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April 12, 2014
Opening Statement: Great crowd, unbelievable support from this community. I'm not surprised one bit. I think it was announced at 72,000. I had somebody count personally and they had 82,000 there. We asked for 80,000 and got 82,000, so I'm appreciative of that. We got a lot of work done this spring. I think everyone can tell, we still have a long way to go, but our focus every single day is on getting better from now until our first game against Central Florida. If we do that, get better everyday - academically, athletically, socially and spiritually, then we'll be in great shape by the time the season gets going, I truly believe that. This staff has a track record of doing that, getting better every single day and getting better all season. These players are committed and I'm excited. I think we obviously have a lot of work to do in a lot of different areas, we have to get better, myself included. The coaches, the players, the trainers, the managers, all of us that are in this thing together, we have to get better. I like where we're going. I couldn't be more excited to be here. I couldn't be more proud to be the head football coach at Penn State.
Q: Coach, you've been saying for a while that the defense is ahead of the offense. Do you think that showed today? What percentage of the playbook did we see today?
A: I think the defense is ahead, I don't think there's any doubt about that. It was either that or we really wanted to work on our punting game, we wanted to get [Chris] Gulla a lot of work. I don't know if that necessarily was it. We have a lot of work to do. I think our defense is slightly ahead. We have a little bit better depth right now on the defensive side of the ball, especially up front, kind of where the game is played. We have some talent on the perimeter and in the backfield, at the quarterback position, but we have to get some things resolved up front. We're going to have to be creative with that and we're going to have to continue developing these guys. I think that's where it shows up the most [is] up front. The playbook was obviously limited. I don't know if it was necessarily limited because that's our philosophy. I'm not one of these paranoid college football coaches. They have three years of really good film on us, it's not like we're hiding a whole lot. The playbook's limited just because of where we're at in some of our situations, dividing the team up, being thin personnel wise, but it is what it is. You guys don't want to hear about it, nobody else does, we just have to find a way to overcome it and embrace the challenge that we have.
Q: What are one or two areas that you liked the most with what you saw today?
A: I think the defensive line. I think we have depth and talent on the defensive line. As we saw, we really only got [Christian Hackenberg] three series, because we really wanted to see Michael O'Connor and give him a chance. We wanted to get some reps from these guys and be clean, but at the same time, get out of the game healthy. I think O'Connor was able to get some reps, which was helpful. We're really going to be able to evaluate that right now. I think the defensive line is the position where we have the most depth, the most talent. That probably stood out to me the most right now. I think our special teams, [Chris] Gulla did some nice things today, [Sam] Ficken did some nice things. I'm pleased with that. We have a lot of areas to get better in a lot of situations. I think in the long run, we're going to be in really good shape. We have work to do. To answer your question, the defensive line and getting the younger guys some work was the biggest deal.
Q: Can you evaluate the spring performance of Hackenberg, O'Connor and the other quarterbacks? How far have they come?
A: I think [Christian] Hackenberg; we're going to be going into camp feeling pretty confident. I think he's comfortable with what's going on. He has a good understanding of concepts. He's getting more comfortable with the terminology. I've been pleased with him. He's extremely accurate. He has a really good feel for the game. He has great arm strength and I think we're going to be able to do some things to help him as well. I think for a freshman, [Michael] O'Connor is doing some really nice things. I think he has a pretty good mind when it comes to the game. It comes natural to him. There's a lot of areas, from a fundamental standpoint, that we have to work on. A lot of things you're looking at with young quarterbacks are do they panic or not? He's not a guy that panics. He's very, very comfortable. He has a good feel of where to go with the ball and why. He has a good understanding of protections. I think the improvement that you're going to see from him between now and the first game will be dramatic.
Q: Anthony Alosi was not on the spring roster. What is his status with the team?
A: Anthony [Alosi] is indefinitely suspended from the team right now.
Q: We saw a lot of the Wildcat today. What is your plan for that going forward? Is that going to be a big part of the plan for the fall? Do you have a catchy new name for it at Penn State?
