Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien held his first weekly press conference of the 2013 season at Beaver Stadium Tuesday.
It featured and new format and a big (non-)announcement at the very beginning. FOS staffers Mark Brennan and Greg Pickel let you know the details in the video above.
Transcript courtesy of Penn State Athletic Communications.
COACH OBRIEN: As we head into this week, let me start with an injury update.
As we see it right now, Deshawn Baker, a wide receiver, will be out. Hell return at some point this season, but hell be out. Brad Bars is out for the season. Kasey Gaines has a hamstring issue right now, and hell be limited in practice and wont play vs. Syracuse and Evan Galimberti, whos a freshman for us, is out right now. DaeSean Hamilton, a freshman wide receiver, is out right now, and he wont be back for a while.
Adam Gress is full participation and hell be ready to go on Saturday. Ben Kline is full participation and should be ready to go for the game. Garth Lakitsky, a linebacker, will not be ready for the game. Brent Wilkerson will be out for a while. Hes had surgery and will be out for a little while.
Other than that, I would say weve had the usual bumps and bruises, but basically that gives you an update on the injury front.
The only other thing I want to address up front is the quarterback situation. I feel like what I try to do every week, along with our staff, is do whats best for our football team, and, as of right now, youll find out who the (starting) quarterback is on the first play of the game against Syracuse.
Believe me, Im not trying to diminish the importance of that position and what it means to this football program and what it means to our fans, but I want to do whats best for our players and whats best for our football team, and so thats what Im going to do on that.
Q. This situation is obviously different than last year with the quarterbacks. Is this because the two people involved are young players? Is that why youre holding off?
COACH OBRIEN: I think thats part of it. Youve got an 18 and a 19 year old guy here. Thats part of it. They basically just got to Penn State. Christian got here a little over a month ago and Tyler has only been in since January.
Last year we had a seasoned quarterback who had been through a lot here at Penn State, he was going into his fifth year, it was a totally different story last year.
Again, its more about whats best for the team. The team understands the direction were headed and thats whats important.
To me, its important, going into a first game not really knowing what your opponent is going to do, and I dont really think they know what were going to do. Theyre a very, very good opponent. I think its important to do whats best for your football team, especially going into the first game.
Q. I was just wondering if I could get your observations and thoughts on preseason camp to date. With regard to has it been a lot different than last years camp for you, and have you and your staff treated it differently because of the circumstances?
COACH OBRIEN: I believe we had a very productive training camp. I believe our guys came back, and they understood the expectations, they understood the system on both sides of the ball and on special teams. We had a lot of returning players.
I believe weve got some strong leaders on this team that showed the young players the way. Did we have great days every day? No, but I dont think we had any bad days. We might have had a bad play here or there or a bad series here or there on both sides of the ball, but I dont believe we had any bad days. I believe we came out of it healthy, for the most part, which is very important, especially with our top players.
So I believe it was a productive training camp. At the end of the day the proof will be in the pudding how we play early in the season.
Q. How close have things been in camp between Malcolm Willis and Ryan Keiser? Do you have a starter picked out there, or how close has that been?
COACH OBRIEN: Id say the same answer there as compared to the quarterback. Ill give you the same answer there. Youll find out on Saturday who starts at safety for us.
Both guys are really good players and theyll both play for us. Malcolm is a leader back there. Hes a guy thats played a lot of football for us, and hes come in here and, for the most part, been healthy and had a very good, productive training camp.
Ryan Keiser, hes kind of an unsung hero right now after training camp. Hes a guy that does a lot of different things for us. Hes involved in all four special teams actually, five, because hes our holder on PAT/field goal, and he does a really nice job of that, and hes going to play safety for us, too.
Hes an improved football player and it was a great day last year when we were able to put him on scholarship because hes a guy that really deserved it. Hes a Pennsylvania guy, another Pennsylvania guy that understands the meaning of playing at Penn State.
Q. Bill, what prompted you to reorganize the special teams coaching duties this year, and have you seen any benefits from that in camp?
