As you probably know, the vast majority of Penn State football practices are closed. So we depend on a team of knowledgeable, reliable and well-placed "observers" within the program to relay information to us. We withhold their names so they can speak their mind without fear of retribution.
We trust what these "observers" say to be accurate or we would not pass on that information to you. Having said that, though, please keep in mind that we do use a variety of sources and that they are not always in complete agreement with one another.
Thank you, and now on to the report.
THE SCENE: The heat in State College has been "brutal" this week for the Nittany Lion players, pushing them indoors for some of the sessions to Holuba Hall, affectionately called the "heat box" by some observers. This week the offense has had the opportunity to work the passing game a bit — "routes, timing, fundamentals and such" — in the team's traditional "Drill 6" set.
This drill is a 7-on-7 set. "The drill works the spread and is focused on passing — they can run, but the vast majority of plays work the passing game," one observer said.
Drill 6 does not used a complete offensive line — only a center to snap the ball, who is actually eligible to receive and "can serve as a check down route." The drill is made up of a quarterback, center, tight end (Y), running back (A) and three receivers (Z, R, X).
That "offense" runs against a defense made of a mix of linebackers and defensive backs.
The drill runs a wide array of plays, shifting the receivers, running back and tight end, including curls, outs, three and four wide, where a tight end or back will be played by another wideout.
So why the name "Drill 6" when it's actually a 7-on-7 set? "Oh, that was its name when Joe [Paterno] ran it back at Brown," an observer explained. "I think it was literally the sixth drill they would run in practice. Yeah, it's that old."
THE TOPIC: Passing Game.
The passing game has "the ability to have a blockbuster year," as one observer described. "Running Drill 6 is not the ideal situation given the lack of pressure on the quarterback — although the defense can blitz a linebacker or safety out of a man or zone formation — but it is a good tool to work the details of the passing game, specifically receiver routes and the passer's progression."
In terms of the wide receivers, the first team has seen work primarily with Jordan Norwood, Deon Butler and Derrick Williams with Chris Bell and Terrell Golden stepping in at times. Brett Bracket has also seen some sporadic work catching Anthony Morelli's passes.
"Jordan [Norwood] and Deon [Butler] have always been consistent with their hands," an observer said. "Both run tight routes, although Jordan is a step quicker — his stamina is improved. He's done well baiting the coverage in certain instances." Norwood has proved to be a challenge for young corners like Lydell Sargeant and A.J. Wallace.
"These corners out here are fast with a capital F," an observer shared. "But if they bite on a move it can pull them off a route. Jordan will use a quick cut or juke — he's quick and more fluid. He doesn't telegraph as much as before."
Butler has been one of Morelli's "go-to targets" in the early part of preseason drills. "They've been working those intermediate routes (15 to 25 yards) we talked about before. He has those down on a post or hitch or curl. He makes his shift quickly."
They've also been working on deep passes.
"Go back and watch Deon the past two years — he has made some spectacular circus catches, but he has to dive a lot of the time," an observer said. "That is a timing issue, the ball is there, but it's not perfect. If he can catch it in stride a lot of those receptions are touchdowns. Deon and Anthony are working on that. It's about consistency — one guy has to get there and the other has to deliver it."
Earlier this week we reviewed Williams in our In Focus Report. According to an observer, "They were running a lot of intermediate routes (15 to 25 yards), and he was consistent — he's getting better at looking the ball into his hands. It sounds dumb, but you can't do anything if you don't have the ball."
In terms of handling the early coverage sets, one observer assessed William's progress, saying, "Derrick is more mobile, he's more shifty, he can maneuver more sharply with his cuts or on a curl. That is the big strength he has — it's not the flat-out speed, it's the unpredictability he gets from his quick bursts. He accelerates, stops, starts, cuts, gets the ball and hits it upfield. I'm most impressed with his endurance and attitude — he's doing what he needs to to get where he should be. The key is confidence and consistency."
Elsewhere among the receviers, Bell "uses his body pretty well to box out the coverage. He's strong up top and can muscle his way to a pass against a shorter defender. "
"However, when he's up against Wallace, who is about the same height, he loses that advantage. The coaches are working with him to know when to use a variety of advantages — height, weight and speed. A.J. is about the same height (as Bell) so what else (can Bell do)? He's a bit faster, so juke him off his track." As the observer also shared, this sort of expertise will simply come with experience.
Brackett is "a freak" who is not the fastest wideout but he is "far and away the biggest" at a legitimate 6-foot-6. "Playing out of the slot, he's tough on defenders. There hasn't been a guy who has consistently handled him. (Dan) Connor (at middle linebacker) probably does the best the few times they have matched up by jamming him at the line." Brackett has shown "pretty good hands," but "needs to get off the snap more cleanly — he needs to burst off the line." He also needs to "look, look, look at the quarterback — you're only running 5, 10, 15 yards out most times and if the ball's coming, it's coming fast."
Golden, the lone senior in the group, "is playing the role of coach. He's vocal, he's a motivator. I think he realizes there are some incredibly talented guys here and he is trying to play his part to help them improve." Golden has speed but he is not as fast as the younger receivers. "He'll be a situational guy who runs sharp routes and has the hands," according to one observer. "But I don't see him as one of the workhorse receivers. That is no cut on him — he's important to this squad — there is just so much talent there.
Another of Morelli's favorite targets "when things are clogged out in the flat" is tight end Andrew Quarless, "who looks more like a linebacker now." Playing the Y tight end spot in Drill 6, Quarless has been focusing on getting free off the line and "taking advantage when a defender releases him from their zone. There's usually some miscommunication in these situations a smart player can exploit."
Finally, fans have been asking about true freshman Derek Moye and his early progress. "You're looking at a stacked position now," according to one observer. "Physically he's in a good situation — he'll benefit from a redshirt year in the weight room and to learn the playbook cold. Believe it or not, a lot of these guys will be wrapping up their careers soon, so his time will come." Moye has been praised for a "good first step" and "looking the ball in." He needs to "tighten up those routes, but he's still learning the position. He also needs to get down low to handle a jam on a post route or off the line."
The preseason practice content is already flying around here at FOS. To help you keep track of it all here is a running list of the practice reports we have around the site:
In Focus: Austin Scott
Nittany Notes: Drill 6 WR Report
In Focus: Derrick Williams
Nittany Notes: Power Line (OL)
Follow Up OL Player Notes
Nittany Notes: Position Battles
Nittany Notes: Opening Day Notes
Preseason Kickoff (Schedule, Plan)
Stay tuned to FOS for continuing exclusive reports on PSU's preseason practices.