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VIDEO: O'Brien, Nittany Lions Open Spring Practice

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VIDEO: Practice I Sights & SoundsCoach O'Brien Press Conference Transcript | Practice I Photo Gallery

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Football is back in the air in Happy Valley.

Head coach Bill O'Brien and the Nittany Lions took the field on Monday afternoon for the first of 15 spring practices.  The Lions will practice three days during the first week of spring drills, which culminate with the annual Blue-White Game on April 20 in Beaver Stadium.

8711690.jpegThe Lions made good progress in the winter strength and conditioning program, and Coach O'Brian and the staff are excited to see how things translate onto the field during the spring practice season.

"We are very excited," O'Brien said.  "I've personally been on the banquet circuit for a few months, and the coaches have been recruiting.  We have been able to meet with our players over the last couple weeks.  They have been in the weight room.  They have been working hard.  And now it is time to transfer all of that out onto the field.  So we are really fired up about the start of practice."

With 33 days between the first practice and the Blue-White Game, O'Brien and the staff have long list of items they are looking to accomplish during the 2013 spring practice season on both sides of the ball.

"Number one, offensively, we have to make sure that the quarterbacks progress throughout the spring," O'Brien said.  "We know that these are good guys who have worked extremely hard, and we know they are smart guys.  At the end of 15 practices, we want to make sure they have a good grasp of the offense.

"Defensively, I know Coach Butler and his staff are going to look at a lot of different packages.  The foundation will stay the same, but they are going to look at a lot of different ways to utilize the talent on that side of the ball.  Then, we are going to work special teams every single day.  At the end of spring, we will have a bunch of reps on punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return.  Hopefully that will bode well for use heading into the summer for us to gauge where we are as a football team."

O'Brien and the coaching staff are entering season two at the helm of the Nittany Lion football program.  With a full season under their belts, the outlook at the start of spring practice season number two is different than it was last year.

"It's a lot different, in many ways," O'Brien said.  "For me personally, I have a lot more comfortable feeling with our players and their skill sets and their academic situations and their personal lives.  And I think our staff feels the same way.  We all feel more comfortable at Penn State.  The players are more comfortable in the system.  We are just really looking forward to working with this group."

The emphasis during spring practice is on individual technique, improving fundamentals and consistency for the Nittany Lions.  Additionally, the Nittany Lion coaching staff will examine different players in different positions.  Among the position changes, Garry Gilliam moves to offensive tackle this spring.  O'Brien also said that redshirt freshman Malik Golden will spend time as a defensive back and receiver during the spring, and senior Nate Cadogan will spend time on the defensive line and offensive line during spring practice.

"For our staff, it is important for our coaching staff to take a good look at different guys in different positions and find out how to utilize our talent best so that we don't waste a lot of time in training camp doing that," O'Brien said.

Ultimately, O'Brien wants to see the team improve each day and play consistent during the spring practice season.

"I want to see consistent play; I don't want to see up and down play during the spring," O'Brien said.  "I know that when we walk off the field after every spring practice, usually the offense or the defense played a little bit better than the other side of the ball.  I understand that.  But I want to see consistent play.  I want to see the quarterbacks play consistently well, especially Steven (Bench) and Tyler (Ferguson).  I want to see those guys play well.  Defensively, I'm looking forward to seeing how the depth develops and see who can rise up and help us there.  And then in special teams, I am really looking forward to seeing how our specialists improve and to see who can help us on special teams."

Coach O'Brien Press Conference Roundup
- O'Brien said on Monday that he is eager to see the linebacker trio of Glenn Carson, Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman on the field together this spring.

"I'm really looking forward to watching Hull, Carson and Wartman play together, because again, those are three guys that didn't really play together that much last year. Like you said, it was Carson, Mauti and Hodges, and all three of those guys have had excellent off‑seasons.  Glenn Carson and Mike Hull have really worked hard.  They are leaders on this football team.  They are tough guys, good players and then Nyeem, I think he worked very hard this off‑season and we are looking forward to seeing what he can do.  But there's certainly not a lot of depth there, so it's going to be imperative for myself to monitor that and make sure that we are not giving those guys too many reps."

- O'Brien said that LB Ben Kline (shoulder) would not be able to practice this spring.  Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (shoulder) and Kyle Carter (wrist) will practice this spring, but will be held out of contact drills.  Tight end Adam Breneman (knee) will be a full participant in spring practice, but his reps will be monitored.

- Coach O'Brien noted that Ty Howle will start spring practice as the leading candidate to replace All-Big Ten center Matt Stankiewitch.

"Ty Howle will be in that mix.  He'll be the starter going into the spring there.  We've got Wendy Laurent, who will play there, too, and we've got Angelo Mangiro who will be in there.  He's got a little bit of a hamstring issue right now so he won't be there initially.  But hopefully he can get out of the tub and get on to the field because that's where he needs to be, and he'll have a chance to play center, too.  He'll be in that competition."

- O'Brien on quarterbacks Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson.

"Steven has been in the program for a year and Tyler just got here in January and they are both working at it.  I would say Steven probably knows it a little bit better than Tyler right now just because he's been here for a year, which, that's not Tyler's fault.  He's catching up and he's doing a good job learning.  They are both athletic.  They both can throw the football, and now it's going to depend on how well they can make decisions and how accurately they can throw the football.  They both want to be coached.  They are both on time.  They sit in the front row and they both pay attention and take a lot of notes.  It's a really fun group to be around."

Look for continuing coverage throughout the day and the rest of spring practice as the Nittany Lions return to the field for the first time in 2013.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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