James Franklin nodded Wednesday night after being asked about the frustration with the receiving corps — and his evaluation of receivers coach David Corley.
The head coach understood. This isn’t the season anyone expected from the wideouts. With 21 drops, the Nittany Lions have one of the worst catch rates in the Power Five.
“We all own some responsibility in it,” Franklin said. “There are some balls we can make better throws. There’s some catches — we can make more consistent catches, there’s no doubt about it. There’s some coaching, fundamentals and development that could be better.
“It’s all of it. … I get the frustration.”
The drops have been a season-wide issue. On Sept. 11 after the first two games, DeAndre Thompkins had made no catches and Juwan Johnson had struggled. But Franklin told reporters at the time, “We’re going to look back at the end of the year and say, ‘Wow, what huge years these guys had.’ I’m very, very confident that that’s going to happen.”
Instead, Thompkins has made just seven receptions all season and Johnson has seen an incredible freefall in mock drafts — from as high as No. 7 overall in the 2019 NFL draft to completely off draft boards. Six weeks after Franklin addressed reporters, the head coach said he still has faith the issue will turn around.
“I will tell you this, I remember a guy by the name of Mike Gesicki that people were frustrated with,” Franklin said after practice Wednesday night. “And we kept believing in Mike Gesicki, we kept trusting in him and, partly, because of the investment you guys don’t see.
“When these guys aren’t in class and I walk down to get a Gatorade and Mike Gesciki is on the JUGS machine — and I don’t want to get into specific names — but I see that with our guys now. And I just believe in our guys and how much they invest, and we’re going to keep loving them and keep coaching them, and it’s going to turn for them because I know how much they invest.”
Gesicki struggled his sophomore season and, statistically, was one of the Big Ten’s worst tight ends when it came to catch rate. But he eventually worked through it and became an NFL-caliber tight end.
The difference this season is the issue isn’t limited to just one player. It’s nearly the entire corps, and the progress hasn’t stuck. The Nittany Lions committed no drops against Michigan State, for example, but a week later in windy conditions, they dropped four or five balls against Indiana.
Franklin never mentioned Corley by name Wednesday. But, earlier in his post-practice scrum, he addressed his coaching relationships with his assistants and emphasized how every assistant knows where he stands with the head coach.
Corley is believed to be no different.
“I think that’s created a really good environment over the last eight years,” Franklin said about his directness with his assistants. “It’s evolved and grown; it helps to have pre-existing relationships and there’s trust there so you can have hard conversations with people and they know it’s coming from the right place.”
Franklin didn’t share any “hard” conversations he’s had with Corley. But time is running out on the season — and a turnaround. If one doesn’t come soon, more hard conversations could be on the way.
Notes: WR Juwan Johnson, who was injured Saturday, played with the first-team in practice. … James Franklin still reiterated one of the true freshmen could have a big opportunity Saturday but said he was unsure whether it would be Jahan Dotson, Justin Shorter or Daniel George.