Nittany Notes: Ups and Downs

After two straight road losses, Penn State hopes to get well against Iowa at Beaver Stadium Saturday. The week of practice has been a mixed bag of results as the players try to regain their confidence.

As the Penn State football team looks to bounce back from consecutive road losses, attitudes at practice have varied. Some players are trying to motivate the rest of the team, others are clearly frustrated by the short losing streak. Read on for details.

Attitude and Approach

"Overall the team has been pretty positive — upbeat considering the situation they are dealing with," one observer told us. "There are pockets of tension at times in drills, though. Personally, I think the captains need to step in and be a bit more visible, but there are some guys taking the reigns on both sides. Q [A.Q. Shipley], Aaron [Maybin], Sean [Lee] — the guys we have talked about since the preseason are stepping up."

The team does seem to have a leadership void among the seniors, "at least those vocal guys who demand perfection and tell you about it. It's at least a good sign that you have some captain candidates for next year who have stepped in to the role," another observer explained.

Despite what has been fronted to the media, there is a bit of tension between the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. "[Quarterback Anthony] Morelli is somewhat tense. He's on edge about his job security and that is coming across in how he's handled himself at times."

A few observers have pointed to situations in drills where there were breakdowns or miscues and "a heated exchange has resulted" between Morelli and "whoever is close by."

Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley has told his players he wants them "heads down on their jobs" and "playing to perfection with their own responsibilities." In other words, he told his players he wants them focused on their own positions and nothing else, especially nothing happening on the other side of the ball.

On the Defensive

The defensive line has worked a heavy rotation this week with Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu, Chris Baker and Phillip Taylor at tackle. Abe Koroma is seeing "more work," but is not expected to see significant action against Iowa this week.

"The ends have been working for optimal speed to pressure [Iowa QB Jake] Christensen. Iowa has struggled with sacks and [position coach Larry Johnson] is looking to exploit that," one observer said. "They have worked on sending Sean [Lee] or Danny [Connor] in blitz and stunt sets. They have also had Tony [Davis] come up at times. He has good pursuit to work a flush and get a breakdown on their side. They will likely user the 'backers the most, though."

They have also worked Tyrell Sales, "but he's used as a breakpoint guy. The tackles will create separation in the line and Sales will break it open. He's not a fast guy like Sean, but his power allows for a break in the interior."

On the Offensive

Morelli has seen the bulk of quarterback reps this week in the first-team powder blue jersey and has "had ups and downs." As one observer told us, "It's all mental. His confidence is shaky and he's looking over his shoulder. Look, it's clearly his start for this game, so he needs to drop the baggage and just play to win. He needs to want to show he can lead and perform."

Along those lines, Morelli was said to have exploded in Wednesday's session — even tossing his helmet — when the staff unveiled some new first-team wrinkles geared toward the style of backup QB Daryll Clark. "It was just crazy," an observer said.

The starting receivers have looked sharp. "Deon [Butler], Jordan [Norwood], Derrick [Williams] and Drew [Quarless] give you everything you really need to get the passing game going," one observer told us. "Everyone is calling for [Chris] Bell. He's outstanding when he is on. He just loses his head out there sometimes. He's set to run a 15-yard in post and he hits a 12-yard out curl. Come on."

Austin Scott and Rodney Kinlaw have continued to split first-team tailback reps this week. "What [the coaches] are grappling with is who is going to get it done for 60 minutes out there," an obsserver reported. "First Austin's game breaks down, then the next week Rod has a critical fumble. Who wants it? Both are good enough to adequately create a balanced attack, but who wants to protect the ball on every carry?"

Practice Personnel

There have been no apparent major personnel shifts this week.

  • Morelli has seen the bulk of first-team reps at QB.

  • Scott and Kinlaw have seen the bulk of first-team reps at TB. Evan Royster continues to see second-team work.

  • The offensive line has seen some shifts at guard with Stefen Wisniewski, Mike Lucian and John Shaw getting work in with the first-team. However, "John just does not seem ready. He looks tentative," an oberver said. "I doubt he would see a lot of time this week [during the game] unless they felt they needed him."

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