Q. How have your quarterbacks looked coming in and how have they progressed through the early stages?
COACH O'BRIEN: Right. We just finished day three, and we're really pleased with both guys. Very athletic. These guys can throw the football. Tyler came back and he's shown that he's studied in the off season since spring practice. They make their share of mistakes. Tyler makes his share of mistakes, but he's had a good three days.
And Christian, for just being here for the first time, putting the pads on and practicing football, he's done a really nice job of studying and trying to get better every day.
Again, it's only three days, but we're certainly pleased with where they're at right now.
Q. There's a lot less, I think, uncertainty surrounding the program this year. The players I think are more comfortable, less distractions. How big of a plus is that for you going forward?
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, I feel like even last year I feel like we do a good job as a staff, and our players do a good job of really being focused. I think we've got a focused bunch of guys, and that's no different this year than it was last year. These guys are focused and attentive in meetings, and when they go out on the practice field they're practicing hard. They're having some fun, and I feel like we're focused. All we're concerned about right now is basically finishing up class strong here. We're still in summer school, final exams will be Friday and Saturday. And then really getting going with this training camp and focusing all of our attention on getting ready to play Syracuse, and I believe the players feel the same way.
Q. Has either quarterback been able to show any separation these first few days?
COACH O'BRIEN: I would say after three days that Tyler is a little bit ahead, again, because he has knowledge of the offense. So sure, he's a little bit ahead. He takes most of the reps with the first team right now.
But again, Christian has come in here and really done a nice job. For a true freshman to come in here and do the things that he's done in the first three practices is really good to see. He's attentive. He must be staying up late at night studying the playbook because he's come from day one to day two to day three and improved and he asks great questions in the meetings. So does Tyler. These are two talented guys.
We've got to get past all the recruiting and we've got to get past all that. These are two very talented quarterbacks at the Penn State football program now, and right now, like I said, only three practices in, I would say Tyler is a little bit ahead.
Q. Can you talk about your expectations of the offensive line this season, and also the character of the guys up front? They seem like good guys and interesting guys, as well.
COACH O'BRIEN: Right, you've got it. They are. We have a lot of confidence in our offensive line. We feel that the tackle position, the guard position and the center position we've got guys there that have played a lot of football for us. Even Garry Gilliam, who we moved over there from tight end, he's played a lot of football here at Penn State, especially last year, so we're expecting him to come in there and help us. And so far in the first three days, that core group of six to eight guys there has done a nice job.
And they are, you're right. They're very high character guys and tough guys, smart. They communicate well. There's some characters up there. Dieffenbach, he's got another career as a I won't say, Saturday Night Live or something like that. But he keeps the sense of humor in the room. High character guys that are doing a nice job.
Q. How is Zwinak's health, and also with the depth that you have at running back this year, how do you hope to incorporate all those guys, get them all involved in the offense?
COACH O'BRIEN: The depth at where?
Q. Running back.
COACH O'BRIEN: There's three of them. They're all going to play. And Zwinak is doing fine. All three running backs will play this year.
Q. Is it accurate to say that both lines are where depth in your situation could be most of an issue necessarily, and how many guys would you like to have in this situation to rotate in and out compared to what you would normally
COACH O'BRIEN: Offensive and defensive lines?
COACH O'BRIEN: I would say that right now we feel decent about the offensive line depth. We do. We feel like we've got, like I said, eight guys there that can play. We've got three tackles, and I'll tell you this: We've got a freshman that's come in and done a nice job in three practices. That's Andrew Nelson. So we've got three or four guys there that we think can play. Andrew has got a long way to go, but he's done a nice job in three days.
And then at center we've got Ty Howle there, who's had a really good three days, and then the next guy in at center would be Angelo Mangiro and he's done a nice job in the three days. Angelo is a very valuable guy because he can play guard, too, so he's kind of the swing guy. We call him the swing guy of those three inside positions. And then you've got Dieffenbach at left guard and you've got Urschel at right guard, but you've also got Anthony Alosi who's come back and done a nice job in the off season, and we expect him to play for us. Obviously you've got Eric Shrive that can play guard or tackle, who's come back and done some decent things so far, so we feel good there.
