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Part I Q&A: Coach O'Brien Reviews Spring Football, Previews Camp

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With his first spring practice season in the rearview mirror, Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien is looking ahead to the beginning of training camp on Aug. 6.

After spending three weeks on the Coaches Caravan in May, Coach O'Brien is back in his office evaluating spring practice, setting the depth chart and preparing for training camp.  I recently sat down with the leader of Nittany Lion football for a post-spring Q&A.  Read part I of the conversation with Coach O'Brien below.  Look for part II tomorrow. What is your overall evaluation of spring practice?  Did you get everything done that you wanted to in the 15-practice window?
Coach O'Brien:
"We definitely got a lot accomplished.  The kids learned how to practice at a fast tempo.  We installed a great deal on both sides of the ball and special teams.  The coaches learned how we wanted run things practice wise.  The coaches got a chance to be around their players a lot, which was really good.  We are behind in certain areas - situational football.  We have got to do a better job in training camp really hitting the ground running in 2-minute, red zone, third down and all of the situations that go into winning a football game.  So I think if we can make up ground early in training camp on that then we will be in good shape.  But that is where we are behind." You threw a lot at the team, especially on offense.  Is it a situation where you hope when they come back at the start of camp they pick up where you left off as opposed to needing to re-teach things.  How do you strike that balance?
Coach O'Brien:
"The kids need to have a great summer.  We can't be around them at all during the summer.  So what we did at the end of spring we took one practice and coached them on how we wanted the summer to go, and how to communicate during the summer.  That way, the guys can use the language on the field that they are supposed to use.  That is the biggest key.  As long as the language stays fresh, when they get to training camp it will not be like re-learning.  Hopefully they have a good summer.  And if they do, then we will be able to pick up where we left off at the end of spring." You have mentioned the scrimmage on the Saturday before the Blue-White Game several times.  What specifically did you like about the way the team played on that day?
Coach O'Brien:
"We went ones against ones, twos against twos, threes against threes.  A bunch of guys got reps.  We had referees there.  We ran it like a game.  Offensively, I thought they clicked.  We played a little bit better than the defense that scrimmage, which was good to see because our defense can be strong.  We made some plays on offense.  The quarterbacks played more consistently.  I felt that was our best practice of the spring." From the players' perspective, with that positive practice coming at the end of the spring after facing such a steep learning curve, how much confidence do you think that will give the team heading into the summer?
Coach O'Brien:
"I think they definitely have confidence that they can learn our system.  They know that they have to study it, and again, have a really good summer with it.  I think these guys should have confidence.  This is a hard-working team.  It is a tough team with smart guys.  We preach confidence to these guys.  They have a chance to be a good team, but they have to understand the meaning of team, communication, operation, and I think if they continue to improve on that over the summer then we will have a good training camp and be ready to go." Personnel-wise, what impressed you about the offensive line?
Coach O'Brien:
"I am probably putting some pressure on these guys because I was impressed with these guys.  They're smart.  They're tough.  They love football.  They enjoy practicing.  We have eight to 10 guys there that take a lot of pride in what they do.  We have really good leaders on that line with (Matt) Stankiewitch and (John) Urschel.  They are coached very well.  I have a lot of confidence in Mac (McWhorter).  I am looking forward to those guys.  I enjoy being around them.  I think they are good team guys that came together pretty well during the spring." In the receiving corps, Justin Brown is a guy who has played a lot of football and had a good spring.  But some of the younger guys seemed to emerge during the spring - Allen Robinson, Alex Kenney and Shawney Kersey to name a few - what did you see out of that group?
Coach O'Brien:
"I think we have five or six guys there who can play.  Justin Brown and Devon Smith, before he got hurt, both had really good springs.  (Shawney) Kersey, like you said, had a really good end to the spring.  He really came alive and made some plays at the end and in the Blue-White Game.  Allen Robinson probably had the most consistent spring of that group.  He got better from day one to day 15.  To me, that is a really good group of guys.  They are big, except for Devon (Smith) who is fast.  Alex Kenney has good speed.  We have some guys who can run.  We have guys with good hands.  We have guys who are smart, instinctive football players.  I feel pretty good about that group right now." What about the running backs?  Silas is the leader of the group, but what did you see out of Bill Belton, Derek Day, Michael Zordich and Zach Zwinak?
Coach O'Brien:
"I think that is probably one of the stronger positions on the team.  If I had to choose one position on either side of the ball, I would say that position on offense and the defensive line on defense.  We are four deep there, and then we have (Michael) Zordich at fullback.  These guys all bring different values to the table for our team.  They are led by Silas (Redd), who has good vision, tough, great character.  Bill Belton has good speed, and he catches the ball well out of the backfield.  I think that is a very good position for us." Talk about the quarterbacks.  They probably faced the steepest learning curve of anybody during the spring.  How did they accept the challenge?  And what did you see in terms of progress on the field?
Coach O'Brien:
"That is a tough situation for them to come in and learn a completely new scheme.  There is a heavy burden on the quarterbacks because in this offense, they run the show.  They have to operate the show in the huddle.  They have to operate at the line of scrimmage.  There is a lot that goes into playing that position.  I think those guys got better and better.  They had somewhat of an inconsistent spring, but again, at the end of the day I feel pretty good about where we are at with that position.  They need to have a good summer and be ready to go at training camp.  If they do have a good summer, I think we will hit the ground running at training camp and be right where we need to be."

Stay tuned for Part II of the post-spring Q&A with Coach O'Brien tomorrow.

Follow Media Specialist Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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