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March 26, 2012
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Football is back in the air in Happy Valley.
Head coach Bill O'Brien and the Nittany Lions have circled March 26 on the calendar for months. The dawn of a new era officially began on Monday afternoon when the Lions took the practice field for the first of 15 spring practices.
With the defense clad in blue practice jerseys, the offense and scout team in white jerseys and the quarterbacks wearing red jerseys, the Nittany Lions opened practice outdoors on a sunny, but chilly afternoon in Happy Valley. Temperatures hovered in the low 40s with wind chills in the mid 30s with a stiff breeze blowing.
The Nittany Lions worked through positional drills, individual work and scrimmaged on several occasions. NCAA rules prohibit pads on the opening day of spring practice, so the Nittany Lions wore shorts, jerseys and helmets for the opening practice.
Practice moved at a swift pace with the Nittany Lions sprinting from drill-to-drill and after each period to ensure the maximum number of reps. Offensive work featured multiple huddles during scrimmaging with Coach O'Brien calling all of the offensive plays during practice.
Several former Nittany Lions watched from the sidelines during Monday's first practice, including Oakland Raiders starting guard Stefen Wisniewski and recent grads Quinn Barham, Eric Latimore, Chaz Powell and Nate Stupar.
The excitement and energy level was high on the first day. At the end of the initial practice on Monday, Coach O'Brien stressed the importance of working on the little things each day. The team will return to practice on Wednesday afternoon. The Blue-White Game is 26 days away.
Coach O'Brien Pre-Spring Press Conference Notes
Prior to heading onto the practice field, head coach Bill O'Brien met with the local media at Beaver Stadium to discuss the start of spring practice. Coach O'Brien walked into the media room shortly after 1:24 p.m., and joked that he felt like a teacher in a classroom with the more than 75 media member sitting in the audience.
Below are a few notes from the first spring press conference.
- Drake's New Home
Former wide receiver Curtis Drake will have a new number and new home during spring practice. The redshirt junior moves from wide receiver to cornerback. He will also be wearing No. 2. Coach O'Brien said earlier this month that Bill Belton would move from receiver to tailback this spring.
- Spring Evaluation Period
Going hand-in-hand with the personnel changes, Coach O'Brien and the staff will use the spring practices as an evaluation period for the roster. Players will try different positions at different times as the staff works to get a feel for the roster. The depth chart won't necessarily be decided at the end of spring practice, but Coach O'Brien would like to get a feel for who the best players at each spot are following the 15 allotted practices. In that sense, spring practice will be treated like an NFL mini camp, Coach O'Brien said.
- Biggest Coaching Adjustments
Aside from living at the Penn Stater Hotel for the past two months, Coach O'Brien said that he feels very comfortable in his daily routine. He spoke on Tuesday about several adjustments to becoming a head coach at the college level after his stint with the New England Patriots, among them was roster size. With only 53 players on the active rosters in the NFL, the roster size at the college level is more than double that. Additionally, with NCAA rules and classes, head coaches have much less time to meet with players during the offseason. With the limited interaction between coaches and players under NCAA rules, Penn State players have been able to watch film on their own during the offseason when they have spare time. The offensive players have been watching film of the New England Patriots to learn the core scheme Coach O'Brien's offense will be utilizing.
- Open Competition at Quarterback
Coach O'Brien reiterated that Rob Bolden, Paul Jones and Matt McGloin will split reps at quarterback this spring. He has been impressed with all three student-athletes. Now, Coach O'Brien is eager to see what each player is capable of on the field. The starting quarterback will not be named until well into training camp in the fall. Like every spot on the depth chart, Coach O'Brien and the offensive staff will evaluate the progress of all three quarterbacks until it is time to make a decision on the starter.
- Gameday Coaching
While the final plans for gameday operations of the coaching staff will be decided as the spring and fall camps transpire (i.e. which coaches will be on the sidelines or in the booth), Coach O'Brien reiterated on Monday that he will call the offensive plays in the fall. Quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher will make in-game offensive adjustments on the sidelines.
- Coach O'Brien said the defensive staff has met every day since the Super Bowl. He joked, "We'll probably be lucky to get a first down (this spring)."
- Coach O'Brien on the type of team Penn State will be: "I want a big, fast, physical football team here."
- Coach O'Brien on the Blue-White Game: "It's very much a business day for us."
- Coach O'Brien said the team will be practicing outdoors this spring "unless lightning bolts are striking down on the (practice) field."