Changes Afoot in Opening Session

Penn State program observers give the lowdown on the first practice of the Bill O'Brien era with the Nittany Lions.

Monday marked not only the first session of the spring period for Penn State, but also the first practice of the Bill O'Brien era.

"It was fast," an observer said. "[O'Brien] doesn't want to waste time. He wants everyone focused and moving quickly."

The approach is somewhat different from recent spring periods under Joe Paterno, where the staff would "dial up things" from one practice to the next to "ease the players in" to the drills. O'Brien's staff, on the other hand, "came out fast and hard." As one observer said, "They have a lot of work to do to assess guys and see what they have to work with. They just don't have the luxury to take it slow."

On top of this the staff wants to practice fast since it plans on playing fast. "It helps condition guys and prepare them for the pace."

Besides the speed of practice, the coaches are also focused on the precision of each rep. "The coaches are looking at the little things — if it's a 15 yard out, they want you breaking at 15 yards, and they'll call you on it," according to an observer.

You can get a good feel for the precision focus from our practice video here.

Another general difference is that the staff got the players right into some scrimmage sets to work plays and timing. In years past the initial practice period would be focused on fundamental drills working footwork, agility, etc.

"They are heavy on disciplined technique," an observer said. "They don't expect everyone to do it right the first time. But once they correct you they want you to do it right the second time."

Those high expectations seemed to have most players very aware of their play. "A lot of [players] were very in-tune with pushing to get each drill right."

Here are some notes from the opening day:

• O'Brien worked with the crop of quarterbacks, but Matt McGloin started out seeing the bulk of the primary "first-team" work under Matt Stankiewich at center and the primary receivers in scrimmage sets. Bear in mind that this is early and O'Brien has stressed he has no preconceived notions and will have an open race for the starting job.

• The initial two-deep on the offensive line was made up of:

RT: Adam Gress, Donovan Smith
RG: John Urschel, Eric Shrive
C: Matt Stankiewich, Ty Howle
LG: Miles Dieffenbach, Angelo Mangiro
LT: Mike Farrell, Nate Cadogan

• The QBs taking snaps included Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden, Paul Jones, Shane McGregor, Garrett Venuto and Tyler Lucas. The centers working with the QBs early in practice included Stankiewich, Ty Howle, Frank Figueroa, John Urshel, Miles Dieffenbach and Angelo Mangiro.

• A good amount of time was spent on snap to dropback, with a focus on the balance, body control and footwork of each quarterback. O'Brien personally assessed each quarterback in this aspect.

• Not surprising, Justin Brown (nicknamed "Brownie" by O'Brien) was the first receiver up in nearly every drill. Matt Zanellato and Devon Smith also had "pretty good days."

• As expected, Silas Redd was the primary running back. With Curtis Dukes out to focus on academics the bulk of backup reps was with Bill Belton and Derek Day.

• Brown, Smith and Belton each saw initial work on punt returns. They worked on their ability to see the coverage, field the ball and pursue an angle. But assistant coach John Butler seemed to spend more time focusing on the punt coverage team on the first day.

• A good amount of time was spent with the tight ends as well, with specific attention given to Garry Gilliam, Kevin Haplea, Dakota Royer, Kyle Carter and Jesse James. Attention was focused on blocking abilities.

The Nittany Lions will hit the practice field again on Wednesday. Friday and Saturday mark the annual PSU Coaches' Clinic with the team taking in their its scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. is your source for the BEST content and community covering Penn State football.


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