Spring Practice Day 1: Notes, Quotes, and Observations
“I’m just excited to be off the banquet circuit and back on the field coaching,” joked Bill O’Brien towards the beginning of his press conference to begin spring football in the Beaver Stadium media room.
After a whirlwind offseason, O’Brien is happy to return to football, even if snow kept the Nittany Lions confined to the indoor Holuba Hall for the first of 15 practices.
“At the end of the day, what we all love to do is coach and be on the field, and watch these guy improve from day to day,” said O’Brien.
The head coach is looking forward to the numerous position battles that will occur throughout the spring even though the most important and scrutinized one will not be decided until August.
Sophomore Steven Bench and Junior College transfer Tyler Ferguson will split the first team snaps at quarterback this spring. Both signal-callers will have plenty of opportunities to prove why they deserve the starting nod in the season opener against Syracuse, but O’Brien hinted that highly-touted freshman Christian Hackenberg will also be in the mix for the job come August.
“That’s not necessarily the case,” said O’Brien, responding to a question if he would ideally like to redshirt Hackenberg. “Unless they are injured, you’re going to put them into the mix and let them compete and you’re going to play your best players.”
After working with Tom Brady in New England, O’Brien understands the value of stability at the quarterback position and will eventually settle on a guy, but he’s in no rush to do so.
“I’m not into alternating quarterbacks,” O’Brien said. “I’m not saying that we’ll never do that, but I’m not really a big believer in that right now.”
Switching the focus to other skill players on offense, O’Brien is excited for a promising crop of running backs. Zach Zwinak enters as the starter, but Bill Belton (down three pounds from last season) and Akeel Lynch (up five pounds) are both looking to earn their share of carries.
“As long as I’m the head football coach here, that running back position will always be competitive,” O’Brien said.
Turning towards the defense, O’Brien knows that there are plenty of key players to replace. While depth at linebacker is not particularly deep with Ben Kline, out for the spring following shoulder surgery, there is a nice mix of experience and potential.
“I’m really looking forward to [Mike] Hull, [Glenn] Carson, and [Nyeem] Wartman playing together because those are three guys that didn’t really play together that much last year,” said O’Brien.
A likable and successful 2012 team will not be soon forgotten, but O’Brien, who says he feels more comfortable entering his second season at Penn State, is ready to move on and focus on the upcoming season.
“The 31 seniors did a great job, but at the end of the day, we were 8-4. We started 0-2. We have a lot of positions that need to get better, and we have kids that are working hard to do it the way we want to do it. They understand that, and I think they are looking forward to getting out there,” said O’Brien.
Notes and Practice Observations:
- Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (shoulder) and Kyle Carter (wrist) will not participate in contact drills during the spring. Adam Breneman, who is recovering from ACL surgery, will be active, but monitored closely.
- Despite being listed as a center on a roster update a few days ago, O’Brien clarified that Miles Dieffenbach is still a guard.
- Senior Ty Howle is the leading guy to replace Matt Stankiewitch at center, but Wendy Laurent and Angelo Mangiro (currently dealing with a hamstring injury) will also get a look.
- Malik Golden is officially listed as a defensive back but could also get some work on offense as a wide receiver during practice.
- Golden worked with the safeties and coach Anthony Midget during practice while defensive coordinator John Butler instructed the cornerbacks during position drills.
- The highlight of practice was a competition with quarterbacks trying to hit receivers and tight ends in single coverage. The defense came out on top in three of four plays, but the bright spot for the offense included a nice ball from Ferguson to tight end Jesse James, who was able to beat Hull deep.
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The Nittany Lions snapped a two-game losing streak with a close victory over Indiana in Bloomington.
Toney finished the game with four sacks, including a crucial one on the Hoosiers’ final drive of the game late in the fourth quarter.
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