In previous years the staff under Joe Paterno did not always use their full allotment of 15 practices. However, with Bill O'Brien's staff, there are some different objectives. "They have been saying 'every snap counts,' so leaving a full practice on the table is a lot. So that is not really an option," one observer explained.
As we have laid out in previous reports, the new coaching staff is using the spring to assess its talent and depth and get the players as acclimated with both the scheme and playbook as well as the pace they want to play use. It's been described as a "challenging spring" by one observer. Another said, "[It's been] rough, but has done wonders for the conditioning of a lot of guys."
To fit in the extra practice session, the staff decided to insert a 6 a.m. practice on Tuesday morning in full pads.
"It was a good session, guy are digging deep to finish strong," an observer said. That was the second practice of the week. There will be normal sessions Wednesday and Friday, and then the Blue-White Game Saturday.
Here are news and notes from this week's early practices:
• The offense has had another good set of practices since turning a corner in Saturday's scrimmage. "They have work to do on the details — holding blocks, precise routes, timing — but they are taking some steps," an observer said.
• McGloin has shown consistency with his delivery and improvement on his reads and footwork. "He's getting comfortable with the playbook," one observer said. Another observer said, "He's taken a lot from Coach [O'Brien]."
• Jones has shown an edge on arm-strength and while his reads continue to improve, he's focused on improving his progression He's been described as "focused" and "physical" with his play.
• Bolden "looks like two [quarterbacks] at times." He's shown impressive, crisp passing in set drills and workouts, but "continues to be all over the place with his reads and awareness." At times, "he'll drop half his progression or forget about the check-down."
• The Lions are developing depth at tight end. Garry Gilliam is looking strong in his return from an ACL injury. "He's been tough to cover in the flat," an observer said. Also, Kevin Haplea and Kyle Carter "are both starting to nail things down." Dakota Royer has also seen first-team reps.
• The starting lineup for the defensive line seems to be settling in, with Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley at ends and Jordan Hill and DaQuan Jones at the interior. Massaro will skip the Blue-White Game for precautionary reasons, though.
• In terms of filling out the rotation, at end Deion Barnes continues to impress with his progress "ripping the corner" on pursuits. "He's gaining confidence, which could make him dangerous." Also Kyle Baublitz and C.J. Olaniyan continue to battle, with both focused on improving their hands and body control. At tackle, James Terry and Anthony Zettel are the odds-on favorites among observers to fill the rotation out. Zettel in particular has shown "drive" and "intensity" and "is practicing like he wants to play."
• With the offensive line the interior continues to see a first-team lineup of RG: John Urschel, C: Matt Stankiewich, LG: Miles Dieffenbach. The first-team tackles have primarily seen RT: Mike Farrell and LT: Adam Gress, but Donovan Smith has been "pouring it on" as of late. As one observer said, "If he can boot the mental mistakes he's going to really make a run."
• As an aside, we've heard a few comments about Stankiewich's leadership and the fact he's getting comfortable in that role. Communication is a focal point with him given the added complexity of the reads for the offense, but he "seems to have a handle on it."
• We're heard about Zack Zwinak turning heads in recent practices. Another back who is emerging is Bill Belton; his speed "excites the coaches," and he's "made some nice plays out of the backfield" in the passing game. The current staff can't figure out what Belton was doing playing receiver last year.
• With the secondary the first-team unit that's been running is described as solid with corners Stephon Morris, Curtis Drake and Malcolm Willis rotating and safeties splitting reps between Stephen Obeng-Agyapong Jacob Fagnano and Adrian Amos. The depth continues to be a concern, particularly at safety. "They are working guys, but know it's going to keep [the coaches] up," an observer said.
• Outside of Justin Brown at wideout, Shawney Kersey has "shown up" and consistently been "grabbing balls" in recent work. Also Allen Robinson continues to impress with his size and agility. "He's been running some of the tightest routes" in practice.
• Alex Kenney was seeing most of the first-team reps at slot back before sustaining a high ankle sprain that may keep him out of the Blue-White Game. The injury is not thought to be serious in terms of impacting him for summer workouts and the preseason.
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