UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The first six sessions of Penn State's initial spring season under the direction of head coach James Franklin have been marked by progress.
The Nittany Lions completed their sixth practice of the allotted 15 on Wednesday inside Holuba Hall. Penn State will practice eight more times leading up to the culmination of spring drills on April 12 at the Blue-White Game inside Beaver Stadium.
So far, the team is excited about the strides that have been made on a daily basis.
"It's been awesome," senior guard Miles Dieffenbach said. "You kind of can't get a feel for the coaching staff until you get on the field with them and see what they are really like. They are awesome. They are super enthusiastic. They love the game, love our team and are really excited to be here."
Starting with a clean slate, the Nittany Lions have had the challenge of learning new systems installed on both sides of the ball. Offensively, 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg thinks the first two weeks have been highlighted by improvement.
"I think that we have really bought into the system," Hackenberg said. "We've gotten to meet. We've gotten to see what each position coach expects out of us. I think that you can see with each practice that we are getting a little better and a little better at the little things and the intricacies on the offense. We're just looking to build on that. I think it is really impressive how quickly we have progressed, and we are really excited."
Establishing timing and cohesiveness within the offense is the ongoing task the Nittany Lion offense will work on between now and the start of training camp in August.
"Hackenberg has done really well with the offense," Dieffenbach said. "He's really starting to get things down, along with the wide receivers and running backs. I'm pretty with how things are going so far."
Defensively, senior linebacker Mike Hull and junior cornerback Jordan Lucas know the unit has a long way to go, but both believe the defense has gotten significantly better in a short period of time.
"We have improved a ton," said Hull. "The defenses are getting a lot easier. They are becoming more natural. The communication is definitely there. Coach (Bob) Shoop has done a great job taking it step by step with us."
"There are going to be some growing pains because it is a new system, but we have a lot of smart guys on the field who know football," Lucas said. "The system allows us to play. We don't have to think as much. We can go out there and play."
Whether it be developing the timing on offense or playing effectively within the defensive scheme, improvement is marked by chemistry on the field.
"We really want to just continuing building our offense and our defense," Dieffenbach said. "We want to have a good feel for the schemes (by the end of spring). Practice takes time, and you have to build the chemistry on the field."
Coach Franklin established core values for the program during his introductory press conference in January. He said that the Nittany Lions would compete in everything they do. That starts from the moment any player steps onto the practice field.
"It is a competition in everything we do," Lucas said. "Whether it be one-on-ones, pass-blocking, team drills, everything is a competition. That's how we treat it. If we don't win, we are going to get you the next drill that we are doing."
"The intensity level is 1 million percent," Dieffenbach said. "They have been super intense practices, but that is good because it brings the best out of guys and it will only make our team better."
On both sides of the ball, the Lions practice with the mindset that they want to win everything.
"We are all competitors at heart," Hackenberg said. "We want to go out there and compete. Each practice, each drill and each rep is an opportunity to do so. It has really been made a focal point, and we love it. It makes practice a lot more interesting, and you are really focused on that rep. And that helps you in the grand scheme of things."
The competitive nature on the field will only help the Nittany Lions set the tone for how they want to play during the regular season.
"I really like the intensity from the coaches and their enthusiasm," Hull said. "I think we have gotten a lot out of the practices so far. I think what we have established thus far is really going to help us come fall."
In addition to practices being ultra-competitive, the sessions move at a swift pace. From the moment any player steps onto the green surface of the practice field, he is running.
"The pace is very, very fast," Dieffenbach. "We were used to that with some of our old practices. But these ones are extremely high-paced. We get our conditioning done during practice running from drill to drill. There is no walking on the field."
The warp speed during practices will only help the Nittany Lions prepare for tempo any opposing team throws at them in the fall.
"I love it because it is only going to help us during the games," Lucas said. "It helps us work on our communication and it helps us play fast."
While the Nittany Lions still have nine more chances to get better this spring, they are excited about the opportunity in front of them as they build towards the start of the 2014 season.
"I like that we are very young. We have some guys who have quite a bit of experience with our tight ends and running backs, especially," Hackenberg said. "I'm super excited about it. We're in our infancy of learning this offense. The spring game will come. Then we will have the whole summer to work on our own with 7-on-7s together, and then camp will be here. I think we have an opportunity to do something special. We are really excited about it."
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Nittany Lions Making Good Progress During Spring Drills
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