The team has been "sky high" for the Rose Bowl. "The coaches are trying to keep them even-keeled with their emotions, but you can tell everyone knows this is a huge game and a huge opportunity," an observer said.
As another observer put it, "There's a lot of respect for USC; you can see it in the film sessions. They are an impressive team, but I don't think anyone is intimidated by them. This squad just has to go out an play their game."
The players have seen a variety of drills in the early bowl practices. Here is a rundown of some of the major sessions the players have been focused on:
Unit Drills: There was a lot of fundamental work over the weekend, particularly with read-reacts, footwork, agility and speed drills. "The coaches wanted to get [the players] back focused on the basics of the game with indys (independent drills). They've been stressing work like take-down technique, snap counts, catching, protecting the ball, etc.," one observer said.
Drill 6: The passing game got a good amount of work in the early sessions, running a variety of schemes. "They ran Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin under center sets, shotgun and a bit of the Wildcat with Derrick Williams. There were a lot of reps on route-running and timing. The [offensive] coaches had them working in some new things and want to see what seems to be sticking," another observer explained.
9-on-7: The running game also got a "heavy dose" of 9-on-7 work in these practices. "Evan Royster, Stephfon Green, Dan Lawlor and the offensive line saw some long, intense workouts with the front seven," according to one observer. "Evan and the line work so well together. They were moving the ball pretty well with a lot of up-front pressure." As another observer said, "The line is really working on picking up a heavy rush and setting and holding their blocks. USC loves to bring pressure and toss out heavy blitzes, so they are doing everything they can early to get them ready for this as much as possible."
1v1: The offensive linemen also got to work on their technique with 1v1 drills against the defensive linemen. "I'll tell you what is fun," an observer explained. "Seeing a guy like Rich Ohrnberger go up against Ollie Ogbu or A.Q. Shipley against Jared Odrick. It's like a title fight. Some of the other guys got laid into for trying to watch the matchups during their drills."
Some PSU prospects made the trip to Happy Valley last weekend and were able to take in the practice sessions. Kevin Newsome spent time watching the bowl preparations.
The sentiment among some practice observers is that Newsome was "floored" with the PSU visit and is expected to ultimately commit to the Nittany Lions.
Also according to observers, some Class of 2009 commitments who were also at practice indicated they felt PSU has a good shot with Tajh Boyd. Although Boyd was not visiting last weekend.
Generally, the team has been healthy early on, aside from a few nagging minor injuries, like Stefen Wisniewski's knee, which still requires him to wear a brace.
The Lions have not avoided the injury bug altogether though. One notable issue is with senior wideout Jordan Norwood, who sustained an ankle injury. Although seemingly not serious, he been wearing a brace on the ankle at times.
Norwood is sidelined currently, but expected to be fine for the bowl game.
What About Joe?
To a man, observers have been impressed by head coach Joe Paterno's rapid recovery from hip replacement surgery late last month. Though he still uses a single crutch, he has been getting out of his motorized cart during practice at times to work with individual players or groups.
"He is doing very well," on observer said.
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