On the defensive line, losing Brad Bars isn't the greatest thing in the world. Obviously you lose depth when you have an injury. But like we've said from day one here, it's the next man up. So when we look at our starting defensive line right now, you basically look at five guys. You've got Deion Barnes, you've got C.J. Olaniyan, you've got inside DaQuan Jones who's had an excellent three days, you've got Kyle Baublitz and Austin Johnson. So there's a decent rotation there of guys.
Now, when you look at the defensive end spot, who can help us there? Can Evan Schwan keep improving and help us? Can any of the freshmen? Can Curtis Cothran or Garrett Sickels come in here and help us? So we feel decent about the depth.
Where the depth is more of a concern is, like I said, at linebacker. You guys can read the roster. Our three starting linebackers are really good, really good. Tough guys, smart, instinctive players. Ben Kline has been in and out with a shoulder issue, and hopefully he'll be ready for Syracuse. And then we also have some young players there like Brandon Bell who's a freshman, Gary Wooten who's basically a freshman. Those guys have improved.
So that's an area where the depth is more of a concern.
Q. Can you talk about John Butler's transition to his new role?
COACH O'BRIEN: Sure. Yeah, he's done an excellent job. He's one of the best coaches I've ever been around. He's a quick minded guy. He's tough. The kids really respect him. He's a great communicator. It's a competitive practice because he and I are very competitive people. So it's been a great thing for our program. He's an excellent coach with obviously a very bright future.
Q. In Chicago you praised Trevor Williams and Jordan Lucas. I guess what did those guys do in spring ball that kind of put them where they're at now in terms of being the favorites to lock down the starting spots at corner heading into the fall?
COACH O'BRIEN: Right. Well, those guys, they did. They had a nice spring. Trevor, obviously we moved him from receiver over there, and he did a nice job in spring practice, and both of those guys have come back to training camp and started off really well. They're bigger. Both of them hover around 6'0", 6'1", they're close to 200 pounds, they move well, they've got good speed, they've got an ability to change direction, they've got good ball skills and they're tough and competitive. Both those guys have done a nice job so far.
Again, neither one of them, especially Trevor Jordan played a little bit last year, but neither one of them have really played a number of snaps in a game, so the games will determine how well they're doing. But I mean, so far, so good.
Q. As you get into camp and start preparing for a game, what is the balance that you have to find between working guys to get them ready for games but not wearing them out?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, that's a balance we talk about every single day. Even today we sat in our staff meeting this morning and talked about how we wanted to do things today. We've got a lot of reps in practice. Okay, so let's say you get 50 to 60 reps in practice. One thing that we try to do is get our No.1 groups quality, good reps. We don't want to give them 50 million reps in a practice, but we try to get them quality, good reps, and then we try to get the younger players a lot of reps, get those guys in there and let them play football. And then maybe at the end of practice, instead of doing gassers where we run back and forth on the field, we feel like our team is in decent condition, maybe we'll do more upper body conditioning, things like that. We try to be creative every single day to make sure our team is as healthy as possible for Syracuse.
Q. You talked about the defensive ends a little bit earlier, and I'm wondering with Deion Barnes, if you recall the first time you met him, and what makes him so productive?
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, first of all, football is very, very important to him. It's very important to him. It's something that he has a passion for. Secondly, he's an excellent athlete. He's big, strong, he's become even stronger and more physical in our weight room. Now that's carried over to the field, so I believe he'll play the run better this year.
He's worked hard on that in the off season, and he can rush the passer. Everybody knows that. He's a dynamic player, and I'm very glad he's on our team.
Q. Allen Robinson, obviously a big time year for you guys last year. With that comes teams have now had an entire off season to check him out, look at him. What's he been working on in the off season to kind of deal with that added attention he'll receive, and what's the key for him to have success this season?
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, part of that, part of the added attention he probably will receive, you're probably right, is the fact that we've got other guys that can catch the football. We've got obviously other receivers. We've obviously got some talented tight ends. We've got guys in the backfield that can catch the ball. So those guys, we have to get the ball to those positions a little bit more, too, and not just depend on Allen all the time. So that'll help.
And then the other thing that Allen has done is he's worked on just having better knowledge of the offense. He's worked on his own skill set. He's faster, he's stronger, he's really worked hard this summer to come back in tip top condition.
We're going to move him around a ton. Last year he basically played X for us, and he'll be all over the map this year.
Q. The linebacker depth you were talking about, it seems like you guys brought in a bunch of run ons to compete. Did you target was that a specific target that you guys talked about as kind of bringing in a bunch of kids and hoping a couple of them pan out and can play for you?
COACH O'BRIEN: Sure. We brought in we do. We have a number of linebackers that are run ons for us, and sure, that's part of the strategy for the depth issues at that position. Maybe some of those guys can help us on special teams. What we've seen right now is that the run on program, I believe our staff did a really good job of bringing some guys in there that have upgraded our roster. The top end of our roster hasn't changed that much, a little bit here and there, but that other end of our roster has really changed a lot, and that's a credit to our staff for going out there and finding some candidates to be able to contribute on special teams, add depth on offense and defense, things like that.
It's only three days in, so we'll keep working with those guys, but it's a good group of guys.
Q. I was just hoping for some clarification on Trevor Williams. You touched on him earlier, but the new roster has him as a safety. Is he still practicing as a first time cornerback?
COACH O'BRIEN: He's a corner, I don't know. Safety, corner, he's a DB. Is that like a major clarification? He's going to be in the secondary.
Q. And Kyle Baublitz is at 281 pounds right now, lost some weight. What type of concern is that heading into camp?
COACH O'BRIEN: No concern, absolutely none.
Q. Brett Wilkerson has an ongoing back injury. What's the situation there? Are you guys worried about him going forward?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, basically there's three guys, Brett Wilkerson will be out for a while, okay, and I'll leave it at that. DaeSean Hamilton will be out for the year, incoming freshman receiver, had a wrist injury that he had in high school, and basically showed up here with that injury, so he'll be out for the year. And then Ben Kline, you know, he's in and out with shoulder issues, but I believe he'll be okay, but he may we'll monitor him in practice and sometimes he'll practice, sometimes he won't.
COACH O'BRIEN: He's fine. He's in there. Everybody has got a hamstring injury. It's three days in camp. One of the things you find out is like you look at the injury report and you've got like 10 guys with sore hamstrings. My hamstrings are sore.
Q. In Chicago you mentioned the possibility of playing Amos at linebacker and Obeng also. Is that still a possibility?
COACH O'BRIEN: Oh, yeah. Those guys are multiple players. Both those guys are safeties and they've come back in really good physical condition. You know, they're playing well at safety, but we'll train them in a lot of different spots. And you know, Amos, he's even more multiple than Obeng because he can play corner, too. Obviously he did that last year. Steven is a very valuable player because he's a core player on special teams for us. He's one of the leaders of our team. Emotional guy, passionate guy, and he can play safety and he could move down and play some what we would call like big nickel and be down in there. He's a bigger guy for a safety.
Q. I was wondering about some of the freshmen you mentioned a little bit earlier, the ones not named, Christian, and as far as Neiko Robinson, my understanding is he got here a little later than anticipated, but how has he looked?
COACH O'BRIEN: You know what, he did, he got here a little later because it was based on all the clearinghouse and NCAA deals, and he made it. What a great kid. What a fantastic kid. His dad and his uncle drove him up here from Florida. Good people, so we're really happy to have him here. He's athletic. He's got to put some weight on. He's got a long way to go to be able to play for us, but we're sure glad that he made it here. We're happy to have him. Good, bright eyed kid.
Q. When tight ends start learning your offense, what have you noticed are some of the most critical adjustments that they must make or new things they must pick up to really get their role in your offense, which is a pretty big one?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, I would say that's one of the tougher positions in our program to learn, second only to quarterback, especially on offense I'm talking about. These guys are involved in all different facets of the game. They're involved in the running game, they're involved in protections sometimes, and obviously they're involved in the passing game. So what we try to do with them every single day is segment practice so they get work at all those things. I can't point at one thing and say, this is harder to learn than something else, because route technique is a lot different than what they did in high school, and obviously blocking Deion Barnes is a little bit different than blocking some kid from wherever in high school.
They're involved in all different facets, so it all ties together, and they're all working hard and they're talented. They're big, tall, they can catch the ball, so they're a much improved unit, and we're looking forward to seeing how they do this year.
Q. Sam Ficken's kicking game obviously improved over the course of last year. How is that momentum carrying into camp this year?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, Sam is a great kid, fantastic guy, and he's improved a lot. He's worked hard at it. I remember I was running on the treadmill during the summer and I could see him out there on the practice field kicking by himself with his helmet on. He was trying to get some work just on his own, and that says it all about Sam Ficken, and hopefully he'll come back and have a strong year for us. He sure has worked at it, so yeah, he's done well the first three days here.
Q. Kyle Baublitz has played defensive end in the past a little bit. Could you see him playing that position and defensive tackle?
COACH O'BRIEN: Sure. Sure.
Q. How has the ESPN Behind the Scenes taping gone so far for you?
COACH O'BRIEN: I mean, I think it's great for our program. I believe it's great for our kids, and I think it's great for Penn State. And I think it's really important during this time period that the people of Penn State, the Penn Staters and all the fans of Penn State just see the type of kids we have. We have fantastic guys, and I think the ESPN crews have really seen that. That's the one thing they mention to me every night is, boy, you've got great kids, and that's a credit to our guys.
So that's good. I've told them no more microphones on me at practice because it's not on HBO, it's on ESPN, and other than that, though, they're a good bunch of people, and they're fun to work with. Gene Wojciechowski has been here and he's a great guy, so it's been good.
Q. I'd like to go back to two guys you mentioned earlier, Gary Wooten and Brandon Bell. What have you seen from them so far?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, both guys, well, Brandon just got here. Wooten has definitely improved. Got a long way to go. Got a long way to go, but a big guy, put on some weight in the off season. Hopefully he can help us on special teams and as a backup linebacker. Good kid, really good kid. Works really hard at it.
Brandon Bell has come in here in the first three days and shown good instincts. Like every freshman he's got to get into better shape, he's got to understand the speed of the game, but he's definitely an instinctive player. You can see that right away. We think he's got a good future.
Q. Can you expand more on Garry Gilliam and where would we expect to see him? Is it more left tackle or right tackle, too?
COACH O'BRIEN: You'll see him at either tackle, might see him at tight end, tackle. He's going to play.
Q. You had talked about wanting to have a starting QB by two weeks out. Is there any
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, maybe.
Q. Is there anything that these guys could do to adjust that timeline maybe?
COACH O'BRIEN: Just keep practicing, keep going out there and improving. I'm going to do what's best for the football team, so I mean, I said that in Chicago, but like I hope you didn't mark it on your calendar, so you're all outside my office two weeks a week from now or whatever. Just hold your horses.
I think they're both, like I said, talented guys, and I just want them to continue to grasp what we're trying to do and go out there and play the next play. Don't worry about the last play. Play the next play, and you're going to make mistakes. It's not an easy offense to learn as a quarterback. You're going to make mistakes. Matty McGloin, he made mistakes but he was tough. He was resilient. He played the next play, and that's what these guys got to continue to do.
And then when we feel we have a guy that we think can start the game against Syracuse, we'll name that guy the starter. But both guys are very, very talented, and we really, really enjoy working with them.
