing offense with progressions and footwork and very similar to what I came up in. The difference is you’ve got the coach making the adjustments from the sideline, which makes sense, because the players spend 20 hours a week on this and we spend whatever ridiculous number of hours we spend.
So you might as well have the guy that’s most prepared, most experienced, making those decisions. What we need Trace to do is we need Trace to make adjustments with the protection, some adjustments in the run game, but mostly in the protections.
You know, I think the other thing is coming back to the sideline and having great conversation and feedback with Joe to make sure the way Joe is seeing things on the sideline, he’s seeing it the same way. That information is really valuable.
But yeah, I think, you know, it’s Trace going through his progressions. It’s making great decisions with the ball. Knowing when to hang in the pocket and knowing when to take off and run. All those types of things, and really, over the last year and a half, he’s been really good. He’s been really good in those areas and we want to continue to build on it.
Q. What did you learn from your defense last week as far as having to deal with two quarterbacks with different styles?
COACH FRANKLIN: I guess what I would say is we went into that knowing that both quarterbacks were going to play. Maybe not as many reps as it turned out to be, but we went into it knowing that we were going to have to be prepared for both.
Now, I don’t think that’s ideal for us. I don’t think that’s probably ideal for any program. I mean, you’d love for your quarterbacks to be somewhat similar so that your game plan doesn’t have to completely change, and then trying to defend that. You don’t have one extreme to the other.
But I think the biggest thing is we anticipated that. We expected that. Our guys were aware when he was in the game, it was going to be a different style; that they were going to call the game differently and he was going to play to his strengths, which were different, they really were.
It’s a challenge, but I think the fact that we were able to be prepared for it on the front end and knew that he was going to have a factor in the game, and has from week one.
Q. Curious on the offensive line, most of these guys played there last year and seemed like it was really one of your most improved units as the year went on. Did you think they would be fitting in better at this point? Is it adjusting to new positions, because a lot of it’s pretty much the same cast, right. I’m just curious with some of the movement you guys made, has that added to the transition?
COACH FRANKLIN: No, I think the biggest thing is we have not had consistency at the one position, at the right tackle. We’ve played three different guys there for a number of different reasons, and the reality is, you know, whether it’s all five playing really well together or whether it’s four guys playing well or three guys playing well; you need all five. All five have to be playing at a high level or people would say, the O-Line is not doing as well as they should.
I think our O-line is playing good enough to win but we need to get better. I’d say that about probably all of our positions. You know, you’ve got Will Fries who is playing for the first time as a red-shirt freshman and playing a lot. That’s not ideal. There’s going to be growing pains from that. But I’ve been overall pretty pleased with him. I think he’s holding his own in big-time football as a 19 year-old.
Obviously being able to get Chasz consistently back is going to be important for us, because he played down the stretch last year and played really well; well enough to win the Big 10 Championship and go to the Rose Bowl. So getting him back where he’s available for an entire game and available at 100 percent would be important.
And then Nelly, as well. I think we went into this thinking like those guys were going to help create depth for us where we’ve ended up having to use those guys as starters. So you know, it’s about probably what I would expect knowing everything that I know. That’s about what I’d expect.
Q. The Northwestern secondary, they have got a bunch of guys back from last year. When you look at that, is that a match up you’re looking forward to, your wide receivers versus their secondary or your passing game and what do you have to do to be successful there?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think every week we have a lot of confidence in our wide receivers in that match up in the game. I really do; I feel like that’s an area that Coach Gattis and the receiver crew have worked really hard; that we feel like we match up well against anybody.
Especially when you’ve got a quarterback who can deliver the ball and they have got to be concerned about the running game and they have got to be concerned about your tight end. That makes it difficult.
And I think everybody realizes that people are doing whatever they possibly can to limit the impact that Saquon Barkley is going to have in the game, which creates opportunities for DaeSean Hamilton last week. And depending on how the defense decides that they are going to try to take away Saquon or limit Saquon, depending on how they scheme to do it that week; that’s going to leave one of our wide receivers, if not two of our wide receivers, in one-on-one situations, and that’s where Joe and that’s where the quarterbacks take advantage of that.
I think that’s one of the things that’s exciting about us right now is I know everybody would love for us just to line up and smash it down people’s throats but that’s not how we’re built. That’s not how we’re designed. When the opportunity is there to run the ball, run the ball effectively, we’re going to do that. When the opportunity is there to throw the ball to our wide receivers or to our tight ends or to Saquon, we’re going to do that. Whether that’s opportunity for Trace to carry ball — and I think that’s what makes us difficult is that each phase can beat you and that’s where it makes us difficult to stop sometimes.
And don’t get me wrong, we’ve got to get better. I think there’s areas that we’ve got to get better and we have to be cleaner. We’ve got to play for four quarters. We can’t come out and play really well in the first quarter and then play well in the fourth quarter but kind of stall in the second or third.
But just like I told you guys in the past: We identify areas that we need to improve on just like you guys do, and we work on them. The whole conversation last year was about being a second-half team and being better in the first half. We identified that as a problem. We’ve worked on it. Haven’t got any questions about first quarter or first half starting slowly; even you, you know, haven’t brought that up.
So I guess my point is: We understand that we’ve got areas that we have to improve in all three phases and we’re going to identify it and we’re going to be very honest with ourselves. We’re going to be very honest with the players. We want them to do the same thing, and then we’re going to attack it and try to get better.
That’s one of the things that I take a lot of pride in as the head coach over my career is we have fairly consistently gotten better as years have gone on from my first year of being a head coach till now and that’s what we need to do again this year. We just need to — I’m not saying you’re going to come out on Saturday in an area that’s a slight weakness for us, now becomes our strength.