COACH OBRIEN: One thing that prompted that was John Butler being promoted to defensive coordinator he led the charge with our special teams last year.
Another thing that prompted it was that I just felt it was better for the kids to hear from two voices. I guess three, including me, actually, because Im heavily involved in special teams.
I felt that having two main voices in Ron Vanderlinden and Charles London would consolidate the message a little more. Those guys were in charge of two special teams each, and theyve done a nice job with that.
The players have really adapted to that well. Those were some of the things that prompted me to do that.
Q. You talked in the offseason a little bit about being a better coach yourself, improving yourself. Can you look back to this time last year, how do you think you are a better head coach heading into this season than your first season?
COACH OBRIEN: This time last year was a blur. I was trying to do as good a job as I could with our staff to keep our team together and get them ready for the first game. Obviously, personally, I didnt do a good enough job in that first game because we didnt win.
Last year is last year and this is a new year. Hopefully, personally, Ive done enough in the off season to really study what we do, how we practice, how we lift weights, how we condition, how I call plays, what were doing on defense and how to improve our special teams. Hopefully, youll see some improvements.
It starts with me, and its not all about what I know. Its more about what the players know, and weve got great kids here that are a joy to coach. I love coaching these guys every single day.
Hopefully, weve taught them well, and theyll be ready to go on Saturday.
Q. You guys dont know whos going to start at quarterback for Syracuse, either, so how do you prepare for an unknown quarterback? And they have a new offensive coordinator, George McDonald. Do you know anything about him?
COACH OBRIEN: Its one of the things thats a little nerve racking going into the first game. You really dont know what to expect. You have to make sure that you cover all your bases as best you can, but you cant stay in the office until 4:30 in the morning trying to block ghosts and scheme for things that you dont really know exist.
You just have to go out there in practice and get your guys to understand base defense, base offense, and how were going to react if different things come up during the game.
When you look at their two quarterbacks, whether its Terrel Hunt or Drew Allen, from what we know, they are two different quarterbacks and youve got to be ready for two different styles of play.
Im not going to get into how I see the difference in their styles, but we have to do a good job on defense of recognizing whos in the game and making sure that were ready for what they are going to try to do.
Offensively, Syracuse runs the ball very well, and they have a very potent passing attack. If you look at last years tape, they did an excellent job on offense.
George McDonald is a heck of a football coach. Hes been a coach in the National Football League. Hes been a coach, most recently, at the University of Miami. I have a lot of respect for George, and I know hes got a lot in store for us on Saturday. We just have to do a great job of playing with poise and adjusting on the fly.
Q. I wanted to talk a little bit about the five run ons that you gave scholarships to yesterday. Just talk a little bit about how you actually deliver that news to them and what their reaction to that is. Also, going forward, does this complicate the roster management at all with having those players on scholarship?
COACH OBRIEN: I would never do anything intentionally to complicate the roster management. So thats the answer to that.
Ive watched these guys over a long period of time. Each guy has been on our team for a while. We dont just hand out (scholarships) like candy. You have to earn that scholarship, and these guys have earned it.
So what I did was I met with a couple of key people on our staff and talked to them about these guys that I felt deserved it, both on and off the field, for how they represent our team and how far theyve come on the field. Regardless of whether they were starters, dirty show guys or special teams core players, I felt like it was important for us to reward these guys.
I brought them into my office for one on one meetings and I told each of them. They were very appreciative. Theyre all great kids. And then I announced it to the team that same day.
Again, its always a fun experience to do that because these guys have earned it, and the team really enjoyed hearing that these guys had been awarded scholarships for this year.
Q. These kids have played in stadiums with a lot of history, Im wondering is there anything specific or a different you hope they take away from playing in an NFL stadium? What do you think this could mean to them as opposed to playing in some of those historic college stadiums?
COACH OBRIEN: As a program, its important for a lot of things to be understood here. First of all, playing at MetLife Stadium means a lot to our fans. We have close to 40,000 alums in that area and we have 12 guys on our team from New Jersey.
