Plain English from PSU's London

The Nittany Lion assistant addressed the opening-game struggles of the running game, backup Akeel Lynch and more in a conference call with reporters Thursday.

Penn State running backs coach Charles London hopped on a conference call with reporters Thursday morning -- that's right, it was a case of London calling -- and because he wears a number of other hats (recruiting coordinator, special teams co-coordinator) dealt with several matters.

The biggest was how the Nittany Lions, who face Eastern Michigan in their home opener Saturday, improve a running game that managed just 57 yards on 38 carries (1.5 per rush) in a season-opening 23-17 victory over Syracuse last weekend.

As was the case on Tuesday with his boss, head coach Bill O'Brien, London said he and the other staffers have to “do a better job coaching.”

He dismissed the Lions' problems against the Orange as “a lot of first-game stuff,” without elaborating. While he said PSU is sure to see a number of different defensive looks this season because a freshman, Christian Hackenberg, starts at quarterback, Syracuse did not do anything unexpected. Rather, London believes the Orange feature a strong front seven, and that those guys played well.

So his solution to the apparent problem was not terribly illuminating.

“We've just got to keep doing what we're doing,” he said at one point.

“We'll continue to work on our techniques and fundamentals,” he said at another, “and we know it will work out down the road.”

Oh, and this: “I think you'll see improvement in the run game each week as we move on.”

Redshirt freshman tailback Akeel Lynch, thought to be an integral part of the backfield mix, did not log so much as a single carry in the opener. London said Lynch is “progressing well” and that he “works as hard as anybody on the team.”

“Hopefully he can get more carries this week,” London said. “… Everybody knows each week could be a different look.”

In general he said much is asked of all the running backs.

“We talk to them about being complete backs,” he said. “You can't just go out there and run the ball, and catch.”

And if you can't block -- if you can't pass-protect, specifically -- London said one's playing time will suffer.

One back who appears to have made strides in ball security as well as blocking is Bell Belton, who saw extensive action behind starting tailback Zach Zwinak.

“A year into the system, he's got a better understanding of what's expected of him,” London said, adding that last season was “obviously a year of him maturing.”

London summarized the Lions' recruiting philosophy, saying that each assistant has his own geographical area, but when PSU zeroes in on a player the position coach is brought into the process. He summarized game-week preparations, saying that O'Brien outlines the areas of emphasis early in the week and the individual units then get into the specifics of what needs to be accomplished.

“Each group,” he said, “has their fine points they need to address.”

He talked about conditioning, since the heat index on the floor of MetLife Stadium last week put the temperature at 104 degrees (“Coach O'Brien does a great job reinforcing that each week”). He also talked about the emergence of walk-on Von Walker as a contributor (“He's willing to do anything he can to help the football team”), the possibility that fullback Pat Zerbe will have an increased role going forward (“We have a game-plan offense; whatever personnel we deem necessary that week is the personnel we'll use”) and the stunning turnaround of kicker Sam Ficken (“He made a few kicks and now he's kicking with a lot of confidence. You can't really underestimate that as a kicker.”)

And before long it was London, over and out.


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