NITTANY NOTES: The Gauntlet

The Nittany Lions continue to run the gauntlet through the preseason in the midst of a tough stretch of practices. See what the PSU players have been focused on in our exclusive Nittany Notes.

Practice Rundown

Through Tuesday, the Nittany Lions have had nine straight days of practices. As one observer explained, "[The coaches] want them to run the gauntlet these first two weeks to separate out some guys and see who can dig deep."

Monday's practice was a double-session, the second in three days, which had the players in helmets and tops (shoulder pads) early to work on individual position and agility drills. The second evening session had the players in full pads to get in some more contact work in some scrimmage/play sets.

Both sessions were on outdoor practice fields between Lasch and Holuba and saw temperatures in the high 80s.

Tuesday was scheduled to be outdoors, but got washed out with a downpour forcing the squad inside Holuba.

Work Review

This week the Penn State coaching staff has had its units working on "the finer points" of their play with more situational work in the earlier sessions.

Here's an overview of some of the areas they have focused on this week:

Defensive Adjustments

The defensive staff focused on the base scheme last week and moved on to getting the players extra work on their adjustments through the early portion of this week.

"It's really been about read-react drills. [To be effective] the defensive guys need to identify tendencies in the offense and get their reactions to be instinctual," according to one observer. "The coaches are working drills to get them to test read and speed — ball reads and reaction speed."

While the whole defensive unit works on these reactions, its has been a major focus of the secondary, particularly those players with less game experience like D'Anton Lynn (CB), Nick Sukay (SS), Cedric Jeffries (FS), and freshmen Gerald Hodges (SS) and Derrick Thomas (CB).

"Lynn and Sukay are coming along. They both play pretty fast and are getting more comfortable with the scheme and adjusments," one observer said. "The really young DBs have the physical tools to keep up but will need to press it to get comfortable. It's just easy to get thrown off when you don't have the scheme or your assignment down — they lose their keys pretty easily at times, but that is to be expected."

Red Zone Work

Red zone reps have been in the practice plan since this past Saturday. "It's really for the benefit of the wideouts and [freshman quarterback] Newsome." The upside is that PSU has some "major size" with Brett Brackett, Derek Moye, Graham Zug, Chaz Powell and freshman Justin Brown — all of whom are 6-foot-1 or taller. "These guys are big targets, which has pros and cons. They can go up and get balls, but they also are big so the coverage can really get a body on them to slow them down in confined space if they aren't awake."

In terms of the rookie wideouts, Shawney Kersey, Curtis Drake and Brown have all impressed, but for varying reasons. Kersey for his precise runs and receiving skills, Drake for his speed and hands and Brown for his size and quickness.

In regard to Newsome, starting QB Daryll Clark and the offensive staff is working with the freshman signal-caller to "reign in his tendency to run first." As one observer put it, "He seems to trust his feet, but he needs to trust his arm and his head. Not to mention the talent around him." Some observers point to Michael Robinson going through a similar adjustment early in his career.

Blitz Work

The defense is starting to work in some blitz technique. The coaches are working on shifts and packages primarily with the linebackers.

"You have some smart speed in that linebacker group. Losing [Michael] Mauti is a blow because everyone was so anxious to see what he was working toward, but Sean [Lee] and Navorro [Bowman] have the legs and the [intelligence] to make the right reads to blow up a backfield."

Josh Hull is also slated for some packages, which has drawn mixed reviews. "Josh is not the quickest guy, but if they use him right to draw over an assignment to free up [Jack] Crawford, Ollie [Ogbu] or Jared [Odrick], then it could be effective. But they can't use him as the extra speed rusher."

Return Game

The return game has finally gotten some extended work this week as the staff is working a variety of players on both punt and kick returns. See our related story for news on that front.

Wednesday is set for another double-session. The team is expected to continue practices through the week with their first day off of the preseason penciled in for Saturday.

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