I Q&A: Coach O'Brien Post-Spring
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 II of the conversation with Coach O'Brien below.
Moving to the defensive side of the ball, talk about the overall depth on the
defensive line for Larry Johnson's unit.
Coach O'Brien: "There are a bunch of guys there who can play. We will rotate guys in and out to keep everyone fresh. That is the best way to play a defensive line. And that is a great luxury we have with Jordan Hill and DaQuan Jones, and then Pete Massaro, Sean Stanley and Deion Barnes on the outside. I think Barnes, who is a young guy can be a really special player. We are going to move Kyle Baublitz inside because we lost Evan Hailes (blood clot). We have a number of guys there who can play and be productive for us."
GoPSUSports.com: In the linebacker corps, Gerald Hodges seemed to really stand out during the spring. What did you see from that group and what are you looking forward to about the linebackers?
Coach O'Brien: "That is a very good group. We have a number of strong, athletic players with good instincts. (Gerald) Hodges, Khairi Fortt, who was injured during the spring will be back for training camp, (Michael) Mauti will be back for training camp. I am looking forward to seeing him on the field. We have Glenn Carson there who had a solid spring. Mike Hull, to me, one of the things he does well is the way he blitzes. He has a knack for blitzing. (Michael) Yancich is a guy who got better during the spring. We lose (James) Van Fleet with the knee injury, so some of the younger guys will need to step up and play. I feel good about those guys on defense and on special teams. They will all be contributing on special teams."
GoPSUSports.com: You talked about depth in the secondary being a little thin heading into the spring, how much progress did you see out of that group, and then specifically Stephon Morris?
Coach O'Brien: "It is really depth. I want to make sure that I am really clear on that. It is not talent. It is depth. We just don't have a lot of guys there. Stephon (Morris) had a very consistent spring. He is a guy who competes every day. He can play man-to-man coverage. He is instinctive in zone coverage. You can match him up with a team's best receiver. He had a very good spring. Then you have Adrian Amos, who was out some of the spring with an injury. He can play safety or corner. He is a really good young player who we are expecting big things out of. Then Malcolm Willis, at safety had a very solid spring and is a leader back there. (Jacob) Fagnano had a very good spring at safety. He is a tough guy. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong had a very good spring, and he is a guy who will also really contribute on special teams. There are some depth issues, but we feel like we have a good group of core guys."
GoPSUSports.com: You spent a lot of time on special teams during the spring practice season. How do you think special teams went?
Coach O'Brien: "I thought things went well. It was our goal to rep each special team three times during the spring. And we got that done. They all understand what we are trying to do. We were able to watch it and say here are the 20 core special teams players, which is good. John Butler did a really good job overseeing all of the special teams work. That was a really big part of it. Each coach did a good job of coaching it up. Special teams is an area that I feel like we will be able to go out in the fall and be a pretty good unit. We have a really good kicker in Anthony Fera. He can punt. He can kick. He can place the ball where you want him to place it. He is a luxury to have back there. I feel pretty good about where we are special teams wise."
GoPSUSports.com: You said going into spring practice that you thought the defense was ahead of the offense, just because of the natural progression of things. Where do you think things are at in the summer? Are you happy with where both units are collectively?
Coach O'Brien: "I would say that the defense is still a little bit ahead. It is more of a veteran group. Offensive football, especially in our offense, is about timing. Some of the timing was off a little bit during the spring. But defensive timing is more about being aggressive and instinctive. I thought the guys on defense did a very good job of that. I feel good about where our defense is. They have improvement to make between now and Sept. 1, but the defense is still a little ahead of the offense. The offense definitely closed the gap, and like I said, that Saturday scrimmage before Blue-White was a very good day for the offense."
GoPSUSports.com: You are in the process of planning training camp. How similar or different will the practice structure be at training camp versus where things were at during spring practice?
Coach O'Brien: "It will be a little bit different. Number one, during spring practice you had 15 practices spread out over a month. Now, you have 29 practices opportunities before your first game. You bring them in on Aug. 6. The first five days you have one-a-days and then you can never have two two-a-days in a row. Practice will be a little bit different in the structure of how we do drill work. We pretty much know who our top players are. Now, it is about getting a team ready to play a season. Understanding how we are going to practice during a season is part of it. The other thing that is really important is what we want to get accomplished during the first week, the second week and then the third week. Then we will have three or four scrimmages during the training camp to really get our guys in a game mentality. Training camp will be different, but at the same time, the tempo won't change. The intensity won't change. The way we coach won't change."
GoPSUSports.com: In terms of gameplan preparation from your perspective, what are your thoughts on Frank Solich's Ohio Bobcats that you will see during week one of the season?
Coach O'Brien: "I have a great deal of respect for Coach Solich. He has been a head coach for a very long time. He has been very successful. They do some different things. Offensively, they run an option scheme that is a little different than what our defense sees at practice. We have to do a great job taking Ohio periods during training camp. We will be showing our defense some of the things they will see on Sept. 1. They run a little bit of a different scheme on defense. It is kind of a 3-3 look, so there are some different things we have to get ready for there. The blocking will be a little bit different. We have to really hone in on those things all during training camp."
GoPSUSports.com: Are you looking forward to the non-conference schedule? You have some pretty unique challenges with Ohio, a trip to Virginia, Navy and Temple.
Coach O'Brien: "It is a tough schedule. You have four teams there that are really well coached teams that have a lot to play for when they are playing Penn State. Navy has a very unique attack. Virginia at Virginia is a very tough place to play. Temple, what they have done with Al Golden and now Steve Addazio is very impressive. Those are all tough games. It is a challenging schedule and we have to be ready for it."
GoPSUSports.com: For you personally, what is your summer going to look like?
Coach O'Brien: "Most of the month of June will be staff meetings and several camps. The staff meetings will consist of planning for training camp and evaluating the roster. In July, we will take a little bit of time off for a couple weeks. And then we will be back at the end of July ready to go for training camp."
Follow GoPSUsports.com Media Specialist Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony