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BLOG: The Matchup - QB/RB vs. LB

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The better the competition, the better prepared the Lions will be for September 3 and beyond, so GoPSUsports.com will take a closer look at the camp battles between position groups this summer.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The middle linebacker is often called the "quarterback of the defense" - in charge of moving his unit into the best possible position to be successful on any given play. The linebackers usually stare right into the backfield to try and steal as much information from the formation as they can - information given to them by the (actual) quarterback and running backs.

This relationship is one that is predicated on being as familiar with one another as possible, while also having an aura of mystery that will allow for success each time you lock horns. While both groups credit all 11 players on their side of the ball - and the ultimate success of each play truly lies in the execution - it is the quarterback, running backs and linebackers that begin each play by getting the troops set in the best possible way.

"It starts with a left-right scan of the defense and then you make sure you look at the alignment from the safeties all the way down to the defensive line," said quarterback Trace McSorley. "As the quarterback you have to have a routine and make sure you are doing things the same way each time, it is about making sure it all looks the same to the defense."

McSorley's thoughts were echoed by teammate Tommy Stevens, who noted that every quarterback has his "pre-snap ritual" and that you can gain a lot of information by looking at the eyes of the defenders.

The defense is well aware that the eyes are the window to the play, which is why Nyeem Wartman-White is sure to keep the offensive backfield off tilt with his looks.

"We make sure we locate our keys on the offensive line, but after that we turn our attention to [the backfield]," said Wartman-White. "After that, it is about basic things, like not giving away your coverage by staring someone down or giving away zone coverage."

It's not always about the eyes, however. While both units are more focused on their positioning than what they cannot control - the other side of the ball - sometimes the mind games come into play.

"Yes, of course [there are mind games,]" said Stevens. "When we are on the practice field or in a game, everyone is competing and trying to win. We know the defense isn't just going to come out and stand around in a set look, they are going to try to trick us, and it is the same way for the offense. It's all about getting an edge."

In the end, success usually comes down to communication and preparation to make each play a success.

"We have to be on the same page, and make sure we echo the Mikes [middle linebackers] calls to the rest of the defense to help him out," said linebacker Von Walker. "We have to make sure we get the call to everyone and that we are on the same page. Then we have to make sure we know what our reads and responsibilities are."

"I wouldn't say mind games," said running back Mark Allen, "I think you just have to come out to games, practice or into the film sessions mentally prepared. It's just like scouting an opponent; you have to know what they like and what their tendencies are, after that you can just have fun and play ball."

The matchup for Wartman-White is a fun one - noting that his unit knows they compete against extremely talented running backs in practice and each Saturday during the season.

"It's always a battle," said Wartman-White, "and we know we will be seeing really good running backs all season and every day in practice. We [linebackers] just tighten the chin straps and get ready for it. If it is a mobile quarterback, you just have to be ready to make plays when you have the opportunity against [the quarterback], as well."

The work they put in during camp is critical to the successes the offense and defense has on game day, especially for the young group in the offensive backfield. With a combined 57 starts among the most experienced linebackers, McSorley, Stevens and the talents corps of running backs have their work cut out for them each afternoon under the August sunshine.

"Our linebackers do a great job of keeping us on our toes," McSorley said. "They disguise really well, so we have to make sure we are checking all of our keys and then making the best call we can. We have to do what we are taught to do, opposed to just going through one or two guys and thinking we know what all is coming."

One thing that both position groups can agree on is that the work they put in during training camp, as well as the weekly grind on the practice field during the season push each other to become better and more focused on honing their craft.

"With the way our offense is set up this season, going against those guys has really showed us we have to be more disciplined," said Wartman-White. "There are so many different ways they can hit you on each play, so you have to read your keys early and be confident and ready to make a play when it comes. Those types of things can only help us as we start playing games."

"No one team is just going to come out and not disguise their looks," said Stevens, "so with our linebackers moving the defense around during camp and making us think, it can only help us during the season. Our linebackers do a really good job on making it tough on the backfield when it comes to diagnosing what they are trying to do on any particular play."

