Penn State Head Coach Bill O’Brien and his coaching staff are in a nice routine. They certainly have a better understanding of their work day in year two. The “to do” list is still very, very long as Spring practice opens on Monday. O’Brien is the reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year along with several national Coach of the Year honors as well. He measures the team’s performance by wins and losses and four defeats in a single year is not something he wants to repeat.
Here is part of the transcript from Bill O’Brien’s Monday press conference before the team’s first practice provided by Penn State athletics:
Q. How concerned are you leadership‑wise from all the seniors you lost?
COACH O’BRIEN: I wouldn’t say it’s a concern. I think it’s more that every year’s different. And so there’s definitely a group of guys from last year’s team that played a lot of football for us, John Urschel, Glenn Carson, Adrian Amos, that certainly have leadership ability, and were part of that leadership team last year.
So now it’s time for some of those younger guys to have a good spring practice and work hard and help us in that role, too. So we’ll see how that develops.
But this year is a different year, and I think we’ve got some good guys coming back that played a lot for us last year that will be good for us.
Q. Take us through the process, when you lose so many guys, I’m assuming during spring, you’re trying to fine tune things with every guy, take us through the process ‑‑ with so many guys, this guy has to work on throwing motion or something, each guy has a different thing.
COACH O’BRIEN: Well, each coach…so right after the season, we went out on the road and we were recruiting. But in addition to recruiting, what each coach was doing, they had free time, which was really on the weekends or a dead time in recruiting, is they were evaluating their own players from the previous season.
So they went through and they watched film from every game again and they evaluated all the guys that are coming back for us this year. And they went through it, and we have a little sheet that we draw up that basically, it’s things they did well, things they did poorly and things they need to improve on.
It’s very simple. It’s a simple sheet and then when the guys get back from winter break, we go through that sheet with them so that those guys know whether it’s something they can do in the weight room or conditioning, or when we start spring practice this afternoon, what they have to do to improve. So it starts there with the assistant coaches.
And then spring practice is very much about fundamental football technique, individual technique…how can Allen Robinson improve the way they runs a comeback; or how can Adrian Amos improve the way he plays man coverage and so on and so forth down the line. That’s really part of the spring practice. That’s why we have a lot of individual periods in the beginning and then some team periods at the end, a little bit different than the season.
That’s some of the process, it’s a long process, but it’s always an ever‑evolving process.
Q. Can you talk about what has you most excited going into spring practice, what you’re most looking forward to seeing, and on top of that, what one or two of your bigger concerns are?
COACH O’BRIEN: I’m just excited to be off the banquet circuit and back on the field coaching. Although I had a great time at all of the banquets, especially the Maxwell Award Banquet was a phenomenal night for Penn State and just a great night.
But really, at the end of the day, what we all love to do is coach and be on the field, and watch these guys improve from day‑to‑day. We really are fortunate because we work with a bunch of really good kids that work hard, that compete and so really, the biggest thing is we are just looking forward to getting onto the field coaching.
Personally, I’m looking forward to watching the quarterbacks, how they progress every day. I’m looking forward to watching the defense, how they progress every day with different things that they might be trying. I’m looking forward to watching all the different positions battles at running back and tight end and defensive line and linebacker.
So you know, just all the different things that go into the competition as a football team.
Q. How do you see the linebacking corps, it’s going to be with (Gerald) Hodges and (Michael) Mauti gone, how do you see them stepping in for those guys? With Mike Hull obviously at linebacker, he played a lot of roles for you last season; do you see him continuing to do that, or since he might have had more time linebacker, just be more traditional?
COACH O’BRIEN: We don’t have a lot of depth at linebacker, that’s for sure. We have guys there that played a lot of football for us last year, Glenn Carson, Mike Hull, and Nyeem Wartman didn’t play a lot, he got injured (vs. Virginia) but we think he has a really bright future. Ben Kline, won’t be (practicing) in the spring but we know that he’s going to help us in the fall as a special teams player and then fighting for time at linebacker.
I’m really looking forward to watching Hull, Carson and Wartman play together, because again, those are three guys that didn’t really play together that much last year. Like you said, it was Carson, Mauti and Hodges, and all three of those guys have had excellent off‑seasons.
Glenn Carson and Mike Hull have really worked hard. They are leaders on this football team. They are tough guys, good players and then Nyeem, I think he worked very hard this off‑season and we are looking forward to seeing what he can do.
But there’s certainly not a lot of depth there, so it’s going to be imperative for myself to monitor that and make sure that we are not giving those guys too many reps.
Q. You mentioned that you’re personally looking forward to seeing the quarterbacks develop throughout the spring. You obviously didn’t have a quarterback competition in New England and last year Matt (McGloin) kind of took over pretty early. What’s it like for you as a coach when you have a competition? Is it fun for you? Is there some anxiety seeing the guys go through everything day after day?
COACH O’BRIEN: It’s fun when you’re working with the type of guys that you’re working with right now. We have a very smart room; a hungry room. They are young, they listen, they ask great questions. They really want to be coached, so it’s going to be really fun to go out on the field and watch these guys practice.
You’ve known me now for awhile. I don’t feel a lot of anxiety over things like that. Just with this position battle, we are going to let it play out, and at the end of the day, we are going to have to obviously name a starter. I’m not into alternating quarterbacks.
I’m not saying that we’ll never do that but I’m not really a big believer in that right now. But we’ll let this thing play out and go into training camp and see what happens. But these are young guys that are very talented guys and it will be fun to coach them and watch them progress.
Q. Nyeem Wartman will be available for spring?
COACH O’BRIEN: Yes. The two guys that ‑‑ so you’ve got Ben Kline that can’t participate in spring because of his shoulder deal and then you’ve got Kyle Carter that will be non‑contact and you’ve got Steven Obeng will be non‑contact. He had a shoulder deal.
Then you’ve got Adam Breneman, who will be full go in the spring. But we are really going to monitor him early on here, because he’s a young guy, he’s coming off of a knee and we just want to do right by him from a coaching standpoint. But he’s going to be out there.
And basically, everybody else is ready to go.
Q. At this point how much ‑‑ can you say how the transition is to Coach (John) Butler on defense and how much of a learning curve do you anticipate the guys having in the spring?
COACH O’BRIEN: The foundation, the terms, the language of the defense will stay the same, so I don’t think that will be a big problem.
John, he’s an excellent football coach. A lot of you guys have been to practice and watched him coach. He’s very detailed. He’s intense. He’s a quick thinker. He’s done it before, albeit not at Penn State but he’s run a defense before. He’s just a very bright guy. I really enjoy coaching with him and he’s going to do a really good job for us.
Q. You talked yesterday about understanding the skill set of the team a little bit better, what everybody is capable of. Running backs got about 12 percent of your passes out of the backfield; can you talk about what you want to do with running backs this year offensively?
COACH O’BRIEN: Yeah, I’d love to be able to tell you exactly what I want to do with the running backs, but that would be awful stupid of me to do that.
So I’ll tell you what I think of those guys. I think all three of those guys can catch the ball. I think you’ve got three very, very different skill sets in the fact that you’ve got (Zach) Zwinak who is just around 235, 240 pounds; big, tough kid, very strong guy, had a great off‑season in the weight room.
Then you’ve got a guy like Billy Belton, who is not quite as big as Zwinak, he has got good quickness, he can catch the football. He’s lost some weight, he’s in better condition and we’re really looking forward to seeing what he does.
Then you’ve Akeel Lynch who had a tremendous off‑season in the weight room, improved his speed, improved his conditioning level and he’s somewhere in between size‑wise and all those different things I talked about early on, between Zwinak and Belton, so he’s a little bit of both.
So it will be fun to watch those guys and then we’ll have to, especially me, I’ll have to do a good job of putting them in the right spot to take advantage of what they do best.
Q. Who will step in for Jordan Hill, James Terry, at the defensive tackle spot? Those guys played a lot of football for you last year.
COACH O’BRIEN: No question. DaQuan Jones we think is a really good player, and we think he’s had a really good off‑season and he’s in good shape. He’s strong. We’re going to have to monitor his reps this spring because he’s played a lot of football here at Penn State. But we really have high expectations for him going into next year.
Got Kyle Baublitz, who is a veteran player who had a lot of time last year as a backup player. He’ll be in there. He’ll play a lot this spring there. He’ll play a lot next year.
Then we’ve got some younger guys there: Austin Johnson, who we think has a chance to be really, really good player and hopefully sooner rather than later, but he’s had a really good off‑season and comes from a great family. He’s just a really good kid and we are really glad that he’s on our football team. We think that he can have a bright future.
Then we have got Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia, two tough guys that gave us a lot of problems on the Dirty Show (scout team) last year. I remember Matt Stankiewitch last year after one of those practices, we were sitting around just shooting the breeze and I remember him saying that Gaia and Derek Dowrey were strong guys that could hold the point of attack; and that was good coming from an All‑Big Ten center. That was pretty neat.
So we feel good about what’s there. Again, there’s not a lot there, but there’s enough there and we just have to do a good job of rotating those guys in and out and make sure we get the young guys enough reps to help them improve and progress.
Q. With Matt Stankiewitch gone, who will be at center?
COACH O’BRIEN: Ty Howle will be in that mix. He’ll be the starter going into the spring there. We’ve got Wendy Laurent, who will play there, too, and we’ve got Angelo Mangiro who will be in there. He’s got a little bit of a hamstring issue right now so he won’t be there initially. But hopefully he can get out of the tub and get on to the field because that’s where he needs to be, and he’ll have a chance to play center, too. He’ll be in that competition.
One of the things that people ask me about is the offensive line all the time and I probably need to do a better job of explaining this. So, like when we go out to practice today, we have a period called Specialists, it’s five minutes before we go to stretch. And we’ll have about six guys, and during Specialists, you have kickers and punters working; you have the returns, you have the centers and quarterbacks doing the center-quarterback exchange, and we’ll have about six centers.
So we teach everybody, just about, how to snap the ball. We teach (John) Urschel; Urschel can be a center. (Miles) Dieffenbach, he’ll learn how to snap the ball but he’s primarily a guard. Mac (McWhorter) does a great job of teaching tackles how to play guard. Some guys play all five positions, which is really extraordinary, and so we train a lot of guys to be center. But those three guys that I mentioned at the beginning will be battling for the center job.
Q. With a year under your belt, can you generally assess how much more comfortable and confident you are with the benefit of a year?
COACH O’BRIEN: Definitely more comfortable. I don’t know if I was ever confident. I’m definitely more comfortable. I understand the players better. I believe they understand us better. The staff really understands how we work, how long we meet, when to meet, all those different things, what our expectations are as a staff of each other and of the players.
I know how to get around better. I know how to get from Point A to Point B, even though it’s not that hard in State College, it’s still new when you’re brand new somewhere. I know people better; people that I work with on a daily basis, they know me better. Maybe they are starting to figure out my sense of humor, although, I don’t know, sometimes I wonder, but things like that. So, I definitely feel more comfortable, but definitely looking forward to getting going and watching how much better we can get.
Q. Today is a big day in basketball. Are you allowed to fill out a bracket?
COACH O’BRIEN: No. Don’t even; that’s….you’re a bad guy for asking that question (smiles). (Laughter).