Bill O'Brien will hold his first practice as a head football coach Monday, as Penn State opens spring ball on campus. And the new Nittany Lion mentor can't wait to take the field.
The former offensive coordinator of the NFL's New England Patriots had spent his entire 19-year coaching career as an assistant before being named as Joe Paterno's replacement in early January.
Speaking at a press conference before the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame awards banquet Sunday, the 42-year-old O'Brien admitted it has been difficult waiting for spring practice to arrive.
"I'm so sick of sitting in that office. I can't wait to get out there and start coaching football," O'Brien said. "This morning, I went to church, and I was thinking, about a month and a half ago I was calling plays (for the Patriots) in the Super Bowl. Now here I am … getting ready to run our first spring practice at Penn State.
"That's a pretty neat deal," he added. "I can't wait to get out there and start coaching these guys."
O'Brien and his staff have had the opportunity to work with the Nittany Lions on a limited basis during off-season drills. But that was more about conditioning. There were no pads and no contact.
Even so, O'Brien feels the players are buying into the changes he is making, which have included a complete overhaul of the strength and conditioning program.
"I'm really excited about working with these kids," O'Brien said. "They are guys who have made a big commitment to this point to what we've asked them to do."
O'Brien intended to meet with the Penn State players Sunday to explain the focus of spring practice.
"We've got a number of goals that we need to get accomplished," O'Brien said. "No. 1 is we've got to find out who the top 60 players on this football team are. Who are the guys who are going to be on that bus going to that game? And then, what seats do they fill on that bus? So we've got to find out who the top 60 players on the team are.
"Then we've got to make sure, while we're doing that, that we put in our systems — offense, defensive, special teams," he added. "We'll spend a lot of time on all three areas so that these guys can go out and play fast."
The final aspect, he said, will be making the players "situationally aware," so they have an idea of what they are supposed to do (and how the opponent may counter it) in different down and distance situations.
Spring practice begins at 4:45 p.m. Monday. Depending on the weather, the first session will either be held in Holuba Hall or on the outdoor field next to the Lasch Football Building.
Drills wrap with the annual Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium April. 21.
O'Brien insists that while there will be a lot of changes from previous springs, the staff will not make things too complicated for the Nittany Lions.
"We're not going to try to re-invent the wheel this spring," he said.
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