Franklin likes look of defense before opener

Penn State wide receiver KJ Hamler hauls in a pass during practice Wednesday in State College. The Nittany Lions host Idaho to open the season Saturday.

STATE COLLEGE — Penn State coach James Franklin routinely praised his defense all offseason, often characterizing the group as “lean, long and fast.”

Saturday afternoon, he and the Nittany Lion fans will see just how the unit fares in live game action when Penn State opens its season against Idaho.

“At this point, I feel pretty good about it,” Franklin said. “In years past, we’ve had pieces that were really exciting. … In terms of (defensive) line, linebacker and secondary, we feel pretty good about them right now. But at game time it’s going to be another evaluation. At this point of the season, going into it, I think our confidence is pretty high with how we’re capable of playing on defense.”

One of many reasons for Franklin’s optimism about his defense is what the Nittany Lions return in defensive tackle Robert Windsor, who was voted a second-team All-Big Ten selection by the Associated Press last year. Franklin said Windsor’s evolution as a player and student is worthy of accolades. Windsor is in the process of earning a graduate degree in media studies.

“His overall development from the time he got here to now is dramatic,” Franklin said. “I told him the other day — I pulled him to the side — I couldn’t be more proud of him in terms of how far he’s come and how much he’s matured as a football player, as a student, as a teammate, all of it. He has really maximized his experience here. I think he’s going to have a huge year for us as a football player.”

Penn State redshirt sophomore Sean Clifford met with the media for the first time since being named starting quarterback. Clifford looked crisp in late-practice passes, and he flashed hints of his mobility a couple of times on positive-yardage runs.

Clifford, who was named starting quarterback last Friday, said he received the official word from Franklin and Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne just a couple of days before the announcement was made public. Clifford earned the starting nod over redshirt freshman Will Levis.

“Personally, I made sure I did the little things right, and I think Will did a great job with pushing me to be my best self,” Clifford said. “I appreciate him so much for that. We’ve talked a lot about going into the season, and we’re just going to keep on pushing each other. We’re really excited about where this team is going.”

Having faced Penn State’s defense all offseason during practices, scrimmages and fall camp, Clifford offered a ringing endorsement of the unit.

“The best person to ask is me or Will Levis because we’ve been going against them every day,” Clifford said. “They’re a fast team. They’re going to give you a lot of different looks, and they’re going to come at you with a lot of heat. I’m excited to see what they can do this season. I have a lot of confidence in those guys.”

Franklin said redshirt sophomore cornerback Donovan Johnson is suspended against Idaho for a violation of team rules. Johnson played in 12 games last season, and recorded 12 tackles and three pass deflections.

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