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VIDEO: James Franklin Spring Practice Update - April 11

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions completed practice No. 11 of the spring on Saturday morning. The session featured several scrimmaging periods inside Holuba Hall before special teams work outdoors. Penn State President Eric Barron addressed the team at the conclusion of practice.

The team will practice three more times before culminating spring drills inside Beaver Stadium at 4 p.m. on April 18 at the Blue-White Game presented by AAA. Head coach James Franklin provided a spring practice update on Saturday. Take a look to hear about the team's progress since spring drills began on March 20.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Spring Football - Nassib Eyeing Bigger Role on Defensive Line

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10982258.jpegSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - He hadn't played a down for the Nittany Lions prior to the 2013 season, so when former head coach Bill O'Brien summoned Carl Nassib to his office on an early morning during training camp in August of 2013 it's easy to understand why he was a little nervous.

Nassib entered the head coach's office as a walk-on with a semester bill due to the registrar's office in a matter of days and left with a full scholarship, one that he has kept to this day.

Now, 20 months later, Nassib is in line to play a central role as a defensive end for the Nittany Lions in 2015. While plenty has changed for the West Chester native since that day in 2013, namely bulking up to 6-6, 270 pounds, one thing has remained constant - Nassib's motor.

The senior is relentless and plays every rep at practice like it's his last.

"Everybody is hungry and all of the defensive ends want to prove themselves every time we go on the field," Nassib said.

It's usually not difficult to know when Nassib is on the field for a rep at practice because you can hear his enthusiasm. Nassib never met a challenge he didn't enjoy facing or one he didn't believe he could beat.

"I have a great time at practice, yelling the whole time," said Nassib. "I'm trying to make plays, and when one person is out there yelling and having a good time it excites everybody...While your out there, you want to be hyped, have fun and do your thing. It's all about getting better, and you might as well have fun while you are doing it."

With two vacancies at defensive end following the graduation of Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan, Nassib knew this offseason was an opportunity to take the next step. His quest for securing a starting spot began in the winter when he added nearly 10 pounds of muscle to his frame.

The increased size to go along with his speed and quickness has made the senior a tough man to block since spring practice began on March 17. Nassib, who has seen action in 23 of the past 25 Penn State games (7 tackles and 3.5 TFL in 2014), is the veteran of the defensive ends. It's a unit of ends full of potential thanks to a cupboard filled with young talent, including junior Evan Schwan, sophomore, Garrett Sickels, sophomore Curtis Cothran and freshman Torrence Brown.

"I'm really liking what I am seeing from the young guys," said Nassib. "They make me better. I make them better. They are doing a great job."

Aiding in the growth and development of the defensive ends is who the unit is able to lineup next to. All-America candidates Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson are formidable figures in the heart of the coach Sean Spencer's unit, and it's something that makes Nassib's eyes light up at the potential of the group.

'It's relieving to know that you are lined up right next to them" said Nassib. "They are awesome football players. I'm excited to see how they progress even further from the seasons they had last year. I'm excited to play next to them. Single blocking those two guys is almost impossible."

A biology major with aspirations of pursuing medical school to specialize in pediatrics, Nassib is among the top students on the team. Now, the Eastern Pennsylvania product is primed to leave his mark on the field.

"I don't really look to the future too much and get ahead of myself," Nassib said. "I take everything day by day and try to get better every day. If I think about the future too much, I lose the present. It started in high school, and I just tried to work my butt off every single day. Back then I didn't really see myself here. I had no idea (I would be in this position). But I just worked to see where things would take me."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Spring Practice Sights and Sounds - Offensive Line

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It has been a spring practice period marked by progress for the Nittany Lion offensive line. Like every unit on the depth chart, the offensive line has taken a significant step forward since the start of spring practice one year ago.

For an inside look at the unit, check out some sights and sounds with offensive line coach Herb Hand and the Nittany Lions during spring practice. Penn State will hold practice No. 11 on Saturday. The Blue-White Game presented by AAA is slated for April 18 at 4 p.m. (BTN).

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Spring Football: Hamilton, Receiving Corps Ready to Take Next Step

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10976389.jpegSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - One year ago from today, DaeSean Hamilton had not made a single catch as a Penn State receiver during a practice or in a game.

After a wrist injury sidelined the Virginia native throughout 2013 and the first 12 spring practices of 2014, Hamilton did not participate in a practice until April 9. He practiced twice in a limited role before two quarters of action in the Blue-White Game on April 12.

But what a difference a year has made for the all-time leader in receptions for a Nittany Lion freshman.

On the heels of a rookie campaign where he hauled in a Big Ten-best 82 catches, Hamilton has reached for another gear during his first full spring on the field for the Nittany Lions.

"Having a season under your belt makes such a big difference," Hamilton said. "You're able to play a lot faster and understand the nature of the game a lot quicker with that experience. It makes a big difference. I feel a lot more comfortable."