A: I think we're going to go with "Wildcat" [laughs]. I think that's what we're going to call it. I'm more worried about the execution and things like that than I am about coming up with a new catchphrase. That will be a part of our offense. How much? I'm not sure. It depends how camp goes. We'll probably limit how much we run [Christian] Hackenberg, obviously, so a way to get that package into your offense is to do it out of the wildcat. You're able to do true 11-on-11, offense vs. defense. Every other offense you run, the defense has an advantage of plus-one on you. I think it makes sense. We've had a lot of success with it in the past. It will be a part. How big of a part it is will wait to be seen.
Q: You mentioned before about concern for the offensive line depth. Have you faced a depth issue like this or is this a new challenge? How did the offensive line fare today in your opinion?
A: I think this is probably unique. I've been places where when we first showed up, we had challenges in terms of depth and things like that. I'm not sure that I've ever been in a situation where you don't even have a scholarship two-deep. With that, we're talking about guys that we've moved over from the other side of the ball. We're talking about guys we've moved from one position to another, tight ends that we've converted. I don't know if we've ever been in this situation before, but again, it is what it is, we're going to find a way to make it work. I think the kids are going to work extremely hard and we're going to have to rely on some freshmen, maybe at positions that you don't typically rely on them at. That's going to be across the board. That's going to be from wide receiver to defensive backs to offensive line to defensive line. We're going to play them all.
Q: You watched the game from the field behind the offense. Is that something you did at Vanderbilt? What is the reason for that?
A: The reason to be on the field is to control the quarterback. I wanted the officials to call the game, blow the whistle, do those types of things, but I was going to protect the quarterback. Our players do a great job of that because they understand how we practice and things like that. I was going to stand back there and blow the whistle when it was considered a sack. I typically do that in practice every single day, but in a scrimmage, I definitely want to be back there. That's the only reason for that.
Q: You mentioned one of your priorities was to build trust with these players. How did you do in that area? Did the players catch on to what you guys do as a staff?
A: I think so. The guys have been great. This is a resilient group as you guys can all imagine. They've been through a lot of adversity during their careers here. I think because of that, they have become really, really close as players. When we first got here, there was a little bit of a wall up. I don't think there's any doubt about that. We're starting to break that wall down for sure. That's going to be a work in progress, no different than the offense or defense. By the time the season comes, I think we're going to do a lot of things in camp and during the summer, team-building things, whether it's paintball, bowling or a dodgeball tournament. We're going to do a lot of things to have fun, so it's not just football and coaching them and being demanding all the time, that they see the other side of us. I think the other part that's going to be important is this summer all of our families are going to get here. I haven't seen these two [points to daughters] in a month, that's why I'm not going to make them sit over there and wait to spend some time with them. I think that's another important part of it that the players get to see us as more than just coaches, they see us as fathers and husbands, they come to our homes. I think that is very important. We're going to have a parent picnic after this, because I haven't met 90% of the parents yet. We're going to break bread with them and get a chance to meet all of the parents and that's going to help. Every point is important and we just have to continue building in every aspect.
Q: Matt Baney got a lot of work with the first team guys on defense today. What strides has he made this spring and what have you seen out of him?
A: He's done a nice job. He's a really good football player. He's a local kid. He's a coach's kid. He's a guy who I think is maximizing his experience here. We're going to evaluate his spring and see what type of role he is going to have for us. He's been very productive this spring; there's no doubt about it. I think we're going to have to look. Is our personnel going to allow us to be able to play with a 4-3 and 3 true linebackers next year? Or are we going to be what we call more star, which is what a lot of people call nickel, where you're playing a big safety in that position? These are all things that we are going to have to study and evaluate not only with the production of the players who were on the field, but incoming players as well.
Q: You mentioned the attendance. Can you comment a little bit about the atmosphere? Did it exceed your expectations for the first time being here? And also, how much of a selling point a spring game can be with a program?
