UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football remains home for the second consecutive week, set to host Maryland on homecoming Saturday at noon in Beaver Stadium.
Penn State football run game coordinator and defensive line coach Sean Spencer spent time with the media Thursday. Check out updates from his Q&A session below.
I wanted to ask you about Tyrell Chavis. We've heard such great things from teammates about his personality and kind of what he brings to the locker room. I know he has been through a lot in his life, can you share a little bit about his journey to Penn State and some of the adversity he has overcome along the way?
Spencer: First of all, he is a tremendous kid who has gone through a great deal of adversity to get here. It was a long journey, he started at Virginia and then at Fork Union and then over to Nassau Community College. It's been a tough road for him, not to speak to his business too much, but if there's anybody who deserves a chance at greatness, it's him. In terms of what he has gone through, I think it's made him who he is. He has a great sense of humor and he has a great sense of things in life. He's never really down, he has a tremendous attitude everyday. He has that old man perspective. I tell him that I think we went to high school together because he's like 22 years old. I said when you're done here you're going to be ready for TIAA-Cref. He's a great kid, a very good athlete and understands and has great knowledge of the game. I think the best for him is yet to come.
With Tyrell's late arrival, how much did that hold him back and where is he now? How close is he to being able to play a very big role on your defensive line?
Spencer: He hadn't done much physically for close to a year so I think the first three weeks was just getting over the soreness of the regiment at a Division I college program. I think at that point, that's going to slow him down a little bit, but he has progressed and his reps have increased. But as you know, I'm going to play nine or 10 guys, I don't have a dominate guy - you don't have Carl Nassib where you say he's got to be in there at this point in time. I think the closest to that is Garrett Sickels, but the rest of those guys are doing a great job understanding their role and I think as the season goes on, Tryrell's role is going to increase more and more. He's versatile enough to play nose and three-technique so we're excited about that. He brings an explosiveness that I think is probably a little bit different than the rest of those guys.
I wanted to ask a little bit about Torrence Brown in terms of what you thought he did stepping in when Evan Schwan missed a few games there and what do you think are his next steps?
Spencer: The thing about Torrence is, that I look at him as a starter so I feel like I start five guys although you can only start four if that makes sense. He's one of those guys who I count on at any point in time to make a big play. Those two are battling for the starting position, obviously Evan was banged up a little bit there so to Torrence's credit, he stepped right in. Those two guys share the reps and they are going to play the same amount of reps in the game so I think of them as fifth starter. Torrence is a guy who who can play in space, being a basketball player in high school, he doesn't fracture when things are moving. He can do some great things in space so I think the best is yet to come for that guy and we're so excited about where he is right now.
On the note of Torrence Brown, you said basketball player in high school. What else do you remember from his recruitment and what did you see in him that made you think that he was the guy that you guys would one day want?
Spencer: The great thing about Torrence is that we've had a longstanding relationship with him since we recruited him when we were at Vanderbilt. He was a guy who got hurt in high school and he ended up coming back really quickly from an injury and we weren't sure if what he was going to do and how he was going to recover from that injury. Then in his senior year doing really well in the last couple of games and his basketball, being the state player of the year small school in basketball in Alabama. We got here and we needed to sign a defensive end and we made a call to Torrence and he actually committed over the phone without even visiting because Brent Pry was his main recruiter and I was his position recruiter and he trusted us and trusted Coach Franklin so that's how we got him from Alabama. I think it's been great to get that type of athlete up north.
You've lost a lot of experience in terms of injuries at linebacker, how did that impact the defensive line and has it made those younger guys grow up quicker because you don't have that leadership behind them?
Spencer: When you lose the caliber of players that we lost at that second level. I've set it to people before, losing the four NFL guys, three drafted and one as a free agent, losing those guys makes you look up and you see the linebacking core that's really experienced and then all of the sudden you say oh boy, we have to get ready. I tell those guys and I preach to them that no one really cares about our injury situation. Having said that, the expectation is for us to go out there and compete as if this team is complete in tact and that can't be our Achilles heel at all. We have to go out there and it's not about making plays, it's about being gap accountable. You want them to be explosive and make plays but if we shored up our gaps and we're doing a great job of reading our keys, then it's going to make it a lot easier for the young linebackers. I really honed on making those guys, in the past - if you got out of a gap, Nyeem [Wartman-White] or Jason Cabinda and [Brandon] Bell might make up for it, not now, we have to be even more gap accountable. It's good and I agree with you that it made those guys grow up fast and no one cares that we have those injuries, we just have to go ahead with the hand that's dealt.