Primed to be a central figure in a deeply talented pool of receivers, Hamilton is expecting big things from the Penn State offense in 2015.

"We are significantly more comfortable this year," Hamilton said. "We are going out there and reviewing things instead of learning them for the first time. You can tell a lot with guys knowing where they need to be on every play."

There is a natural progression from year one on the field to year two, and a big piece of the growth is the continued rapport with rising junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg. The duo has a season full of game and practice reps to build on, in addition to all of the work set forth during the offseason.

"It's big for us," Hamilton said. "We are a lot more comfortable with one another because we have played a lot. The expectations will be bigger for us (in the fall), but we're confident in what we are capable of doing."

"These guys have all worked extremely hard this spring, and you are seeing it on the field," Hackenberg said. "Guys know where to be and how to go out there and execute, and that is huge for the offense."

Within the 15 allotted spring practices, Hamilton said there are a number of things he is working on to refine his game following the stellar campaign in 2014.

"Without having spring ball last year, a big thing for me is just keeping my ball skills up, having a better catch radius to make better catches, being precise with my routes, being versatile by playing inside and outside," said Hamilton.

Hamilton will be just one piece of a receiving corps with great potential. Senior Geno Lewis returns as the team's second-leading receiver. Lewis made 55 receptions last season. Fellow senior Matt Zanellato and junior Gregg Garrity are also back, in addition to a pair of true sophomores poised for breakout campaigns.

Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall are two players who made big jumps in the weight room during the winter conditioning period, and that has translated into a very productive spring practice season for the talented tandem. As true freshmen, Godwin and Blacknall made 25 and 11 receptions, respectively, and combined for three touchdowns.

"We have high expectations (as a group) now after the performance we had against Boston College (in the Pinstripe Bowl)," Hamilton said. "Consistency is a big thing, but also taking our games to the next level. We want to be an elite group. We want to come back in the fall and springboard off of the way we finished last season. As long as we set the bar high and miss small, we are going to take a step forward next fall and even the rest of this spring."

Continuing with head coach James Franklin's theme of iron sharpening iron, the receiving corps is using the opportunity to practice against one of the top defensive units in the nation to its advantage. Each time the group steps on the field it learns something.

"Going out every day and working against one of the best defenses in the country last year helps everyone get better. When you practice against those guys, it helps all of us become better football players. And it's competitive," said Hamilton.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Spring Practice Sights and Sounds - Safeties

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The safety corps received a boost before spring practice commenced when it was announced that veteran defensive back Jordan Lucas would join the group.

Thanks to depth at corner, Lucas will boost the depth at the safety position alongside rising sophomore Marcus Allen, junior Malik Golden and a host of young players.

Continuing the sights and sounds series, spend some time with defensive coordinator and safeties coach Bob Shoop during spring practice.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Spring Football: Williams Primed to Lead in Secondary

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Williams_blog.jpgSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Sometimes the best leaders are the ones who quietly go about their business on the football field, but do it with a consistent workmanlike approach to set an example for those around them.

It wasn't too long ago Trevor Williams was catching 10 passes for the Nittany Lion offense during the 2012 season. Shifting from receiver to corner during the spring of 2013, the rising senior is now the elder statesman of talented group of cornerbacks on the Penn State defense.

Williams faced his share of adversity during the switch to the defensive backfield, even battling to regain a starting spot after the 2013 season. But that's ancient history now, and the Baltimore product is looking to build on the most consistent season of his career, one in which he started 12 games for Penn State's Top 10 defense in 2014.

If spring practice is an indicator, Williams is a prime candidate to take his game to the next level in the fall.

"There has definitely been a lot of progress," Williams said. "Our chemistry is a lot stronger. Coach Smith has done a great job helping us out in the cornerback room. And Coach Shoop puts us in positions to be successful. I just think the 2015 year will be a strong year for us."

Shoop repeatedly said last fall that when you watched Williams on film during practice or in a game, he was as consistent as anyone on the roster.

"I've really tried to focus on the small details, and I really think that has helped me be consistent," Williams said. "The mindset is to make more plays for the defense because big plays on defense helps the offense."

The step Williams has taken on the field this spring began in the weight room during the winter. The former Calvert Hall standout added 10 pounds of muscle, increasing his speed, quickness and strength. It hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates.

"Trevor has gotten a lot better," wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton said. "Going against Trevor and Grant (Haley), you can tell this is becoming a solid defensive back corps at the corner position."

Williams returns as Penn State's most experienced player at corner after Jordan Lucas moved to safety. The senior is ready to lead a group with no shortage of young talent.

"You don't make that move unless you feel good about the young corners," head coach James Franklin said. "So having a Christian Campbell, having a Grant Haley (is important). Trevor's playing at a really high level."

