UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Sunny skies, warm temperatures and nearly 200 members of the local and national media greeted the Nittany Lions football team at Beaver Stadium on Thursday for the 2012 version of Penn State football media day.
Head coach Bill O'Brien opened the day with a press conference in the Beaver Stadium Media Room. From there, the Nittany Lions posed for the 2012 team photo, position photos and spoke the assembled media for nearly 60 minutes on the finely manicured sod in Beaver Stadium.
The theme of the day from O'Brien and the 2012 squad was an overall excitement to be back on the field practicing. The Lions opened their first training camp under the direction of O'Brien on Monday morning at 6:15 a.m. The media attended the first portion of Thursday's session, the fourth practice of the season. The Nittany Lions will begin practice in full pads on Saturday morning.
"The morale's been excellent," O'Brien said. "The first day we got them up early. We got them up at 5:15. These kids were ready to go. They showed up early for practice that day. Has everything been pretty at practice? No. But there's been a lot of hard working, a lot of guys out there that really care about each other, care about playing for Penn State, care about going to school here, and the morale's been excellent."
Senior quarterback Matt McGloin received a great deal of attention at media day. The Scranton native will direct the Nittany Lion offense throughout preseason camp to get the squad ready for the season-opener on Sept. 1. McGloin has made significant progress in his command at the line of scrimmage and decision making since the end of spring practice, O'Brien said.
"This is a guy that the more you're around him, the more you enjoy coaching him," O'Brien said. "I would say the same about all four of these guys, Paul Jones, Shane McGregor, and Steven Bench. These are good guys to be around. But Matt is competitive; he's smart; he's understanding defenses better; he's understanding what formation, what play we're in, and what the best plays are to run versus the defense that he sees. So I've seen a lot of progress with Matt, and it's been a lot of fun watching it."
Sophomore Bill Belton has stepped into the starting spot behind McGloin in the backfield. Clad in a new number (No. 1), Belton is another player O'Brien heralded for his progress from the Blue-White Game through the first few practices of fall camp.
"I said you went with the receivers (during winter workouts) and I said where you going?" O'Brien said. "He said 'I'm a receiver.' No, you're a running back. So we put him at running back, and he showed us he has really good feet. He's got a unique ability to be able to balance, put his hand on the ground ask balance himself and spin. He's done a much better job, knock on wood, in the first three days of ball security. He has really good hands out of the backfield. So I feel good about Billy. I think he's grown up in the last six or seven months. I think Charles London has done a heck of a job coaching him. "
On the defensive side of the ball, the Penn State front seven is poised to play a central role in the success of the team. Led by seniors Jordan Hill and Pete Massaro on the line and veteran linebackers Glenn Carson, Gerald Hodges and Micheal Mauti, Coach O'Brien thinks the front seven is the top group on the roster.
"With depth on the defensive line and the linebackers, the front seven is the strength of our football team," O'Brien said.
At this point in training camp, Coach O'Brien noted that the defense is slightly ahead of the offense, but that is expected as the offensive unit continues to learn the new playbook and new assignments each day of camp. One thing is certain, O'Brien and the Nittany Lions love spending time on the practice field working towards the start of the season.
"Training camp is awesome," O'Brien said. "Training camp is a lot of fun. I mean, that's where when you were growing up and you went to camp, everybody loved going to camp. Well, this is you're going to camp with a team. You're starting to come together as a team and you're bonding."
The Nittany Lions are 23 days away from the opener against Frank Solich and the Ohio Bobcats on Sept. 1 in Beaver Stadium.
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