I think playing in MetLife Stadium is just fantastic for Penn State fans. Im hearing that its not a sellout, yet, and Im not in charge of selling tickets, but I hope it would be close to a sellout by Saturday. Penn State and Syracuse is a traditional rivalry that hasnt been played in a few years.
Our guys have to understand theyre going into a professional stadium and that technically there are some things that are a little bit different. The field markings are one thing. When you go into the pro stadium, youll see the difference in the hash marks. Youll have the pro hash marks and then the wider college marks. Youll see the pro numbers and the wider college numbers that are just marked by white lines. Thats important for our players to understand.
Other than that, its important to know this is where the Super Bowl is going to be played at the end of the year. This is where the New York Jets and the New York Giants, two fantastic pro football franchises, play and that even though its a brand new stadium, there have been some great games played here already.
I think its a neat experience for our players, and I think its great for everybody involved with Penn State.
Q. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your linebackers. Obviously, the depth doesnt seem to be there for the first time in a while. How are they coming along, and how do you feel about that corps going into Saturday?
COACH OBRIEN: We feel good about our linebackers, starting with Mike Hull and Glenn Carson. Those two guys have played a lot of football for us, and theyre very good players. Theyre multidimensional and they can do a lot of different things. They do a lot of different things for our football team both on and off the field. Theyre leaders and theyre fantastic people.
Nyeem Wartman is somewhat of a newcomer, he played a little bit for us last year, but was injured in the first game. We think he has a very good future, and the future is now. It starts on Saturday. Hes had a good camp, and we expect him to play well.
Then we have Ben Kline. Ben is a fantastic guy and is just a fun guy to coach. Hes a backup linebacker, a standout on special teams and a tough guy. He represents what the whole Penn State football program is about. Ben really represents that well.
We have some younger guys, Gary Wooten, who will be involved on special teams. We have Brandon Bell, who probably wont play in the game, but we think he has the ability to have a good future here. Hes got to just keep coming along.
Weve got some run ons there, too. We think some of our run ons are pretty good players, like Adam Cole and Charles Idemudia.
So there are some guys that will help us, but those three starters will be Hull, Carson, and Wartman.
Q. Its supposed to be kind of hot this weekend. Theres depth concerns, obviously, for your team. How much of an issue or concern is that for you?
COACH OBRIEN: Early in the season, thats an issue for both teams. One of the things youve seen recently around here, its been pretty hot for the most part. Yesterday was hot and todays hot. Its good to get out there and practice around the time well be playing the game. Thats important.
I think its important the guys wear the right things when they play. Not to go into detail, but making sure theyre wearing things that dont trap the sweat and they let their bodies breathe a little bit.
I think its really important that we, as coaches, rotate players in where we can. Some of the positions we can rotate a little more freely than other positions, but weve got to do a good job of that as coaches.
I think early in the game, just like any first game, its a big game being played in a venue like MetLife Stadium, everyone will be jacked up. Both sides of the ball will be pumped up. There will be a little bit of hyperventilating going on, and weve got to do a good job of calming these guys down and making sure we keep our poise on the sideline and get into the flow of the game quickly.
I dont think (the heat) is a concern for us, but I think thats something that both sides are probably looking at.
Q. You talked last year about complementary football. Is there a renewed emphasis on all those components coming together on Saturday to take pressure off of the two young quarterbacks?
COACH OBRIEN: It doesnt matter whether its a young quarterback or a veteran, I have a strong belief that in order to be a successful team, you have to understand the definition of complementary football.
Football is a game of emotion. Its a game of momentum in many ways. One of the things we always talk about, especially during game week, is being able to play complementary football.
If the defense comes up with a big stop or a big turnover, offensively we have to turn it into points. If the offense turns the ball over, which hopefully we dont, our defense has to get out there and stop them. Youre expected to go out there and stop them.
Special teams wise, we drive the ball at the end of the half and we get in a position to kick the field goal, we have to go out there and execute the field goal. Everybody feeds off each other, and thats an important part of what we do as a team, no matter who the quarterback is.
Q. Bill, whichever quarterback it is, what can you as coaches do to mentally prepare them for that first drive? You know, just that neither of them have played in a Division I football game. What do you as coaches do to I guess, not that theyre going to be starstruck with the environment, but what can you guys do to mentally prepare them?
COACH OBRIEN: Its not just the quarterback position. Believe me, I get what youre driving at, but its everybody. This is a big game. Youre playing a game in MetLife Stadium. Youve been waiting for this game for a long time, both teams.
What you try to do on both sides of the ball, you talk to these guys about how youre going to open the game. Whats the strategy of how were going to open the game? We really dont know what theyre going to do. They dont know what were going to do. So how are we going to open the game?
Were going to open the game this way. Were going to make sure we follow the rules and do what weve been coached to do and help each other out. We have to do a great job of communication. It will be loud. Whatever it is, verbal, hand signals, reading lips, whatever it is, we have to do a great job of communication.
So one of the things that well talk about constantly is the beginning of the game, how were going to start the game, and, hey, look, if the beginning of the game doesnt go very well, boy, theres a lot of game left. Dont go in the tank. Keep playing. Keep fighting. Thats what Penn State is all about. Hopefully, we understand that when the game rolls around, and were ready to go.
Q. Bill, you highlighted some of the freshmen earlier. With Neiko Robinson, weve talked about him before, is he still here?
COACH OBRIEN: Neiko is not here. Basically, what Im going to tell you on that is what happened there is between Neiko and myself. Neiko is a fantastic kid. It had nothing to do with discipline, nothing. This kid is a fantastic kid. It just didnt work out here at Penn State.
He will end up somewhere, but he wont be at Penn State.
Q. Bill, obviously, there are a lot of other teams, not just you and Syracuse, that havent named your starting quarterback yet. Nick Saban said the other day that putting out a depth chart is a chore and he only did it because the media made him to. What are your thoughts on the publics right to know about depth charts and positioning in quarterbacks?
COACH OBRIEN: He makes me do it, that guy right there.
No, I think its important. Look, the game of football is in many ways, obviously, for the players and the coaches, but its for the fans. Its a spectator sport.
And I get that, and I love the Penn State fans. Theyre one of the best parts about this place, the student body, the fans, and really my dealings with the media here has been, for the most part, very, very good.
Again, Im not trying to do it to bust anybodys chops. I want to do whats best for the football team right now, the 2013 football team, and I want to do whats best for the guys involved, and I want to do whats best for Penn State.
Whats best for Penn State right now is for you to find out (about the quarterback) when we take the field for the first snap of offensive football against Syracuse.
Q. Bill, you touched on the big stage, being in New York. You guys had really gotten a lot of national run in the off season with the way you finished last year. Do you see this as an extension, opportunity with the momentum that you could build, or do you just look at it as, hey, this is just the start of another season?
COACH OBRIEN: Its definitely a new season, its another season, but I do think, any time you play in New York City, youre on the big stage. Its on ABC. Its a big game. But, again, I think that everybody around here has to understand that 2012 is over. I know our players understand that.
So its not so much building on momentum from last year, its more about, okay, what is this 13 team going to do? And now here we have an opportunity to go play in a great venue and hopefully do a great job for our fans and our supporters.
Q. Mark had mentioned the heat and the way you started out last year. Have you guys adjusted practice? Do you feel like the team has fresh legs going into this opener?
COACH OBRIEN: I do. I believe weve done a better job of that this year. I really do. Weve done a number of things to help that, and I dont want to get into the details of it, but I believe that weve done a better job of that this year.
Q. With the inexperience factor of Tyler and Christian, how much extra emphasis do you put on getting guys like Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, and Akeel Lynch in the game and relying on them, or do you expect that, whoever the quarterback is, to just kind of pick up where Matt (McGloin) left off last season?
COACH OBRIEN: I dont compare anything to Matt. Just like I said to Neil, I dont compare anything to last season. I expect that its 2013, the quarterback goes in there, whoever the quarterback is, and plays well. Theres a high standard of playing quarterback here. Thats what the offense requires.
Well be as balanced as we can be. Were going to really try to be balanced. We cant go into the game and think were going to win throwing 60 balls, but if we have to throw 60 passes, thats what we have to do. If we have to run the ball 50 times, then thats what we have to do.
We cant go into the game and have our minds locked in on this is how its going to go because, with first games, you really dont know what to expect. So we have to adjust during the game.
Whoevers the quarterback, whoever plays whos in there at quarterback is expected to play well.
Q. Bill, could you give your impressions of the kickoff and punt coverage and the return teams coming out of camp, and did you kind of extend the thud, stay on your feet philosophy, to that part of the practice?
COACH OBRIEN: I did. I definitely did, but if you look at our kickoff coverage, our kickoff return team lets start with those.
I think our kickoff coverage team, for the most part, last year did a nice job. We had guys last year that really went down there and did a nice job. A couple of guys, like Mike Yancich, arent there this year. So what were looking for is we put some guys in those positions. Whos going to take that Mike Yancich type role and go down there and be a leader?
Overall, I like where were at with the kickoff coverage. Kickoff return, weve changed things up a little bit. Obviously, Im not going to get into that with you, but I feel pretty good about where were at with the kickoff return right now. Again, the proofs in the pudding.
Punt team and punt return, weve worked extremely hard on those. Syracuse is a very, very good special teams unit on all four. Were not sure what to expect with their punt block and punt return unit. So we have to do a good job, just like in offense and defense, of following their rules.
I think Alex (Butterworth) is punting the ball pretty well right now. Im hoping we dont have to punt too much. But if we do, I think well go out there and execute. I feel good about where were at.
Punt return, again, were doing some different things with the punt return and the punt block, and hopefully that shows up on Saturday.
Q. Coach, last year was an emotional game leading up to the first week. You mentioned composure and poise a couple of times. Have you sensed a difference in the teams demeanor going into this years opening game even though its in a major venue?
COACH OBRIEN: Again, I dont compare anything to last year. I believe every team is different.
Right now I believe our team is preparing and doing the best they can to learn the game plan. They understand theyre playing a great opponent, and theyre looking forward to the challenge. Last year was last year, and this year is this year.
Q. As you saw Zach Zwinak improve throughout the course of last year, how much did he even surprise you with how well he did? And the fact that you have a young quarterback, how much of a comforting factor is it knowing that youve got an experienced running back back there?
COACH OBRIEN: Judging by the fact that I had him as the third or fourth team running back at the beginning of the year, I would say that thats some bad coaching because I think, in about, whatever it was, 8 1/2 games, he gained 1,000 yards.
Zachs a tough guy. I love coaching Zach. Hes very hard on himself. He demands perfection of himself. Hes tough. Hes a big guy. He can run. Hes got deceptive speed, and you know, he can catch the ball. He loves playing at Penn State. Again, hes a big part of our team.
Q. Bill, Syracuse has two pretty decent running backs.
COACH OBRIEN: Yeah, they do.
Q. Talk about the importance of stopping the run on Saturday and shutting them down, especially with a new quarterback for them.
COACH OBRIEN: I think you go into every single game, no matter who youre playing really, no matter who youre playing youve got to be ready to stop the run.
If your defense isnt centered thats just my belief -- if your defense isnt centered on stopping the run, number one, then youre going to be in trouble.
Because this is Penn State. This is the history of Penn State says, No. 1, were going to play as tough a defense as we can, and were going to try to stop the run, and thats the way it goes.
To me, good defenses all over the place say the same thing. Its especially true with Syracuse because their two running backs are really, really good players tough guys, strong guys. They can run. They catch the ball well, and Syracuse does a real nice job with those two guys.
So its going to be a tough chore, but, again, thats a big part of what we have to do.
Q. You mentioned Adam Gress is good to go, what does that do to the right tackle position? Is he still No. 1 on the depth chart, or is that a position well find out on Saturday?
COACH OBRIEN: Yeah, that would be one of those things youll find out on Saturday, but hell play. Gress and Gary Gilliam will both play.