Like the entire Nittany Lion defense, Williams and the young corners want to prove that the 2015 secondary can compete at what Coach Shoop calls championship level. That starts with setting the tone during spring practice.

"It's a lot of energy. It's a lot of intensity," Williams said. "Every day, we challenge one another to get better. We want to fly around, make plays and get turnovers."

The Nittany Lions will practice for the 10th time this spring on Wednesday.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Spring Practice Sights and Sounds - Running Backs

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The stable of running backs will feature a blend of youth and experience for the Nittany Lions in 2015.

Key offensive returnee Akeel Lynch is primed to be the workhorse for a unit that is not short on versatility. Behind Lynch is a host young, talented players eager to take the next step in the fall to become impact players for the Nittany Lion offense.

Spend some time with running backs coach Charles Huff inside a spring practice.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Spring Practice - One-on-One with Christian Hackenberg

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With spring practice just past the halfway point, talks with rising junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg for an update on how things are going for the Nittany Lion offense. Take a look.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Spring Practice Sights and Sounds - Wide Receivers

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Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion receiving corps is filled with young talent. Led by the Big Ten's leading receiver from 2014, rising sophomore DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State will field a deep group in 2015. Among some of the most improved individuals since the offseason began, true sophomores Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall highlight a corps of young, talented players to go along with veteran returnees Hamilton, Geno Lewis and Matt Zanellato.

Head inside spring practice for a look at drills led by wide receivers coach Josh Gattis. Penn State is now halfway through spring practices for 2015. Take a look.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Spring Football: Progress Highlights First Half of Practices

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10958526.jpegSpring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions have reached the mid-way point of spring practices.

With 14 opportunities to take the practice field, head coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lions have 14 chances to get better before the spring practice period culminates with the 15th session of the spring on April 18 in Beaver Stadium at the Blue-White Game presented by AAA.

Seven practices in to the spring ball, the Lions are confident in the progress being made on both sides of the ball and on special teams. Year two in the staff's systems certainly plays a role in the team's overall step forward and comfort level this spring, but the players' workmanlike approach to winter conditioning, meetings and practices have all contributed to the step forward in 2015.

"There has definitely been a lot of progress," senior cornerback Trevor Williams said. "Our chemistry is a lot stronger. The coaches do such a good job of putting us in positions to be successful."

Spend two minutes around a Penn State spring practice and one can't help but marvel at the level of competition from everyone on the field. It starts with Coach Franklin, but each position coach, graduate assistant and player relishes in the opportunity to compete with one another on the field. As Franklin says, iron sharpens iron.

"It's so much fun to be in a competitive environment like practice," senior defensive end Carl Nassib said. "When guys are going around making plays and yelling, it psyches everyone up. No one wants to go out for practice and be dragging, so while you are out there, you want to have fun and get better. It's all about getting better."

On offense, the leader of the unit is a guy who is no stranger to the starting spot. A rising junior, Christian Hackenberg now has 25 games of starting experience under his belt. Working through spring practices for the second time in his career, the Virginia native is excited about the growth and development of each offensive grouping around him. With the offense's continued development on a unit-by-unit level, Hackenberg has spent more time this spring focused on refining specific areas in his game.

"Last year, I had my mind spread out across a lot of different things within the offense to help everyone get better, but I think now with everyone coming along and taking those steps, I can sort of focus more on myself and areas that I need to improve in," said Hackenberg. "There are always things I can do there. That's been a big focus for me. Whether it is Mondays where I focus on mechanics and footwork and then Wednesdays I work on my reads and my 'Mike' (linebacker) pointing to make sure those are sharp and on point and then on Saturday it's making sure I have everything on point with pre-snap reads, post-snap confirmation and then going out and executing."

Defensively, the mantra is clear - championship level. Yes, the Nittany Lions had a superb season on defense in 2014, but this year's unit wants to be even better. As coordinator Bob Shoop urges, the next step is for the defense to become championship-level. How does the defense get there? It starts with hard work, but confidence plays a big role.

"It's a lot of intensity. A lot of guys fly around," said Williams. "Every day, we challenge each other to make plays, create turnovers, put the offense in better spots and just work to make this defense a championship defense."

With five months separating the middle of spring practice and the first game of 2015 (Sept. 5 at Temple), the window of opportunity for continued growth is a big one. And the combination of confidence, competition and an unrivaled work ethic set forth this spring has the team and its individual units on the way to a strong start to preparations for the 2015 season.

"We are really focusing on a lot of things that we learned last year, taking the things we did well and building on them, and then taking the negatives and working on them," Hackenberg said. "I think it's a development of the process. It's been going really well."

Penn State will practice seven more times between Saturday and April 17 before wrapping spring ball up with the Blue-White game at 4 p.m. on April 18 (BTN). As has been the case in previous years, admission and parking are free for the spring game.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony