Monday the coaches ran an shortened practice while Tuesday and Wednesday got a bit more intense for the players. As one observer explained, "This is a tough week for the staff; they don't have a lot of leeway with the health of some positions.
Given this there are several questions being asked about the team heading into the homecoming showdown with Illinois. Here are some answers:
What is the general mood of the team?
The consensus is that the mood was pretty low on Sunday and Monday. Captains Brett Brackett and Ollie Ogbu huddled up the squad early in the week and told them to "buck up or pack up" as one observer put it. "It's a bit of an uphill battle with the injuries, but it's no excuse — guys have to step up."
As the week has progressed the attitude and intensity has improved. "But we'll see if it carries over to the field."
What is the injury situation?
A few positions are dealing with some significant concerns with injuries. "I can't remember the last time there was such a rash of injuries like this. A lot aren't that serious. I think you have some guys who could play through them," and observer said
First, the tight end position is "reeling" with the loss of Garry Gilliam to an ACL injury against Iowa. The unit was already missing Andrew Szczerba since the spring due to a back injury. Szczerba is getting into light runs, but "the coaches are not going to over-push him."
Currently true freshman Kevin Haplea is running first team, so needless to say there are significant concerns with the position. "The coaches are in a tight spot with Kevin and really had no intention of him being in this position. He's got a good attitude about it and sees it as an opportunity, but there's a lot on his shoulders."
The defensive line has seen Jack Crawford (foot) and Jordan Hill (ankle) miss time this week as they have been getting time to recover. Pete Massaro and DaQuan Jones are getting added reps this week. "The depth of the [defensive] line has been tested but is holding up pretty well. But there's real concern over what another injury or two does."
In terms of the linebackers, the coaches have gone easy on Bani Gbadyu (ankle) and Michael Mauti (foot) this week. Mauti sustained an injury against Iowa but quickly returned, but apparently the injury has nagged him this week. Khairi Fortt and Nathan Stupar have been in for Gbadyu and Mauti respectively for the bulk of the first-team linebacker work this week.
FightOnState.com broke last week that the two were kept home for the Iowa game for undisclosed reasons.
It's unclear what the duration or scope of their punishment will be.
However, we do know this is NOT an academic issue. And we doubt either plays this week.
How is the attitude of Rob Bolden?
He's taking the increased pressure in stride. "He knows what it means to be a starter in a program like this," an observer said. "The coaches didn't sugarcoat it. He knew there would be tough streaks and that there would be criticism along the way. But he also knows it will make him a better player."
According to another observer, "He's a pretty fierce competitor and wants to win. That's why he is where he is; he takes it in and learns from it. He's not sensitive and doesn't seem to dwell on the negative."
In fact, Bolden has been among the players telling the squad to "scrap the negativity" and to focus on improving their individual games to help the unit as a whole.
What is Penn State's offense doing to focus on the red-zone issues?
The squad has spent a "ton of time" working on "smoothing out the execution inside [the 20-yard line]."
"I think it's intensity. I think it's attitude, but I don't think you can pin it all on the players," an observer said. "I don't think that is fair. You have some guys who throw it down every single rep; [Devon] Still, Justin Brown, [Devon] Smith, Nate [Stupar], Nick [Sukay], [Stephon] Morris, Ollie [Ogbu] — so it's not fair to say it's all over."
The coaches have also spent time discussing the issues with getting plays in to "knock down the confusion and clock issues."
On the defensive side of things, where Penn State ranks last in the nation in red-zone percentage, the staff punished the first-team with sprints every time the scout team scored this week.
So, where does the squad stand?
The players are said to be anxious for Saturday and are viewing this as a "must-win" game. The squad's been intense this week, but as one observer explained, "I think everyone knows it's show me don't tell me time."
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