March 23, 2012
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien has been counting down the days to get onto the practice field for the first time as the leader of the Nittany Lions.
The wait is nearly over.
After working through offseason strength and conditioning, the team will officially hit the practice field for the first time under Coach O'Brien without pads on Monday afternoon to kickoff 15 days of spring practice.
Leading up to the start of spring drills, GoPSUsports.com sat down with Coach O'Brien in his office to discuss a wide range of topics. Today, we kick off the first of three parts to a spring football Q&A with the leader of the Penn State football program.
Q: Are you happy with the progress that the team has made during offseason strength and conditioning workouts?
Coach O'Brien: "I'm very happy. They are a really hardworking team. A team that shows up on time, puts their time in and works extra. So we've got a lot of really good kids to work with here and now we get to watch them play football. We don't know about that, it's a clean slate for everybody in this program. So now we've got a chance on Monday to watch them play football."
Q: You went through the player evaluation phase, what types of things were you looking for and what did you see from the group?
Coach O'Brien: "I wanted to see strength levels. I wanted to see how these guys moved specifically to their position. I wanted to see numbers of positions, how many DBs (defensive backs) we had, how many wide receivers we had, if we can anticipate some position moves. For example, Bill Belton we moved him to running back, we felt that was a good move for him. And just getting to know these guys, how they work, what motivates each guy. Just all the things you want to know going in, and that's pretty much the bulk of it right there."
Q: Moving to Monday, the first of 15 practices this spring. What do you hope to accomplish this spring?
Coach O'Brien: "I want these guys to understand how we want them to play football: at a very fast tempo. When you guys come to practice you will see us moving very fast from drill to drill. You will see a lot of our guys working at once in most of our drills. Because of the fact that we only have 11 DBs right now we won't be able to separate drills as much as we would like to, but in the future we will. For the most part you will see a lot of guys working, not a lot of guys standing around. I want to make sure we get in our base systems. Our base offense, our base defense, and our base special teams. So that when we start training camp these guys have a good understanding of our base systems. And then teach them a little bit about situational football. Red-area, third-down, two-minute, backed-up, goal-line, short yardage, a little bit of each so that they understand how important each of those parts is."
Q: Why is it important that you make sure it is fast tempo on the practice field?
Coach O'Brien: "We've got to play the game fast, we can't play the game at a slowed down pace. We've got to put pressure on the opposing offense, put pressure on the opposing defense with our conditioning levels and our ability to play fast. This is a great conference; every week is going to be a huge challenge. Our non-conference challenge is a huge challenge so we have to be in great condition and play the game at a very fast tempo."
Q: How difficult will it be to implement your schemes on the field?
Coach O'Brien: "It's not a big concern of mine. We won't be in a rush to put in a bunch of things. We will get a lot in, we'll throw a lot at the wall and see what sticks but we won't put it all in one day. We will space it out over 15 days and at the end of the day we will have it all in. The one thing I've noticed is our guys are really bright, bright guys, bright football players. They understand things, pick things up and make one mistake and correct that right away. In the winter conditioning drills you can already tell that so that will be fun to watch."
Q: About a month ago, you said that you felt like the defense was a little ahead of the offense is that still the case?
Coach O'Brien: "Yeah I think the defense at this time of the year is usually ahead of the offense a little bit, just in a timing sense. Plus we got a lot of our front seven back on defense and we've got some new starters on offense. But we will catch up pretty quick on offense and we'll compete and we will be there but we feel very good about both sides of the ball."
Stay tuned for part two of the Q&A tomorrow where we go through the depth chart, unit-by-unit, leading up to day one of spring practice.