Nittany Notes: PSU Practice Report

With the Nittany Lion coaches locking down their Penn State squad this week in preparation for the upcoming Notre Dame clash in South Bend, fans have been asking what's been going on in practice. Get the lowdown in the latest version of our Nittany Notes.

Adopting a preparation approach similar to the 2005 Ohio State clash, the Penn State football staff is essentially isolating its players from "outside outside distractions so they can focus on the job at hand." According to one practice observer, "Last year's [Ohio State] game was viewed as a turning point for the program — this [Notre Dame] game is seen as one that can direct the season. The coaches want the players to have a razor sharp focus here. Getting them involved in the hype does nothing to help achieve that."

This week's practices have been described as "light" and "used to work the details of problem areas seen last Saturday." The coaches are pulling back on contact this week to a degree to "avoid injuries and help keep the units fresh."

In terms of those focal points of practice, here are some areas on which the staff is working:

Special Teams:

"Field position can make or break this game, and frankly this game could be won by whichever team can kick field goals the best," one observer opined. Penn State has spent a good amount of time running drills on the kickoff and return games.

In terms of kickoffs, Kevin Kelly has "been pretty consistent on his boots — he is much more comfortable on kickoffs and can nail a touchback when his follows through on the ball." Although the Lions had two miscues with Jason Ganter against Akron, the coaches "aren't that concerned with his holding. They are working the mechanics from snap to set, but Jason should be fine."

On kickoff returns, Derrick Williams and A.J. Wallace are expected to remain as the focal points. In regard to Wallace's kickoff fumble against Akron, "The coaches expected him to make mistakes and wanted him to screw up to learn from it. He's incredibly dymanic and is now a better player because of that fumble. Some of people have said they would have benched Wallace after the fumble — great, then you have him sitting there focused on the fumble and tell him you've lost confidence in him. Having him on that next return was the best thing that could have happened — and the coaches told Williams to try to let A.J. make the run," according to an observer.

With punt returns, some coaches are nervous havin Williams back there "wide open." However, the coaches have agreed that they have to "take some risks out of the gate." With punt returns the coaches have been working on the blocking scheme to help create some consistent lanes for Williams to run through. "Like the passing game, the returns have a lot of timing invovled. Derrick is good at not only seeing the hole, but reading how much time he has before it closes, so he knows when and where to accelerate," according to another observer.

Running Game:

There has been a lot of concern about the run blocking of the line against Akron. As one observer put it, "The line worked their pass protection a ton in the preseason — protecting Anthony [Mreolli] was the biggest priority. I think they did a good job with that. Opening up lanes was worked on, but they were not running the single-back sets as much as we saw against Akron. The coaches did not want to uncover the run game, so they basically told Tony [Hunt] to go out and make the best of the situation, which is tough with a stacked line."

This week the offensive linemen are working on their lane creation with zone blocking, but are also working with a "fuller backfield," which has seen split and broken sets with the likes of Tony Hunt, Matt Hahn, Rodney Kinlaw, Dan Lawlor, A.J. Wallace Austin Scott and Derrick Williams. "There are some pretty crazy sets they have run," one observer shared. "Seeing Derrick, Tony and A.J. back there. If they actually run it [in a game] it will have defenses shaking their heads."

Hunt is still the clear starter with Kinlaw and Scott getting the remainder of the reps, although "Rodney seems like the backup still."

Viewed as an "X-factor" for the upcoming game, Williams has been run like "Rocket Ismail used to be — he's a motion man — he starts in the backfield shifts out to the slot, or he'll move to the wing or play a split back or step up under center." As another observer said, "Williams is an advantage that sets PSU apart. When you consider that Wallace could be another Williams-caliber player, it gets folks giddy. There's a reason some guys call the two Williams Wallace, remember the Mel Gibson character [from Braveheart] who everyone thought was 12 feet tall and shot lightening bolts out of his @$%? Well, defenses will be saying these guys are faster than a speeding bullet and can catch anything within 50 yards of them — how's that for hype?"


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