UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer spoke with the media on Thursday. The Nittany Lions face off with Temple on
Saturday at noon (ESPN2). Take a look at a Q&A with Spencer.
Q: How does playing against someone like J.T. Barrett help your defensive line in preparing for P.J. Walker from Temple?
Spencer: "Any time you face athletic quarterbacks, you have to be prepared. Having faced Barrett, that was certainly a good experience for us. We are conscious of it every week. You never let the guys just run free, but you definitely have to be gap accountable. It's your method throughout the week so that it's not a shock when you get into a game with an athletic quarterback. There is preparation, and then there is, you better have your antennas up because this guy can hurt you in the running game."
Q: With your nickname being Coach Chaos, do you find it ironic at all that your unit has been so good this year because it has been so disciplined in gap integrity to stop the run?
Spencer: "That's a function of the defense. I think Coach Shoop does a great job of gapping everything out, whether it is a blitz or base coverage or a run. We are just part of the puzzle. Any time you get safeties filling like Marcus Allen is doing right now. And then the outstanding play of Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell. Obviously the front four get a lot of credit for that, but there are a lot of moving parts that work together to make that special."
Q: What type of pride does the defense take in being the No. 1 unit against the run in the nation?
Spencer: "Well, you always want to take ownership in something. Right now, we are defending the run really well. It's something that we have a goal every week to stop the run. We've been able to do that. I think making a note to guys that, 'hey, we told you to do this and now you are No. 1 in the country.' Now, you have a great responsibility to do that every week. I think that is one of the reasons Coach Shoop shares that with the guys. Not necessarily as a pat on the back, more so, this is the reason why we are having so much success on defense is because we are able to stop the run. We've got to continue to do that."
Q: Which players have you seen take a jump to the next level since you arrived here?
Spencer: "Certainly moving Anthony Zettel inside was a wildcard because he had never played there before. I think moving inside, he embraced that. It was a case where he approached it with a mindset that he was going to master the technique. He's embraced that really well. He's going to continue to get better. And he is having a very good season. And I would say guys like Deion Barnes. I spoke of this before. Two years ago he was the Big Ten rookie of the year. And then last year, on paper, his play wasn't as good. That's a guy I have high expectations for. That's a guy who has high expectations for himself. Any time you get a coach and a player on the same page, it's a great formula. It's not me pushing him, it's him understanding that for him to reach his goals and for him to be as good as he can be to help this team, he's gotta be exact in everything he does."
Q: You guys use the second team defensive line heavily. Take us through that process and talk about how that unit has progressed.
Spencer: "That's been a philosophy of mine for years. And when I went to Vanderbilt with Coach Franklin, it was a philosophy of his. And it's the same with Bob Shoop. Bob trusts what I do with those guys. Coach Franklin is on board with that. I think all three of us believe that having fresh guys in there is better than having a guy in there who is tired and wilted. Those second team guys have earned the right to get on the field. You are in a room with 15 or 16 guys, if you've got a chance to play eight or nine guys throughout the course of a game and sometimes even 10, it makes your room even better. Everybody is held accountable. And everybody knows they have a role. No greater or no less in that role."
Q: Have you ever had a defensive line rotation as deep as this one?
Spencer: "Not as deep and as talented before this one to be honest. This is a very, very talented group. I'm very confident that at any point in time when I put those guys in the game that they are going to do something. You get (Carl) Nassib and (Brad) Bars coming off the bench and making really positive plays that kept Indiana on their heels. That was great. A couple weeks ago, you throw Garrett Sickels in there and he gets a sack and we are in the heat of the game when he does it. You can't just put those guys in there for mop up time because it is not realistic. You want to put those guys in game-like situations. If in fact, barring an injury that you never want to have, it is not a shock to that (next) kid when he is in the game."
Q: Has this defense exceeded expectations in your eyes this season?
Spencer: "No. I think no one rises to low expectations. I think you have to set a standard and set goals and try to be No. 1 in everything you do. I'm going to try to be the No. 1 recruiter in the country and I'm going to try to be the No. 1 defensive line coach in the country. And I expect the same thing out of (the players). There is no trophy for second place. That's our expectation. Have they exceeded that? No, I think they have met it. I think they have met the expectation we set forth as a defense and a coaching staff. We want those guys to be the best that they can be. Obviously, we are having success right now on defense. We have a lot of football left, and we need to keep that going."
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