O'Brien Goes on the Offensive

Penn State's new coach is already installing the offense he used as an assistant with the New England Patriots. The Nittany Lions kicked off spring practice Monday.

As was the case with a great many Penn State fans at times, Bill O'Brien had no desire to watch the Nittany Lions' 2011 offense.

For different reasons, of course.

PSU's new head coach is installing a whole new scheme -- one that will bear some resemblance to the tight end-heavy approach favored by the New England Patriots, where he served as offensive coordinator -- so he didn't watch any tape of the previous offense. He intends, rather, to evaluate the Lions based on how they perform in his scheme.

“One of the things I wanted to do when I got here was start with a clean slate with these guys,” he said Monday, in a news conference before the first session of spring drills. “I didn't want to make any judgments based on what they did on the football field, especially offensively, with not really knowing what they were doing, scheme-wise, offensively -- not really knowing how they were coaching it and all those different things. I just wanted to start evaluating them in the winter conditioning, and now in spring practice.”

After he was hired in January, he made available to his players snippets of tape showing the New England offense, which they have been able to examine at their leisure (just as the defensive players have been able to look at the defense new coordinator Ted Roof ran at Auburn). But for the most part, O'Brien said, everyone is “starting at Square One.”

He said every position is open, though some are obviously more open than others. He did mention Silas Redd as the top tailback -- the ultimate no-brainer, seeing as Redd rushed for 1,241 yards last year.

Quarterback is another matter.

“I'll be real clear on that: It's an open competition,” O'Brien said. “There's no starter, and there won't be a starter named until possibly the night before the Ohio game (the season opener on Sept. 1).”

Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden are the obvious co-favorites, but O'Brien said Paul Jones, apparently back on solid academic footing, is also in the mix. And he said that the evaluation of the QBs this spring will be “as scientific as possible'' -- that every throw will be charted, whether in a seven-on-seven drill or a scrimmage.

“We'll keep a library on these guys,” O'Brien said, “and when we go to make a decision on who starts the football game it will be an educated decision, and it will be a fair decision.”

O'Brien said he was not allowed to talk about potential transfers, per NCAA rules. But in related news, former Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien was on hand as a visitor for Penn State's first practice of the spring, marking his second trip to Happy Valley this month.

No matter who the quarterback is come fall, Bill O'Brien said he will be the one calling plays on game day.

As for other matters:

Curtis Drake, a wide receiver to this point in his career, will get a look this spring at cornerback. And O'Brien said Drake faces no further disciplinary measures pertaining to his locker-room scuffle in January with McGloin, an incident that left McGloin with a concussion and unable to participate in the TicketCity Bowl against Houston.

Drake, said O'Brien, “started with a clean slate” with the new head coach -- “ just like all 126 guys on the team start with a clean slate with me.”

• Some slates are cleaner than others. O'Brien said he is “still gathering information” about wide receiver Devon Smith, who according to multiple reports had drugs and drug paraphernalia seized from the apartment he shared with Jack Crawford, the departed defensive end.

• Backup tailback Curtis Dukes will not take part in spring drills, for academic reasons. Tight end Garry Gilliam, who missed most of the last two years because of knee injuries, and defensive end Pete Massaro, who missed last year for the same reason, will be available. Linebacker Mike Mauti, also recovering from a knee injury, will be a limited participant.

• One other position change: Wide receiver/Wildcat quarterback Bill Belton has moved to running back. O'Brien said it is likely other guys will be tried at different positions.

“The spring,” he said, “is about experimentation.”

• O'Brien had this to say about defensive end Shawn Oakman, whom he recently dismissed from the team: “He won't be back on the Penn State football team, or at Penn State.”

• O'Brien said several players have made strides while working under Craig Fitzgerald, the new strength and conditioning coach, notably offensive tackle Adam Gress.

“He looks like an NFL lineman right now,” Fitzgerald said later in the day, while briefing reporters in a weight room that is undergoing a massive makeover.

Fitzgerald is no less impressed by Redd.

“His goal is always to lift as much as the linemen, and run faster than the skill guys,” Fitzgerald said. “There's a guy, every time he works out, you can feel his energy in here.”

Fitzgerald also singled out Mauti and defensive tackle Jordan Hill as guys who did great work in winter workouts.


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