Spring Football Q&A with Coach O'Brien, Part I of III

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March 24, 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. We continue with part two of a three-part spring football Q&A with the leader of the Penn State football program.

Q: Moving to the roster. In terms of the offensive line what have you seen out of that group?
Coach O'Brien: "I really like the way they work, I really like their intelligence. We have three or four guys at that position that are dean's list students and that translates to the field. I like the leadership of Stankiewitch at center. I think he's a tough kid and is going to be a good player for us. I am happy for where they are right now. We've got to watch them play and get them to improve as players. We've got a ways to go at that position. We've got a lot of good guys, hardworking guys that we feel good about. And we have a lot of guys; at that position we are three deep going into the spring. At the places I've been that's unheard of. I've gone into the spring with nine, 10 offensive lineman so to be three deep is very good and we can get a lot of reps."

Q: At the receiver position you have Justin Brown coming back. Is he the veteran of the group?
Coach O'Brien: "He is, he's the veteran of the group, and it's a good group though. Big, with the exception of Devon Smith who's quick and fast. Good size guys, guys that can run, intelligent guys. Their main job is to get open and catch the ball. We'll ask them to block a little bit but that will be their main job."

 

 

Q: Talk about the tight ends.
Coach O'Brien: "(Garry) Gilliam is a guy who has put in his time here. He has had some injury setbacks but we feel good about his leadership at the position. Kevin Haplea played last year and Jesse James who really should still be in high school is a guy we've been impressed with in the winter meetings. We've got a good number of guys there, seven or eight guys there so we are happy about that position. They have three jobs, block well, block very well, and get open and catch the ball. Tight end in our scheme is a very difficult position to play. Next to quarterback is probably the most difficult position to play because we ask them to do a lot of different things. So we will see how they pick up our stuff as it goes."

Q: Silas Redd and Michael Zordich both return to the backfield. What are your thoughts on that group?
Coach O'Brien: "I am very impressed with Silas Redd and Michael Zordich. Hardworking guys, guys that really show up every single day and work extra. I've been very impressed with those guys and we'll see how it goes with (Bill) Belton moving him over there, see how it goes with (Curtis) Dukes. We'll move (Devon) Smith back there a little bit, we'll move him around. I like that group, the other guy is Derek Day, I like that group and I like the way they work, and I like their intelligence so we'll see how that translates to the field."

Q: How about the quarterback spot?
Coach O'Brien: "I've enjoyed working with these guys so far. They are smart guys. You see they get a little bit better every day in the winter conditioning drills and the things that we do that are allowed by the NCAA. We can't see them throw and things but we can do some things that are football related that we think are pretty good indicators. Talking about (Matt) McGloin, (Rob) Bolden, and (Paul) Jones so those three guys will split the reps, they will be the guys that get the bulk of the reps and each guy will get a chance to work with the first team. We won't name starter until later in training camp. We will give each guy a chance to win the job."

Q: How much of the fast tempo falls on the quarterback's shoulders?
Coach O'Brien: "A lot of it does. We train them and we play fast and he has to be able to get out of some bad looks. Because when you play fast the defense has to line up and a lot of times with all the good defenses we are going to play they may line up in something that we didn't think we were calling. The quarterback has to be well trained and Charlie (Fisher) and I will do the training and they have to be able to control the game and the tempo we want to play. So it will be fun to see how those guys do. You won't see the whole of it until the fall, but we will put it in and practice fast and we will change tempos as we go along."

Q: Moving to defense, talk about the defensive line.
Coach O'Brien: "Another deep group, definitely some good leaders up front, Jordan Hill and Pete Massaro, I really like those guys they work extremely hard. Just like with the offensive line we're fortunate with the defensive line that we have numbers. We are going to be able to rep guys and see how a lot of guys play. They are a well-coached group and guys that work really hard. It will be interesting to see when those guys go up against our offensive line in the spring. That will be a tough assignment for our offensive line and that will make us a better offense."

Q: What do you think of the veteran linebacker unit returning for 2012?
Coach O'Brien: "Typical Penn State linebacker group. Tough guys, smart guys. (Michael) Mauti won't be in the spring because of his injury situation but those guys have good leadership, tough, smart, can run, can hit. And that's the key to a linebacker in our system. They need to be able to run, hit and be able to be decent in pass coverage and stop the run. They are the quarterbacks of the defense. They have a big responsibility and so far it has been fun to watch those guys in winter conditioning and it will be fun to see them get on the field."

Q: Talk about the secondary.
Coach O'Brien: "Young secondary, not a lot of numbers back there so we are going to be counting on some guys to come along pretty quickly for us. But very impressed with their work ethic. Those guys, like the whole team, are getting better every day as long as they keep that work ethic going. They will be very well coached, and they will be tested in the spring by the guys on offense. We will see how it is when we finish spring."

Q: How do you approach special teams during spring football?
Coach O'Brien: "We will work them all, call them the big four, it's really the big six because it includes field goal, field goal block. But we will work the big four, kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return and we will put our base schemes in and will work very hard. When you work in the National Football League (special teams are very important) and I'm trying to teach these guys how important special teams are. Because you can play a field position game and make teams drive the field and create short drives for the offense and that's what we are trying to do with our special team with addition to putting our scheme in. So we will work very hard on special teams, we will work every day on it."

Q: In terms of depth chart, are all of the spots open?
Coach O'Brien: "Everything is open. Of course, guys that have played a lot, I mean is it going to be easy to come in and beat out a Gerald Hodges? Probably not. But they are open and guys know that and we've talked about that every day. You've been at our morning workouts it is about competition. There is a winner and there is a loser there is no gray area in football. As coaches, it is our job to make sure they know where they stand every day. 'Hey look you've got to do better at this and this if you want to keep your starting spot' or 'Hey look you've done a good enough job to warrant getting moved up the depth chart.' So guys that have the experience have the upper hand but everyone is going to have a chance to play."

Stay tuned for part three of the Q&A tomorrow when Coach O'Brien talks about the Blue-White game and getting onto the practice field for the first time.

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