It just needs to be a gradual improvement each day and each practice and each game, and if you do that, we’ve got enough strengths that, you know, if we can just get these weaknesses a little bit better, then we’re going to be difficult to deal with.
I think that’s one of the things we talk about with our players all the time and I think it’s a little bit of a generational thing with these guys is — I think I’ve said this to you guys before. You go to playgrounds all over America right now, every kid is trying to shoot a three-pointer and trying to dunk, and nobody can hit a foul shot anymore. But that’s not how our program will be.
Our program is going to be is we’re going to continue to emphasize the things that we’re doing well and the positives and build confidence from that, but we’re going to identify areas that we need to get better and we’re going to spend time focused on improvement.
Just like I went back to Tyler Davis, the first way to improve a weakness is to admit you have one.
Q. You mentioned like a dozen questions ago about Tommy and patience and your own playing days and how you had to wait it out a bit. What did that experience teach you, because are you naturally a patient person or not?
COACH FRANKLIN: No, I am not. And I think most people — I showed up at East Stroudsburg thinking I was ready to be the quarterback. I was not. I red-shirted. My red-shirt freshman year, I struggled. Thought I should be playing.
Went in, we were losing to Millersville on the road. Gene Carpenter was the head coach. We needed to win the game to go to the playoffs. I went in. We came back, tied the game, which allowed us to go to the — I guess, yeah, it was the national playoffs.
And then I never played again for two years. That was hard. Because just like Tommy, you get in and you know you can do it, and then you have to sit and wait. The guy that I was behind, Bret Comp, who is a high school coach here in Pennsylvania, good friend of mine, Bret — I was 18 years old. Bret was 24 years old. He was a Marine. Had served active duty. This is the guy I was competing against.
I think a lot of times, when you’re a player and you’re looking at it, you know, you should feel like you’re the guy. I think for me, that taught me a lot; that our team was winning; that our team was being successful; and you have to focus on the things that you can control and have some patience; although it’s not easy as a competitor, but it’s going to come and when the time comes, you need to be ready.
I’ve shared some of these things with Tommy, as well as our other quarterbacks, and you know, it’s easy for me to say. It’s hard to go through it at the time. But Tommy has been great. I couldn’t be more proud of him, his entire development, the type of teammate he’s been.
Him and Trace’s relationship; the respect that he has from our teammates, the respect that he has from our coaches, he’s been great, he really has. He’s doing really well academically. Got a very, very supportive family: Mom, dad, sister brother. They are awesome. They are awesome. It’s obviously easy for me to say these things. It’s hard going through it, but I’ve been there. Coach Moorhead’s been there.
You know, that’s part of this position. There’s only one on the field except when we get a little creative and then decide to put two on. But then when we decide to put two on, then you guys ask me, how come we don’t always put two on and how come we didn’t have two on this week. And who — do you want us to take off? You want us to take Saquon Barkley off the field — Neil? What about Mike Gesicki? You want him off the field — he wants fullback, exactly (Laughter).
Q. It looked like Chasz was on a rotation last game, every third series he came in and Will Fries has played the last five. What was the decision to have Will finish the game?
COACH FRANKLIN: To be honest with you, those things go into the category of things I don’t necessarily talk about with you guys, yeah. So you can figure that one out on your own.
Q. Everyone asks how you are, and I want one of these times at the end, you’re just like, "Look, I’m actually having an awful day" —
COACH FRANKLIN: I never have an awful day. And I don’t believe in saying that you have — like when you say "I’m all right," if you say you’re all right, that’s exactly how your day goes. Goes against everything I believe in. So I will never say that; 20 years from now when we do this, I will never say that.
Q. I respect that. Saquon is so good that we almost don’t talk about him, but it seems like the past six quarters or so, I don’t know if you watched the movie as much — you probably don’t have time for tons of movies, but he’s sort of in this Neo in the Matrix level —
COACH FRANKLIN: Can you say that again?
Q. Saquon Barkley is very good and he’s getting better and better, why do you think —
COACH FRANKLIN: You said something about something Matrix —
Q. I just decided not to try and explain that (Laughter).
COACH FRANKLIN: Okay.
Q. Why do you think he’s getting better and better? He seems to be just exponentially better and better some of these games than he’s been in the past. Is it just because he’s getting the ball more and he’s getting more opportunities?
COACH FRANKLIN: I guess I don’t know if I necessarily feel that way. I think every player in our program gets better as the years go on. They get better as their roles go and as they earn opportunities.
Obviously he’s a better player in year three than he was in year two because of all the work that he’s put in in the off-season.
So I guess what I would say is: I don’t know if he’s dramatically better this year than previous years; no different than other players. The difference is, he started up here. I think the thing that’s so impressive about Saquon Barkley is like.
I think I mentioned to you guys this summer: His body is still responding. He’s still responding in workouts like a freshman. So typically, as a freshman, you get in the weight room and you lift and you run and your body really reacts because you’ve never worked so hard in your life.
But by the time you get to your third year, you don’t get the same type of results. His body is still reacting, and I think that’s probably the difference with him is even at as high of a level as he was last year, he was still able to take another step.
I also would make the argument that part of Saquon’s ability to make more big plays is the improvement of the offensive line; is the improvement of the tight ends; is the improvement of the quarterbacks; is the improvement of the wide series; is the improvement of the speed and the physicality of our kickoff return unit, the guys that are blocking for him.
I also think it’s that we are using him in different ways now. I think the fact that he’s our kickoff return guy; there’s more opportunities to make plays.
Again, I don’t think it’s one thing. I don’t think it’s one moment. I think it’s a combination of all these factors working together.