The Nittany Lions have had seven practice sessions in preparation for the Outback Bowl against Tennessee. Here is how the schedule has broken down so far:
Week of 11/27: Friday, Saturday
Week of 12/4: Monday, Friday, Saturday
Week of 12/11: Monday, Wednesday
The Lions' next practice is this Saturday, with the rest of the campus practice schedule as follows:
Week of 12/18: Monday, Friday, Saturday
The PSU team will travel down to Tampa on Dec. 22 and 23. As we first reported last week, the coaches took a "180 shift" in their bowl prep approach, which typically emulates spring practice, where each session gradually increases in intensity, with the final sessions "maxing out at a creshendo," as one observer described it.
As we described in our Dec. 7 report, after two initial "light" sessions on Friday and Saturday, Monday took a "180 shift," with the team adding full pads and full contact drills to the lineup. As one observer said, "Monday was hell. Every unit was in full pads and the coaches ran every drill you can think of. The practice was packed with next to no down time."
This was reportedly to counter a "laid back" approach several players were taking to the early drills last week. However, the PSU coaches did the same thing this week during this past Monday's practice session. This time the coaches had the players in full pads, opening with some drills (1v1, Drill 6, clash drills, etc.), but using the majority of practice to fit in a full-contact scrimmage, the first of the team's bowl preparations.
During the scrimmage Anthony Morelli worked a lot of passes in, with freshman tight end Andrew Quarless and wide receivers Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams getting the bulk of balls thrown at them. Chris Bell was also "given the opportunity to catch some balls." As one observer said of Bell, "C[hris] has [to worry] less on living up to the hype. He has talent. He needs to focus on the basics — maintain balance, get those hands up, look the ball in and tuck it away. He looks to see where the coverage is and which lane is available before he even has the ball. Derrick [Williams] and [Justin] King used to do this, too, but they were quicker to phase it out of their game. Every player wants to make that big, spectacular play; make the small one first."
The offensive line, which has seen Levi Brown, Robert Price, A.Q. Shipley, Rich Ohrnberger and Chris Auletta see first team reps, has also seen players like Dennis Landolt, Austin Hinton and Gerald Cadogan seen some first team reps. Tackle John Shaw is said to be at about 90 percent after recovering from an MCL tear.
In related news, Cadogan is in the process of making a move from guard to tackle. "He works a lot better out in space," an observer said.
The line focused its contact drills on picking up various blitz packages and pass rushing schemes Tennessee is expected to use, particulary with "bringing up some speed with a linebacker or safety." According to another observer, "The defense threw a lot at them - they brought up some speedsters like Devon Fentress, Jerome Hayes and Willie Harriott to test the ends."
Tony Hunt and Rodney Kinlaw have both seen a lot of carries out of the backfield. "Hunt is the feature guy," an observer shared. "But Rodney has to be ready. The coaches were not prepared for Tony to go down from the outset [against Florida State in the Orange Bowl] last year. It was lucky that Austin Scott was ready."
Aside from being prepared to play the role of backup in "case of emergency," the staff is looking to have Kinlaw as a potential "change of pace" against Tennesee's run defense. "They like to stuff the middle and are likely preparing for Tony's methodical, grind-it-out approach. Kinlaw would be a nice way to periodically upshift the running game."
There has been a lot discussion around the alleged speed Tennessee has. "The guys are watching a lot of film to get a feel for their scheme and tendencies. Tennessee plays quick and can have a aggressive approach. The OL will have their work cut out for them to open things up."