Training Camp in 10 Questions with Tommy Stevens

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What is your refueling drink of choice at training camp?
The Dr. Pete's Chocolate Milk, they have done me well since I got here. I choose it because of all the things that are good inside of it. They have helped me out a lot as far as gaining weight and muscle mass.

What is the one item you can't live without at training camp?
I would probably say having all of my chargers for my phone and electronics, especially my iPad because that is a crucial part of training camp with all of the playbook information on there.

What is your walk out song of choice?
If anybody will tell you, especially Mike Gesicki, they will tell you I have the strangest taste in music. Some days I listen to old school rap and other days I listen to hardcore rock so it varies a lot. It is one of those whatever I am feeling that day kind of thing.

What is your favorite drill?
My favorite drill is working with the guys to perfect game-like situations. I enjoy working with the team.

What is you least favorite drill?
My least favorite drill is probably stretching; I have to do it but I don't like it.

What classes are you taking during summer session?
In the first summer session, I took Stat 200 and in the second session, I took a public speaking class.

Who does the best James Franklin impersonation?
Juwan Johnson killed it last year for our freshman skit. You have to get him to do it, he killed it and it was hilarious.

What do you do during your free time during training camp?
I usually spend my free time studying the playbook, watching film and doing as much as I can outside of football. I also hang out with guys and build team chemistry.

If you could move training camp to any city, what city would it be?
I would move it to Los Angeles, I have been there one time but it was only for six hours so I would like to go back.

What is your favorite part about training camp?
My favorite part about training camp is just to be able to come back with the guys, working out again, building team chemistry, working toward the season and getting ready to play.

Training Camp in 10 Questions with Kevin Givens

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What is your favorite part about training camp?
My favorite part about training camp is reuniting with the team and getting ready for the season.

What is your least favorite part about training camp?
I wish it was longer. It would give you more time to prepare for the season and get ready.

What is the best meal at training table?
Chicken wings. It's my favorite food.

What is the one item you can't live without at training camp?
My stereo system. I love to listen to music.

What is you least favorite drill?
The pursuit drill. I just hate running.

Who does the best James Franklin impersonation?
Antoine White.

What classes are you taking during summer session?
I am taking tennis. I am not very good at it.

What is your shake of choice from the nutrition bar?
I usually get a peanut butter shake.

Who is your breakout player this year?
I am going to go with Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles at wide receiver.

Who is your toughest match-up on the team?
Ryan Bates. I think he is a good player and he is getting me better every day.

The Matchup: WR & TE vs. DB

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By Mark Brumbaugh, Penn State Strategic Communications

The better the competition, the better prepared the Lions will be for September 3 and beyond, so GoPSUsports.com will take a closer look at the camp battles between position groups this summer.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The wide receivers, tight ends and defensive backs are constantly challenged to make big plays, but with limited opportunities to get the ball on the offensive side and a slim margin for error on the defensive side, every rep in practice is crucial.

The competition between the pass catchers and defenders is naturally a critical component of preseason preparation. Timing and speed is everything on both sides, so a false sense of security created by lax opposition could result in disaster on Saturday. Luckily for the Nittany Lions, both sides are pleased with the caliber of their counterparts.

"I think we have one of the best wide receiving corps in the country, so going against them every day gets all of us better," said senior safety Malik Golden. "And they're so deep and talented too, so whenever we can go against them it's always a good look for us."

"First and foremost, I think that going against our defense every single day is going to pay huge dividends for us once the season comes around because, for the past few seasons, they have been one of the top defenses in the country," said junior tight end Mike Gesicki. "So going against them, whether it's the d-linemen, the linebackers or the defensive backs, we're all getting great work."

"We have one of the best defensive back groups in the whole Big Ten, so us going against them every day is going to make us better just by default," said junior wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton.

The practice battles provide a wide range of benefits. At this point in camp, the duels are helping both sides get back up to game speed. It's a common refrain that "you can't teach speed," so making sure fundamentals stay sound against the competition is essential.

"[The receivers] are all tough to cover and they each have one good specific trait that sticks out," said Golden. "When you are able to cover them it boosts your confidence a little bit. I think that my man coverage has gotten a lot better going against them."

