Bill O’Brien Meets With Reporters On Media Day

Bill O’Brien kicked off Penn State’s annual football media day this morning with a half-hour press conference, discussing a wide range of topics from the QB competition to injury updates.

As expected, this year’s media day differed from last year’s event in that the NCAA’s sanctions against the school weren’t a major topic of discussion. In fact, there was only one question about the sanctions — O’Brien was asked about the football team’s reaction to the expiration of the free transfer ruling that allowed players on the team’s roster to transfer and not be forced to sit out a year.

“Once the season started we weren’t even thinking about that,” O’Brien said. “We felt like these guys were committed to us. Of course, a couple guys left, but that was more of their own volition, that’s what they decided to do and we respect that. We didn’t worry about that day at all.”

Instead, the main topic of discussion this year was the team’s quarterback situation. Since no incoming freshmen were made available to the media, neither Christian Hackenberg or transfer Tyler Ferguson were available for comment.

However, based on what he has seen, O’Brien believes there are reasons for optimism, no matter who takes the field on August 31 when the team takes on Syracuse at MetLife Stadium.

“We just finished day three (of camp) and we’re really pleased with both guys,” O’Brien said. “These guys can throw the football. Tyler came back and he has shown that he studied in the off-season since spring practice. Tyler makes his share of mistakes, but he’s had a good three days.”

“Christian, for just being here for the first time putting the pads on and practicing football, has done a really nice job of studying and trying to get better every day. It’s only three days but we’re certainly pleased with where they’re at right now.”

While O’Brien hasn’t named a starter and doesn’t plan on doing it for at least a couple weeks, he said that Ferguson is “a little bit ahead because he has knowledge of the offense” after three days of practice.

Despite this, O’Brien is impressed with how Hackenberg has picked up the offense in a short period of time.

“Christian’s come in here and really done a nice job.” O’Brien said, “For a true freshman to come in here and do the things that he’s done in the first three practices is really good.

Of course, the discussion wasn’t only on the quarterbacks.  Naturally, no school wants to deal with their players getting injured, but especially when the school is dealing with scholarship restrictions like Penn State.

The most notable injury is to DaeSean Hamilton. According to O’Brien, the freshman wide receiver will be out for the season with a wrist injury that he suffered during high school. Other injuries that O’Brien mentioned were to tight end Brent Wilkerson, who redshirted last season and will be out for “a while” with an undisclosed injury, and linebacker Ben Kline, who is “in and out” with shoulder issues, but according to O’Brien, “he’ll be ok.”

Other notes, quotes, and observations from O’Brien’s presser:

  • To help out whoever plays quarterback, it’s safe to assume the team will lean on Allen Robinson, who was far and away the Big Ten’s best receiver last season. To accomplish this, O’Brien said that he plans on using his star junior “all over the field.” O’Brien also mentioned the team’s other receivers, their loaded group of tight ends and their guys out of the backfield to help out Robinson.
  • Staying with Robinson, O’Brien mentioned that, “he’s faster, stronger, he’s really worked hard this summer to come back in tip top condition.” O’Brien also mentioned that he plans to move him around “a ton.”
  • To take some of the pressure off of Robinson, two guys that O’Brien plans on using are Eugene Lewis and Matt Zanellato. O’Brien said that Lewis has had “a nice first three days here,” while Zanellato is, “stronger, bigger. He’s a physical receiver.”
  • O’Brien is very optimistic about the team’s offensive line. “We have a lot of confidence in our offensive line,” O’Brien said, “We feel that the tackle position, the guard position and the center position, we’ve got guys there that have played a lot of football for us.”
  • O’Brien praised both the offensive and defensive lines for their depth. According to O’Brien, the staff believes their are eight guys who can play on the offensive line, while the defensive line has five guys who can start. He did mention the season-ending injury to Brad Bars, and mentioned that losing him hurts, but it’s, “next man up.”
  • Speaking of depth, O’Brien mentioned concerns over the depth at linebacker. While he said their three starters — Mike Hull, Glenn Carson and Nyeem Wartman — are “really good,” he mentioned that the depth is still a concern.
  • When asked about the team’s three headed monster at running back, O’Brien’s response was short and to the point: “There’s three of them. They’re all gonna play.”
  • When asked about his comments from Chicago that Adrian Amos was going to take some snaps at linebacker, O’Brien said that he will indeed line him up in the box, along with Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.
  • Penn State’s tight end position, according to O’Brien, is, “one of the tougher positions in our program to learn, second only to quarterback.” O’Brien mentioned that tight ends are critical parts of the running game, passing game and in protection, so the coaching staff tries to get them work at all of those things during practice.
  • Sam Ficken was praised for his hot finish to last season — he made his last ten kicks in a row — and for the extra work that he has put in this offseason. “He’s improved a lot, he’s worked hard at it.” O’Brien said, “I remember I was running on the treadmill during the summer and he was out there on the practice field, kicking by himself with his helmet on.”
  • O’Brien was asked about the ESPN All Access: Training Days program that will feature Penn State. To him, “it’s great for our program…it’s great for our kids and it’s great for Penn State, and I think it’s really important during this time period that the people of Penn State, the Penn Staters and all the fans of Penn State just see the type of kids we have.”
  • The team’s rich tight end unit has become even richer with the inclusion of star recruit Adam Breneman. O’Brien praised Breneman’s skill set, both as a receiver and a blocker, and his intelligence, as he is able to play either the Y or F in O’Brien’s offense.
  • The team will go about naming captains the same way they did last season: there will be game captains every week, with the season captains being named before the team’s finale against Wisconsin. O’Brien admitted that he’s not sure if the team will do that every year, but that is the current plan.
  • Right now, O’Brien says that the defense is “a little bit ahead of the offense.”
  • When asked whether the team will go for it on fourth down as much as they did last year, O’Brien said they will play it by ear. “There’s a lot of different factors, obviously we’re not gonna be dumb about it…Will we go for it on fourth down as much as we did last year? Who knows.”

Quotes of the day:

  • On the ESPN All Access program, O’Brien requested that he no longer wears a microphone because, “it’s not on HBO, it’s on ESPN.”
  • Question: “Bill, does it affect your QB’s one way or another that there really isn’t a seasoned, D-1 quarterback on the roster that they can kind of observe and learn from? O’Brien: “No, they got a seasoned coach they can learn from.”

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