Nittany Lions React to New Offense

Bill O'Brien's pro-style attack is drawing strong reviews, even if it is difficult to learn. Read the story and check out the video.

Penn State tailback Silas Redd tried to be diplomatic. But it was a futile effort.

After all, how could he possibly sing the praises of the pro-style offense being installed by new Nittany Lion coach Bill O'Brien without sounding negative about the former staff's approach?

“I'm not trying to compare, but…,” Redd said, pausing while he considered what he would say next. Then he began talking again.

“Everything we did last year was kind of predetermined,” he continued. “With this offense, our motto is to play fast. So everything we do is kind of read and react. If the defense changes into something, we have a check there -- we have an alert.”

Added tight end Garry Gilliam: “It's a little bit more complicated now because our routes switch depending on what coverage the defense is in.”

According to the Penn State players, under former co-coordinators Galen Hall and Jay Paterno, practically all offensive adjustments were made before the snap. If the defense made a late shift, the Nittany Lions were not equipped to counter.

O'Brien, who came to Happy Valley following a successful run as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, is demanding much more from the Lions during his first spring practice with the team. All skill players must make reads after the snap.

“It is more complicated,” receiver Justin Brown said. “There's a lot of stuff you can do out of it. It's based off what the defense gives you. So a lot of things you do are on the fly. … From coming off the snap of the ball and seeing what the defense is giving you -- OK, now you can do something else instead of basically running into the defense.”

“Defensive coverages change within the (blink) of an eye,” Gilliam added. “Some offenses don't have it built in that they can switch the same way. But the way Coach O'Brien has our offense set up, as they switch, we switch. So we're always kind of one step ahead of what they're doing.”

There is obviously a steep learning curve for the Penn State players as they attempt to wrap their heads around an offense that is complex even by NFL standards. O'Brien, who spent 14 seasons as a college assistant before joining Bill Belichick's New England staff in 2007, is cognizant of that.

“We've thrown a lot at these guys,” he said. “And to be fair to them, they have to go to class, too. What we've tried to do is make sure we put everything in (during spring practice), so when we get to training camp they haven't heard it for the first time. I think the progress has been decent, but -- like any coach would say -- it's not to the point where I would like it. We have a ways to go.”

O'Brien does not come across as being quite so patient to the players. Redd smiled while talking about the tough love the coach shows as he teaches the new offense.

“If you don't know (a play), you don't get the rep,” Redd said. “He'll put someone else in, and that's kind of embarrassing. He might go back to the tape the next day and be like, 'Look, you didn't know what you were supposed to do, so I took you out of there.' And that's in front of the whole squad.”

Not that Redd is complaining. He realizes there are benefits to mastering the new offense that have the potential to do more than help the Lions win more games in 2012.

“You've got to love it because anyone who has aspirations for the NFL, that's really what every offense does,” Redd said. “So if you're going to that next level, it can only help.”

Speaking of that next level, O'Brien has used Patriots' game tape as a key teaching tool at Penn State. The Nittany Lions have been watching it for months now.

And they are starting to have a true understanding of what they are seeing.

“If you would think back to when Tom Brady would come up to the line and make an audible or something, that's the stuff we're doing,” Gilliam said. “Now we know what he was doing and why he was doing it.”

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