While barbs may be exchanged between the receivers and defensive backs during team practice periods, intelligence is often exchanged after the whistle. Both sides understand they are both wearing blue and white, so improving the team as a whole takes precedence over maintaining a competitive advantage.

"When we come off the field, we're letting each other know things that are tipping off what routes they are going to run or what coverages that we're showing them when we don't even realize it," said sophomore cornerback John Reid. "At the same time it's very competitive, but we know that we're a team, so we need to make each other better because on Saturday we want to dominate the guy in front of us."

The wide receivers and tight ends are part of an all-new up-tempo offense. While the change is obviously aimed at improving offensive production, another benefit is how it challenges the defense.

"I think it definitely makes us a better defense," said junior cornerback Grant Haley. "We're definitely more physically and mentally fit. Just how fast they go, you have to be on top of your game. You have to look to the sideline and get your call and just be ready."

It was a tough adjustment at first for the defensive backs, but the gap has been narrowed significantly.

"The DBs have quickly adjusted to it and they're getting picks now," said redshirt freshman wide receiver Juwan Johnson with a groan and eye roll. "They're having fun with it too. It's really exciting for them and it gives them a challenge."

For younger players like Johnson, the team's opposing unit is their first taste of Big Ten football, and often their only taste for their first season. He quickly realized he was playing at a different level during his first practices, having never gone against talents such as Trevor Williams and Haley before. Summer workouts that featured one-on-ones were a wake-up call. However, he spent last season refining his technique and building his confidence.

"When I get into a game, hopefully I will be relaxed," said Johnson. "I'll be a little anxious since I haven't played in a year, but hopefully these DBs have prepared me for whoever I'm going up against.

Training Camp in 10 Questions with Andre Robinson

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What is your favorite part about training camp?
Probably the amount that they feed us - great breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks throughout the day. We sweat out about 10 pounds in practice, but you gain it all back because it's good food.

What is your least favorite part about training camp?
It's hard for everyone, waking up early, being at practice and going to meetings at night. It's a tough experience but we grind through it together. You just have to grind it out the best you can.

Who is your toughest match-up on the team?
Jason Cabinda is a tough guy to block passing-wise. He's a really good pass rusher and it's pretty tough to block him.

What is your refueling drink of choice at training camp?
Gatorade. Cool Blue.

What do you think about the new locker room?
It's awesome, it's unreal. We're thankful to all the donors and Sandy [Barbour] and President [Eric] Barron. It's such an amazing locker room. It's the best I've seen through any recruiting and everything we're so thankful for it.

Describe the cold tub experience at training camp?
The ice baths help so much. I used to not like them back in high school, but I love taking ice baths now. They help enormously to get in every practice, it's a routine now

What is your favorite drill?
Anything we do with pass catching; catching the ball out of the backfield. I like catching the ball, so that's fun for me.

What is your walk out song of choice?
"Hype" by Drake.

Who does the best James Franklin impersonation?
I heard that the year before we got here Antoine White had a good one, but last year I saw Juwan Johnson do a good impersonation of him during our freshman class skit.

Who is your breakout player this year?
I think Juwan Johnson will have a breakout year.

Training Camp in 10 Questions with Manny Bowen

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What is your favorite part about training camp?
My favorite part about camp is just being around the team again. We are all getting ready for the season, so we need to develop chemistry. I love being around the guys.

Who is your toughest match-up on the team?
I love going against Saquon [Barkley]. Ever since freshmen year when we first came in in the summer, we have always been very competitive. We always wanted to go at each other and that makes him better and makes me better. There's not a lot of better competition to go up against than one of the best running backs in the country.

What is your refueling drink of choice at training camp?
I love the yellow Gatorade.

Describe the cold tub experience at training camp?
I love the cold tub. I have been getting into the cold tub since I was a senior in high school. I see how it can do wonders, I always make a point to get in there.

What is the one item you can't live without at training camp?
I can't live without the cold tub. You definitely need it, especially on two-a-days.

Who's the best dancer on the team?
I don't want the guys getting mad at me, but I might have to say Jarvis [Miller]. You guys all saw what he did at the THON pep rally.