Q. We know from last year what Kyle Carter and Jesse James are able to bring to the offense, but where does Adam Breneman fit into the offense this year, and what has he done in the first three days that you've seen even going back to the spring?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, he's another guy for a freshman that's a very instinctive, smart player. Like all freshmen, they have a long way to go, but what we've seen from Adam is that he's got a good skill set in the passing game. He's tough. He'll block. And he's smart. He can play both Y and F. We have two tight end positions, and he plays both of them.
So like Christian, like all these freshmen like I just answered that one, they just have to take it one day at a time. Win this day, go to the next day and try to win the next day. So that's what we're trying to get them to do, and that's something that they're all trying to do.
Q. Can you speak to the challenge of replacing the starters and the special group you had last year, not in the sense of on the field, but the emotional force that they were?
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, every year is different. Every year is different, so that was last year's team, and this is this year's team. You know, obviously we feel so close and grateful for last year's seniors and what they did for us, but this is a different team. This is the 2013 team, and we've got good leaders on this team, good guys that have played a lot of football for us, and we're not concerned about that part of it. We're not concerned about that at all.
Q. The transfer period ending Monday, was there ever a point in the last six months or so where you stopped being concerned that guys were going to transfer, that these were the guys that you were comfortable with and they were comfortable with you?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, I would say once the season started we weren't even last season. Once last season started we weren't even thinking about that transfer rule anymore. We felt like these guys were committed to us. Of course a couple guys left, but that was more of their own volition and that's what they decided to do, and we respect that. But overall in the football program we didn't put any we didn't mark August 1st on our calendar or whatever the date was and say we were going to roll out the party and start partying when that date came. We didn't worry about that date at all.
Q. I just want to know how Bill Belton looked the first three days, and when will you know for sure if he's okay academically?
COACH O'BRIEN: Right, right. I think he's doing well academically. I would say pretty soon here. We're headed towards the end of the second summer session, so pretty soon here. But I believe he'll be fine, I really do. All the reports, just talking to him, he says he's doing well, and I believe he'll be fine.
But he's done a nice job in three days. We have three backs there that are good players. Zwinney obviously is a good player; Akeel Lynch has come in here and had a nice play yesterday on a screen pass; and Billy Belton has already broken a couple runs. He had a nice catch on a flare pass yesterday and had a big gain, so all three of those guys, like I said earlier, will play for us.
Q. Without a veteran quarterback, where do you see the general leadership coming from, and do you expect to name season captains, or how will you handle that?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, we'll do the captains the same way we did last year. We'll name game captains every week and then we'll name captains before the Wisconsin game like we did last year. I'm not sure if we'll do that every year, but we'll do that this year again.
You know, again, you're right. You have a young quarterback, whoever the quarterback is, and those two guys have leadership qualities now. They go in that huddle, they both have good huddle command, and obviously they're polished guys. But again, they've got a long way to go there.
So yeah, we have a lot of guys on offense; up front, Ty Howle, John Urschel, a lot of guys that have played a lot of football for us; Adam Gress, I haven't even mentioned him yet. He's done a nice job in three days. Obviously with Allen Robinson, the tight end, Zwinak, we've got some good guys around that quarterback position that are good leaders.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the special teams. You guys were in the bottom half of the Big Ten last year in most categories, not a ton of guys on the roster as far as kickers, punters, snappers. What do you expect out of that in camp?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, we were, you're right, we were in the bottom half, but some of that was the kicking. Some of the coverage teams were really good, did a nice job on kickoff coverage at times, did a nice job on punt coverage at times. We've got to kick the ball better. We've got to our return game needs to improve, and I think we've put some players in the return game, both in the punt return game and in the kickoff return game, that have definitely added the improvement to those units.
I think our special teams will be improved. Will it be tops in the country? Who knows, but I think it'll be improved off of last year.
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, start with Geno. He's had a nice three days here. He's done a good job. He had a very, very he had an unbelievable one handed catch the other day with his right hand, never brought his left hand in. He's a guy that is what a great kid, too. Just always has a smile on his face, fantastic guy to coach.
And then Zanny has come in here and done a nice job. He's really worked hard in the off season. He's stronger, he's bigger, he's a physical receiver, and he works extremely hard, and so both those guys will play for us this year.
