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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.





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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.


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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.





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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, GoPSUsports.com talks with rising junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg for an update on how things are going for the Nittany Lion offense. Take a look.



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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.




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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.



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VIDEO: Spring Practice Sights and Sounds - Special Teams

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Competition within the Nittany Lion roster has been the theme of spring practice since the Nittany Lions took the field on March 20. One area head coach James Franklin singled out in particular as a spot where open competition will take this spring is at placekicker.

At the end of each spring practice, the team turns to its specialists (kickers, punters, snappers) for a competition that puts conditioning on the line. The competition changes each day, but on day earlier this spring, the Nittany Lions needed kicker candidate Joey "Big Toe" Julius to deliver. Take a look.





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VIDEO: Spring Practice Sights and Sounds - Tight Ends

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With six practices complete, the Nittany Lions are in the heart of spring practice for 2015. Penn State completed its sixth session of the spring on Monday afternoon inside Holuba Hall. Teams are allowed to practice 15 times during the spring period. Penn State will have eight more practices between Wednesday and April 17 before spring drills culminate with the Blue-White Game Presented by AAA on April 18 in Beaver Stadium (4 p.m.).

During the next two weeks, we will take you inside practice with sights and sounds from spring ball. Today, offensive coordinator and tight ends coach John Donovan gives the fans a taste of a day working with the Nittany Lion tight ends..

Penn State will practice in full pads on Wednesday afternoon and again on Saturday morning.





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VIDEO: James Franklin Spring Practice Update - March 28

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Spring Football - Versatility, Depth Highlight Linebacker Corps

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin updated the media following Penn State's fifth of 15 spring practices on Saturday inside Holuba Hall. The Nittany Lions practiced in full pads on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday this week. Saturday's session included several periods of live scrimmaging. The team will return to the field on Monday to begin week two of spring ball. The Blue-White Game presented by AAA will kick at 4 p.m. on April 18.




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Spring Football: Versatility, Depth Highlight Linebacker Corps

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Replacing a guy like All-American Mike Hull is no small feat, but the future of the linebacker position is in great hands thanks to increased depth and a corps of versatile athletes.

With more depth at each position than in recent seasons, Linebacker U hasn't skipped a beat during the first week of spring ball.

Returning junior starters Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman highlight a group looking to make a big impact on the Nittany Lion defense in 2015.

"We have more depth, and that's the special part about it," Wartman said. "We have more guys who can get on the field and play."

In addition to Bell and Wartman, graduate senior Ben Kline returns after missing all of last season with an Achilles injury, and rising sophomore Jason Cabinda is back and primed for a bigger role than he had in his rookie campaign. Additionally, juniors Gary Wooten and Von Walker, along with sophomore Troy Reeder, are among a long list of guys battling for playing time. While each guy plays to his strengths, the unit is unique in that most of the personnel can fill a variety of the positions.

"I think with this group, you have a bunch of versatile guys," Wartman said. "You have Brandon (Bell), who can go out there and play in the field and then also come in the box and play with us as a 'Will' or 'Mike'. Then you have me, and I can play 'Will' or 'Mike'. (Ben) Kline can play 'Will' and 'Mike'. Gary (Wooten) can play 'Will' or 'Mike'. I think year's group is just a lot more versatile."

Head coach James Franklin often uses the "iron sharpens iron" mantra to talk about how one side of the ball can play a paramount role in the growth of the other side of the ball. The same can be true within a unit. With increased depth at linebacker comes increased competition for playing time.

"It pushes you because you know you have someone behind you," said Wartman. "Everybody wants to play, so there is going to be someone behind you. But you can learn from him. When you have quality competition, the first guy is learning from the second guy, the second guy is learning from the third guy and the third guy is learning from the first guy, just from watching film and practicing. You can learn from everyone. All together, the linebacker corps has more quality from top to bottom since I've been here."

Assistant head coach, co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Pry is a big reason for the unit's seamless transition into spring ball following the graduation of Hull, who will go down as one of the program's all-time best. Pry expects a lot out of his players, but the mutual respect between the student-athletes and position coach creates an environment conducive to both learning and progress.

"He's the type of guy that when he talks to you, you know he is going to shoot you straight," said Kline.

"Coach Pry has this type of passion in his voice when we are on the field," Wartman said. "He is a serious guy, but at the same time, he is easy going. He's the type of guy who is going to demand your attention, but he's going to have fun. Guys aren't feeling pressure to be perfect. Guys know to do their job on the field. Don't think, just play. He's helped us all out a lot by telling us to just go out and play."

Pry and the linebackers are always on the same page. Sure it has a lot to do with the talent in place on the field, but the buy-in from players stems from Pry's ability to teach the unit and put the players in the best position to be successful within the framework of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's scheme.

Another factor in the unit's ability to hit the ground running this spring is the return of Kline, who is a respected voice in the locker room and an undisputed leader of the unit.

"Ben brings a positive attitude and plays the way a Penn State player should play," Wartman said. "Even when he and I were fighting for the same spot and he got hurt, he still stood there on the sideline and cheered me on. And that had to be one of the hardest things to do. Then I remember when my playing time went down and he went in, I cheered him on. I just think he brings the team-first mentality. That's what this game is all about, team-first guys like Ben Kline."

It's been a long road for Kline to get back onto the field following a pair of injuries during the last two seasons, but he's excited to return and ready to go to work.

"It just feels good to get back out there with everybody, running around and playing some ball. It's been a lot of fun," Kline said.

Like Wartman, Kline is excited about the unit the Nittany Lions will put on the field at linebacker in the fall.

"We have a lot of guys who just work really hard," Kline said. "We have good depth, and everyone wants to work hard. We are young and athletic. The way Coach Pry has been coaching everyone up is awesome."

Granted there is a long way to go until the season commences on Sept. 5 at Temple, but Wartman said he feels like everyone on the roster is more comfortable within the framework of the daily routine, and it has carried over into productive meetings and practices this spring.

"It's another year. We all feel strong, faster and have more confidence," Wartman said. "As a defense, we have high standards for ourselves. Guys know that last year was good, but we want this year to be even better."

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