What is your favorite drill?
Striking the bag. The two-man play and getting a good pop on it. It definitely translates to the game, how you are going to be [against] downward linemen and not just getting your hands, but actually shocking him.

If you could move training camp to any city, what city would it be?
I would say Seattle. It's nice out there, you have good weather out there. One of the guys who plays out there always comes back and talks about the scenery is out there and how nice it is.

What classes are you taking during summer session?
I just got done with criminology in the first summer and now I am taking an RPTM class with a couple of guys on the team.

What is the best meal at training table?
Definitely, steak and mashed potatoes. I love me some steak.

Unique Situations Help Specialists Adjust Mentality, Technique

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The better the competition, the better prepared the Lions will be for September 3 and beyond, so GoPSUsports.com will take a closer look at the camp battles between position groups this summer.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - While our last look inside camp battles, offensive line vs. defensive line, lock horns on nearly every rep on any given day, the second group we look at battle themselves on a physical and mental level throughout fall camp and the 12-game regular season.

The specialists don't really have a counterpart - someone to directly compete with on a regular basis - outside of themselves. They have to do whet they can to stay fresh and mentally focused, while honing their craft and keeping sharp physically.

"You really have to be able to focus on yourself," said junior kicker/punter Chris Gulla. "If you start worrying about what others are doing, you are not going to be as sharp as you can be."

That personal approach to camp is something that is unique to the specialists group, as they are a group that trains on their own most days when training outside of the Lasch Building. Akin to the personal approach is the ability to keep focused throughout the long days on the practice field that comes with preseason training.

"Personally, it is staying focused throughout camp," said junior punter Daniel Pasquariello. "It is easy to do it for a day here and there, but to really put a string of good days together you have to keep focused - both mentally and physically - and that gets tiring on the mind and body, so you have to focus on what you are doing and block everything else out."

Another theme for the specialists is keeping their bodies in peak condition so when it is their turn to perform, they can answer the call. Along with staying sharp mentally, the specialists also have to do the things needed to stay fresh physically, including getting in the hot & cold tubs, eating right and staying hydrated.

"Getting your body right is really important," said junior kicker Tyler Davis. "During the first week of camp you are feeling great; your legs feel great, but towards the end of camp you legs will start feeling it. You have to do everything you can to make sure you limit that fatigue."

The average day at fall camp begins around 6:30 a.m. with a wake up call and breakfast, before the specialists head to meetings to critique the previous day. Following meetings, the group heads to the cold tubs and gets some stretching in, before heading to class - or getting in a game of FIFA for those who don't have academic responsibilities. Then it is on to the practice field.

"You have to get your mind right before you even step onto the field, that is the biggest thing" said Pasquariello. "I like to be relaxed, yet still confident and ready to go when I am called on. Once you get onto the field it is all business, because there is a lot going on all around you with drills and guys running everywhere."

The workload for the specialist group usually falls on the front and back end of the practice plan - a way for him to put pressure on them to perform right out of the gate and in the end after having time to think about what they are doing. Which is something that helps senior long snapper Tyler Yazujian prepare for his role on the team before taking over the starting role in 2014.

"When I was getting ready to start, the pressure work really helped me get ready," said Yazujian. "Now that I know how to handle the pressure, the biggest thing for me is staying consistent and making every rep the same whether it be period one in field goal, period 24 in [competition] period, or snapping on a game-winning field goal."

When Head Coach James Franklin calls the team together for the final period of the day, it is time for the specialists to shine, or suffer the scowl of their teammates. That scowl only comes if their attempts sail wide or don't reach a certain distance. On those occasions, performance enhancement coach Dwight Galt gets out the whistle and conditioning commences.

"There is not really anything that can recreate the game day atmosphere," said Gulla, "but what we do in practice is probably the closest thing. There is pressure on you and it helps you earn respect from your teammates."

"In season you are kicking [to score] for your team, and it is no different at practice," said Davis. "When we kick at the end of practice we are kicking to save our guys from conditioning, so it is huge for us to be ready. Our guys work hard all practice and the last thing they want to be doing is running. The whole team is watching you, the coaches are watching and it is a make-or-break moment."

