March 25, 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 wrap up the three-part spring football Q&A with the leader of the Penn State football program.
Q: What are your expectations for the 15 days of practice?
Coach O'Brien: "The expectations are for these guys to come to work every day, play fast, work hard at understanding the schemes and their mistakes and at the end of the spring I really want to be able to rank the top 60 or so guys on the football team. Because those are the guys that will be on the bus. Once we know who is on the bus then we can put them in the right seats. So you are basically going to make the team in the spring and then in training camp we will really set the depth chart. So I wouldn't say that the depth chart will totally be set by the end of the spring but the guys that we know are our best football players will be elevated."
Q: Now that you've gone through the workouts, how excited are you to get on the field?
Coach O'Brien: "I can't wait (laughing). That's why you coach, recruiting is great and our winter conditioning with Fitz has been great, our meetings have been good. But you go out there on the field and watch guys improve on a daily basis and be teachers and coaches and do the best you can to teach them how you want to play football. And just teach them about the game of football. Football is the greatest sport there is because it is a true team sport that involves all kinds of different situations. Something new comes up every day and every play so I am really looking forward to it.
Q: You touched on meeting with the staff, how has the process of meshing that group together gone?
Coach O'Brien: "It's been great. I have been really impressed with the staff. We've got a bunch of good guys that work really well together. We spend a lot of time recruiting in the morning and then we work on football in the afternoons. The football has been good, Ted (Roof) meets with his guys and I put the effort into the offense guys and so far that has been really good. We are working as one team. We are never going to be nine different corporations here at Penn State. We are going to be one team led by me and guys understand what I want in that regard and everyone is working toward that same goal which is to eventually here win a championship. We are a long way from doing that but as long as we can understand the team concept on a coaching staff and on the team we should have a chance when the fall rolls around."
Q: Do you set goals with the team?
Coach O'Brien: "I'm not a big goal guy. When the season comes around we will give them keys to victory. If you have five keys on offense, five keys on defense, five keys on special teams: if you don't hit these you are not going to win the game. That is our battle plan, keys to victory. Not so much hey we've got to get 400 yards in this game. We've got to take what the defense gives us and take what the offense is doing and we've got to try to game plan that and do what we can against that. It's not about stats and all those things. It's being penalty free, it's third down conversions it's red-area conversion. The game is broken down into three parts, the first quarter, the second and third quarter, and then the fourth quarter is all situational football. If we can teach our team that as we go through the spring and really tell them what the situation is and tell the situation to them so that by the end of the spring they understand how to play the game and that's the goal of spring football."
Q: Spring drills lead into the Blue/White game and getting in front of fans for the first time, how much are you looking forward to that?
Coach O'Brien: "Looking forward to that. I've heard a lot of different things about the Blue/White game but the No. 1 thing is that there is going to be a lot of people here. It's a very, very important game for us, it will be just like a game. We will wear our headsets. There will be referees. For us, it is not a carnival. It's a very, very important step in the process of where we want to be in the fall. We're glad the fans are there and having a ball but for us it is all business. It's another opportunity for guys to win the job and set our depth chart going into the spring.
Q: How have the fans been with you?
Coach O'Brien: "The fans have been great. The fans have been fantastic. It's a special place. Every time that I go somewhere between here and The Penn Stater, fans are very supportive. Of course we haven't played a game yet, but I've been impressed with everyone I've met here it is a great place."
Q: Who are you looking at as the leaders on both sides of the ball?
Coach O'Brien: "You would probably be better asking that after the spring going into the fall. We have a pretty good idea coming out of winter conditioning and now we've got to see how that translates onto the field. Every facet of the program is a little different. It's different to be a leader in the academic wing, it's different to be a leader in the weight room and then it's different to be a leader on the field. Guys that are leaders in all three areas are the leaders of your football team. So we will see as that translates onto the field and then after the spring I'll have a better idea who those guys are."
Q: Are there a couple guys that from the first time you met them as of how they have progressed up until the point?
Coach O'Brien: "Yeah I wouldn't get into to specifics on that but I would tell you that there are a number of guys here, I would say that everybody has participated every single day. There are about 125 kids on this team, I would say there are five or six guys that need to be more consistent and then there are 120 guys that are doing a great job and getting better every day. And that is why I like the potential of this football team. I don't know where we are going to be just yet. I have to go through spring practice and judge it and see how these guys play football. As far as individual players you are never going to get me to talk specific guys too much it is always going to be the team. I've seen the team go like this all winter."
Q: What has made you think that way?
Coach O'Brien: "I've seen bodies change, I've seen guys that go from being pear shaped to being v-shaped. I've seen conditioning levels change. I've seen quickness change. I've seen speed change. I've seen power change, explosiveness change. Incrementally, not huge jumps yet but you can see that change of what (Craig) Fitz is bringing to the program. The conditioning levels are better than they were when I got here after the super bowl. Guys are buying in. Guys that are putting the time in, which most of these guys are, you can see the improvement in the individual person."
Practice begins on Monday. Stay tuned for coverage on GoPSUsports.com.