UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion football team has reached day 11 of its first training camp under head coach Bill O'Brien.
O'Brien provided an update on how things have gone so far on Thursday afternoon during a conference call from his office inside the Lasch Football Building.
Penn State scrimmaged on Wednesday afternoon in Beaver Stadium under game-like conditions. The squad ran more than 100 plays with first down markers, game officials and the coaches wearing headsets on the sidelines and in the press box. Below are some comments and observations from O'Brien as the team inches closer to the Sept. 1 season opener against Ohio.
- Matt McGloin has made superb progress at the quarterback position during training camp. The senior quarterback is in command at the line scrimmage, and he has a very good grasp of O'Brien's offensive scheme.
"Matt McGloin has definitely solidified (the starting spot) there," O'Brien said. "He's had a good camp. He's really got a good feel for how we operate. He's getting better every day."
- In the backfield, O'Brien said that Bill Belton has cemented his place in the starting lineup at the tailback position. Belton looks more comfortable each practice. The sophomore has quick feet, a strong cut-back ability and a low pad level. Belton has put together two very good scrimmages, including an 80-yard touchdown run on Sunday.
"He's definitely cemented himself as a starter at this point," O'Brien said. "Other guys will play, but Billy will start the game," said O'Brien. "He's had a good camp, he had an 80-yard touchdown run two scrimmages ago, his pass protection has gotten a lot better, he's catching the ball out of the backfield. Billy's a good football player. And we've got some good players at that position -- we've got Derek Day who's had a good camp. We've got (Zach) Zwinak, he's had a good camp. We've got this freshman, Akeel Lynch that's come in here and really done a good job picking things up. So other guys will play, but Billy will start."
- Led by Allen Robinson, the Penn State receiving corps has six or seven players in its rotation, according to O'Brien. The list includes a pair of newcomers to the roster - Trevor Williams and Eugene Lewis - who have made good strides in their first college training camp.
- Like the receiver position, Coach O'Brien noted good depth in the tight end stable. Redshirt freshman Kyle Carter, junior Garry Gilliam, junior Matt Lehman and freshmen Jesse James and Brent Wilkerson are poised to be significant contributors at the tight end position. Wilkerson has impressed the coaching staff during camp.
"At tight end, there are four or five guys there that will all play," O'Brien said. "With the fifth guy, the addition, being Brent Wilkerson, who's really impressed us, as an incoming freshman here as a player."
- The offensive line has been a little banged up during camp, but the overall depth of the unit is good, and Coach O'Brien said the group has made the type of progress it needs to heading into the season.
"For the offensive line, you've got the usual suspects up there (in starting spots)," O'Brien said. "We've got decent depth although we've been banged up a little bit lately. But looks like depth going into the next few weeks will be okay, so we feel pretty good about that."
- As he has said throughout his time at Penn State, O'Brien said on Thursday that the front seven would be a strong unit of the 2012 Nittany Lions. Jordan Hill, Da'Quan Jones, Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley are on track to start up front, but the defensive line rotation will be deep. The same is true for the linebacker corps with Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti and Glenn Carson in starting spots, but there are several players capable of providing significant playing time at linebacker.
"The linebackers, definitely (Michael) Mauti, (Gerald) Hodges, Glenn Carson (will start) and then Mike Hull," O'Brien said. "Mike Yancich has had a good camp, Ben Kline, has shown flashes. We've got six guys there that we think can really help with the three starters being Mauti, Hodges & Carson. Glenn Carson's had an excellent camp, so has Hodges, really good camp."
- Coach O'Brien had this to say about the secondary unit:
"I have been very pleased with the secondary; I've been pleased with the defense as a whole. The secondary has a number of good returning players. Also some younger players in there that we think could really help us like a Da'Quan Davis or Jordan Lucas. In addition to the obviously 'steady Eddies' back there - Stephon Morris, Malcolm Willis, Adrian Amos-he's had an excellent camp... Stephen Obeng's had a really good camp. So I'm pretty happy with where those guys are at."
- Sophomore placekicker Sam Ficken has separated himself in the battle for kicking duties for the Nittany Lions. Ficken has been consistent on field goal attempts and routinely put the ball in the end zone on kickoffs.
"(Sam) Ficken has done a really nice job of placekicking," O'Brien said. "His kickoffs look decent, his field goal range looks pretty decent. I've been happy with Sam."
- Coach O'Brien noted on the conference call that the punting job is still open.
"I think the punting situation is still a little up in the air," O'Brien said. "Alex (Butterworth) shows flashes, (Matt) Marcincin shows flashes and then the next punt isn't very good. They really have to be a lot more consistent and I think that's still an on-going battle there."
The Nittany Lions practiced once on Thursday afternoon before a double session on Friday.
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