Though the specialists don't have the one-on-one duels throughout fall camp, the reps they take are more and more meaningful as practice progresses. The respect of their teammates - and conditioning - hangs in the balance on nearly every kick in when the practice plan reaches period 24.

VIDEO: Training Camp Practice Update - August 10

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach James Franklin, assistant coach Terry Smith, wide receiver Chris Godwin and cornerback Grant Haley addressed the media following Wednesday's practice session at the Lasch Football Complex.

Penn State opens the 2016 campaign against Kent State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, September 3 at 3:30 p.m.


Training Camp in 10 Questions with Tom Pancoast

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Q: What is your least favorite part about training camp?
A: My least favorite part is waking up to the fight song every morning at 6 a.m. That can get pretty annoying.

Q: What is your refueling drink of choice at training camp?
A: I am actually one of those chocolate milk guys from the Creamery. I am a big chocolate milk guy and it's great for you so that is my choice.

Q: Describe the cold tub experience at training camp?
A: The first couple of cold tubs are brutal, absolutely brutal. The first 15-20 seconds are freezing; I am one of the guys that has to jump in. You will watch some people, they will get in slowly, that's not how you do it, it takes way too long and it looks way too painful.

Q: What is the one item you can't live without at training camp?
A: This is going to sound terrible for my generation but probably my cell phone. I need to be connected to everything. I have to talk to other people, you are with everyone for three-straight weeks and you kind of have to get out of it a little bit.

Q: Who does the best James Franklin impersonation?
A: We did a freshman skit a few years ago, they do it every year, and Antoine White did a pretty mean Coach Franklin impression.

Q: What do you do during your free time during training camp?
A: Nap, just like everyone else.

Q: What is your shake of choice from the nutrition bar?
A: I'm really simple, I end up mixing chocolate, peanut butter and banana with chocolate milk and ice cream. I just like the taste.

Q: If you could move training camp to any city, what city would it be?
A: Typically, I would say somewhere down south, but it would be way too hot for that, so probably somewhere like a San Francisco. We can head out to the west coast.

Q: Who is your toughest match-up on the team?
A: Tight ends always go up against the defensive ends when we are blocking and we do a lot of 1-on-1 drills with them so probably Garett Sickels. I think he is all-around the best defensive end whether he is rushing or stopping the run, and he converts between the two, so once we go into pass setting he is pretty good at recognizing it and getting on the rush.

Q: What do you think about the new locker room?
A: Oh, it's sweet. Everyone was going nuts when they showed it to us. I can't imagine there is any locker room like it in the country. The actual locker is really nice. Everyone has their picture on top and the light shines down with their number and it's a really nice set up.

Training Camp in 10 Questions with Von Walker

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What is your favorite part about training camp?

My favorite part about training camp is staying in Nittany Hall and having a roommate. A lot of people think is stinks, but it's fun, it reminds me of freshman year, just getting back to the little things.

What is your least favorite part about training camp?
My least favorite part about training camp are the beds in Nittany Hall. I like the living situation, just don't like the beds.

What is your unofficial camp uniform?
You can probably find me in a pair of flip flops, a pair of rainbows, a pair of gray tub shorts (the short we get into the cold tubs in) and a t-shirt and maybe a hat on sunny days.

What is the one item you can't live without at training camp?
My computer. I don't bring a TV, so in my downtime, I watch Netflix on my computer.

Describe the cold tub experience at training camp?
I go in slow and start with my right foot. I usually sit down, but it's hard for me to go above my belly button. I eventually get in after a while.

What is your walk out song of choice?
I am going to go with "Shoop" by Salt-n-Pepa. That song is awesome!

What is your favorite drill?
I would have to say ally tackle. It's a drill where we are like 10 yards apart and we have to try to tackle each other. It's pretty fun.

What is your shake of choice from the nutrition bar?
I get apple cinnamon oatmeal with vanilla skim milk, a cut up apple and two scoops of vanilla protein powder. That's it, just keep it simple.

What do you do during your free time during training camp?
I watch Netflix or HBO Go. I like to draw too, so I bring my art supplies.

Who is your breakout player this year?
Our whole special teams are going to breakout this year.

 
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