Q. You talked earlier about how both you and John Butler are competitive guys. Can you kind of expand on how that helps when you go against each other at practice, and is the defense where you think it should be at this point?
COACH O'BRIEN: You know, when you go against each other in practice like that, you're competitive. You want the offense to do well, he wants the defense to do well, and every time you walk off the practice field, usually one side of the ball feels better than the other side of the ball. So that's just I think it sets the tone for our team, and they see that and they enjoy it. They get probably a little bit of a kick out of it, and it's just fun to coach against each other.
I would say right now the defense is a little bit ahead of the offense. The defense had a good day yesterday, first day in shoulder pads yesterday, and not full pads, shoulder pads, and so the defense was a little bit ahead of us yesterday, so we've got to crank it back up today on offense and do a better job.
Q. Last near Nyeem Wartman did well on special teams and then was injured. His role in the linebacking corps this year and what is the strength that he brings to the field?
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, he's a starter and he's had a really good three days of camp so far. Instinctive guy, he's got good coverage skills. He's a good kid. He's another guy that's a potential leader. He's a vocal guy. He plays with passion. He loves to play. He loves football. He's going to help us in a lot of different areas. I believe he's going to be a real good player for us.
Q. Who are some of the candidates in the return game? You mentioned that you think that the return game will be better. Can you mention some of the names?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah. I mean, I'll tell you what, there's a lot of names. There's a lot of names back there, so I'll combine both of them together, but you've got obviously Billy Belton will be back there, Trevor Williams, Geno Lewis, Akeel Lynch, Richy Anderson. You go right down the line, there's probably close to eight guys that Alex Kenney, these are guys that I think are improved and will help us a little bit more this year in the return game.
Q. I wonder where Jesse James has made the most strides
from last year to this year.
COACH O'BRIEN: Well, he's definitely in better condition. He understands the offense better. He can play both Y and F. He can play all the positions. He's a very smart player, so he's gained more knowledge of the offense. I believe he's improved in his ball catching skills and route running skills, and he's improved as a blocker. When he first got here, he couldn't block me, and now he's definitely a better, much better blocker.
Q. Last year you kind of got the reputation you liked going for it on 4th down, everybody thought, kind of a wild decision making coach. Is that really your philosophy, and does some of that change when you have a younger quarterback as opposed to a guy who's played a lot like Matt?
COACH O'BRIEN: No, we're going to go for it on 4th down. I mean, if we get the ball on the 50 yard line going in and we've got an advantageous 4th down and the momentum of the game or all the different factors that go into it, there's a lot of different factors. Obviously we're not going to be dumb about it. If we feel like we're in a good spot and we can punt the ball and pooch it inside the 5 yard line, then that's what we're going to try to do. Will we go for it on 4th down as much as we did last year? Who knows. How many 4th down situations are we going to have? Last year was a little bit unique in the fact that we had a lot of 4th and short situations. Will that happen this year? Who knows.
But yeah, I'm sure we'll go for it on 4th down a few times this year.
Q. What sort of experience did you have before this year with like thud practicing and that style of practice as opposed to the constant contact?
COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, well, I had five years of experience with that in the NFL. We did a lot of thud. In training camp in the NFL you do a lot of live tackling, but once the season starts you're not live tackling at all, and you're doing a lot of thud. So I have a lot of experience with that. I can show film, and I give our players a lot of credit. We did a nine on seven drill yesterday. Obviously we're just in shorts and shoulder pads, so of course we wouldn't go live there, but it was a thud drill, and our guys did a really nice job, especially the first and second units, of playing on their feet and wrapping up the ball carrier but then letting him go. It was good. I mean, there was contact now. There was contact.
These guys, these are Penn State players, man. They like to hit, so there was contact.
Q. Does it affect your QBs one way or another that there really isn't a seasoned D 1 quarterback on the roster that they can kind of observe and learn from?
COACH O'BRIEN: No, they've got a seasoned coach they can learn from.