As a coach who goes by the nickname "chaos" how did the chaos period in practice, measure up to your level and grading of the word chaos?
Spencer: Basically it just stems from being ready for anything. If it's a situation that comes up and those things happen in the game. A sudden change, you don't know you're behind or you're ahead, all those situations that coach puts us in are all chaotic and we just kind of respond. It was funny, when he came up with that we were actually at the previous institution and he called me in the office and said, 'I'm nicknaming a period after you' and I just started laughing and said 'what does that mean'? He said, 'you'll see' and then he just started yelling out 'chaos period' and I'm looking around thinking somebody's doing something wrong because they are calling my name, but I figured it out pretty fast.
I'm wondering how, facing such a rush heavy offense on Saturday might tweak, if at all, with the regular rotations you guys are going to roll through. Not specifically details player to player but philosophically if the game plan might be any different to get your better run-stoppers out there more often on the field?
Spencer: Well, they obviously do a great job of running the football. I think they rushed for 400-plus yards last week or something like that. We have to be prepared. I think the way the game goes and the way I rotate - I can't say that there's a specific guy that I need to have in there versus the run but I think those guys are equally as good against the run as they are against the pass. If I don't feel that someone is giving us what we need at that particular time in the game, then I'll put the guys in there who I think are more gap accountable. At this point in time at where we are right now, I think that all of those guys are pretty even so my trust and faith in those guys is pretty certain. So I'm not worried about that either way.
You talked a little bit about Tyrell Chavis earlier, but I'm curious about the rest of your defensive tackles and how that group has progressed so far.
Spencer: I think as you watch Robert Windsor and how he progresses. The guys is six foot-five, 305 pounds and runs a 4.8 40, so when you have that type of athlete in there, he can be really effective. As you saw last week at the end of the game, he gets rotated in what I call the rally group and he and Kevin Givens combined on a huge sack. Unfortunately, when we knocked them out of field goal range, we got a facemask penalty but those guys held strong and we held those guys to a field goal. He is progressing.
I think with Curtis Cothran being in there now, you have a guy who has game experience. I know that he played end last year, but he is a guy who can physically change his body and is very capable of being disruptive as a three-technique guy. You have the old wiley veteran in Parker [Cothren] and you have to remember that Parker played a 2-1 series with AJ [Austin Johnson] for the past two years so he has a lot of game experience. Although he hasn't started up until this year, with the way I rotate, those guys get valuable experience. Then Kevin Givens, the dynamic athlete that he is - smaller, but can be disruptive in the pocket and we have guys who are sitting in the wings like Ryan Monk and those guys who are ready to go in case we need them.
Kind of taking a step back and looking at the big picture, in year three for you guys. Is this what you thought your team would be? Have you exceeded expectations or fallen short?
Spencer: I think that people tend to forget, when we first came here we were on sanction and we weren't even go to a bowl game and then they lifted that partway through. So you were dealing with that and dealing with recruitment in that particular time. I think our team is on pace to be right where we thought they would be. We had some obstacles to overcome when we came here, but again, as I said about the defensive line with the linebackers, no one really cares about that, people just see what is on the field. The expectation for us is the same, I'm never going to go out and say 'hey were were on limited scholarships' when we played Ohio State two years ago with 45 guys on scholarship. We were limited in that situation, but no one cares about that. We have to do a great job of preparing our guys no matter what. I think we're going in the right direction, we have some great guys who are committed to our program and I think we're building this place right where we want to take it.
I know that there's a lot of expectation on Garrett Sickels to pick up where Carl Nassib left off. What has his progress been like and what does he do differently on the field that the average person watching might not see?
Spencer: First of all, when we talk about Garrett and the defensive line, we talk about reloading. We want those guys to reload and what I mean by that is that you set a bar for yourself and there was a bar set prior to you getting here and you either have to match that or go above it. I think that's the philosophy of reloading. Garrett has become a leader on the field. He plays like a man on fire. The guy plays with a great deal of fire and he leads the team by example and he's becoming a vocal leader. It's not easy to be a leader. Sometimes you have to say some things that people won't like and he is willing to do that and I think that has taken his game to the next level. When he rushes the quarterback, you have to know where he is. He is going to put heat on the tackle over and over again and he's the guy to execute on that and he works on his craft every day. I look forward to seeing where he goes in the future.