A: I think so. I think that whenever you have 82,000 show up, it puts you in interest of others. They always do some statistics after spring ball and look at what everyone had as attendance at their games. I don't think that there's any doubt that we're special and one of the big reasons that we're special is because of the support that we get from the community. I was very impressed. I've never been to a game here before, so running out into that stadium was an unbelievably emotional experience for me. I couldn't be more excited. I can't tell you how appreciative we are. I can't tell you how important it's going to be that we sell out every single game. 107,001 at every single game. We're actually going to up it up: we're going to add one more. That's going to be very important for us to continue to build in terms of recruiting. It's going to be important for us to show these players the support that they have, the advantage that our defense is going to have. Having a third down advantage with crowd noise, the offense is going to have to use a silent way. All of these things are invaluable. And then obviously from a financial implication, it will be important to us as well.
Q: Can you walk us through what you are going to do in the next couple of weeks in terms of evaluating these guys? Will you bring them in and meet kids? Will you do it by position? How will you develop your roster over these next few weeks?
A: Yes, great question. What we'll do is on Monday, we will come in as a staff. We will grade the tape in detail. We'll watch it as a staff as well, so we will grade as position coaches and then we will watch it offense and defense and then I will get a chance to watch it with the coordinators. Then the coaches will go through and they will do an evaluation of each player and that evaluation is them on the field. The academic counselors have evaluated what they have done academically. The staff, everyone has input. Then, I will sit down and go through each area of responsibility, areas that they need to improve, and I'm going to give them my feedback as well (things that I want them to work on, where we're going, and goals for the offseason). So I'll meet with every single player on the team. It might take two weeks; it might take three weeks, whatever it is. But we will schedule them from six in the morning until 11 at night. About a 20 minute meeting with each kid. And then obviously the coaches will be on the road. So after that Monday, we will start having coaches hit the road. Obviously we are going to hit the state really hard, because as you guys know, we are going to... dominate the state. Exactly right. And then after that, we are going to work on dominating the states (with an S) and getting out wherever we have to go first regionally, then nationally so that we can find as many really, really good football players and people and students that can come here and make a positive impact on this community and this program.
Q: This is obviously the type of game where some guys will get in who we won't see a lot of in the regular season. Can you talk a little bit about how nice it was to see Cole Chiappialle come out there and have a nice game? And what kinds of things did you see from him in the spring?
A: Yeah, he's had a great spring. I think I mentioned that a week ago that I've been very impressed with him. I thought that we had four backs that have showed flashes of some really good things. He's got great vision. He's got great toughness and balance. I think that there's a roll for him in the football program. He needs to be a huge contributor on special teams. I think he's got a similar style to Zach Zwinak in the way he runs. So I'm excited for him and I'm proud of him. He's a guy who has come in here and worked extremely hard. Everyone in the organization has tremendous respect for how he has carries himself and how he works. To me, that's what spring ball is about. It's about creating opportunities for guys to get a shot to show what they can do on the big stage. They'll get an opportunity during camp as well for about a two-week period to show what they can do, and then after that we will split up the scout teams and we'll start getting ready for the season. And after that point, it's kind of difficult for guys to make a move. But spring ball is for that, this summer is for that and the first two weeks of camp will be.
Q: That was my question, James. But since we're on Cole, do you remember when you noticed him? And sometimes it's hard for walk-ons to get noticed. Do you remember the moment or anything that he did to catch your attention?
A: Well first of all, let me say this¬- guys that are in our program, I don't care how they got here. They are all ours. We don't treat scholarship different than how we treat walk-ons. We don't treat in-state kids any differently than out-of-state kids. Everybody is going to be given a fair shot here. If you're the best player, you will play. I don't care if you're a senior or a freshman. We're going to play the best guys. So, he showed up from day one with his attitude. He showed up with his attention to detail. He showed up every single day in practice making plays. I've been very, very impressed with him, so I want there to be more guys like that. That's what's great about being at a state school like Penn State. You're going to have a really strong run-on, walk-on program, whatever you call it. But once they join the family, they are part of the family and they're just as important as the head coach. They are just as important as the starting quarterback. We all have different roles, but every role is important. They are valued and they are appreciated, every single one of them.