The Nittany Lions kicked off their bowl preparations a few weeks back, taking in some fundamental work and unit drills the weekends of Dec. 5 and 12. After a week off from practice for finals during the week of Dec. 14, most players headed home for a bit before departing for Florida this past weekend.
However, the East Coast blizzard did cause some delays for certain players. "A couple guys had some flight issues, but there weren't too many major delays," an observer said.
As an aside, the players are responsible for making their own travel arrangements to and from the bowl using a set stipend from the PSU athletic department.
Currently the team is staying in Daytona Beach until Dec. 24, at which time it will migrate to Orlando until the bowl game.
Once the team assembled in Daytona Beach its got into practices on Monday, Dec. 21. The players opened with a pretty light session with pads, and "used the time to work out some kinks [from the week off]."
The players "looked good in early runs, but they have only been off a week," according to one observer. "That's not enough time to get out of shape — for most guys."
The players did watch "a ton of film" on Monday, spending time on "LSU's schemes and tendencies." As one observer said, "They are not the most disciplined team we've seen, but they are very atheletic and physical."
While the team was expecting warm (if not hot) weather, temperature were in the low 50s and there were cloudy skies Monday. Tuesday is expected to only get to 61 degrees with sunny skies.
A double-session practice is scheduled to start Tuesday and "should be pretty rough." The morning was expected to work in some unit and individual drills with the afternoon practice getting into some scrimmage sets.
"The coaches are putting in a few shifts in the schemes, but they'll focus on the base sets." The passing game saw some different sets and routes, but the "key was getting everyone comfortable with just throwing and catching the ball."
How is the passing game looking early on?
Pretty good. The quarterbacks and receivers got in some passing drills and the linemen got in some snap drills and 1v1 sets. Daryll Clark "looked sharp" on Monday and "seemed pretty loose." He forced a few balls, but was pretty consistent in basic passing drills.
Kevin Newsome is getting some first-team work, but the amount of snaps he will consistently get with the starters is up for debate. Many observers don't feel as if he will be prepared to see significant work in the bowl, which has some frustrated.
One standout who made some "great catches" and "keeps getting better" is Derek Moye. "He's getting more physical and made a spectacular grab on a pass that was clearly an over-throw that was unbelievable."
What is going on with the defense?
Aside from pressure and pursuit drills, the defense has worked on some blitzing fundamentals. Larry Johnson is "challenging the defensive front to compete with this SEC line." According to one observer, "L.J. and the coaches are saying the country once again doesn't think Penn State can handle the SEC. I think he is trying to [tick] the guys off."
Scout team running back Curtis Dukes is getting strong reviews "testing the defense." "He's not afraid to deliver a hit — he's gone right at Jared Odrick. Now Odrick has leveled him at times, but the defense has a lot of respect for Dukes' style of play."
What is the attitude of the squad?
The consensus is that the players are excited. "They were upset about the BCS miss for about five minutes, but this is a big game against a big opponent and they know they can show the country something."
"It's awesome to see Sean Lee, Daryll and Jared step up and motivate the guys. They're going to be so missed for the sheer passion they have for this program."
Are special teams getting extra work?
The coverage teams got in some early pursuit drills and were taking time to practice their "lane coverage." Observers indicate that the unit will get extra work over the next several practices. "We'll see if it pays off. It's pretty late to make any major changes, but they'll put in some adjustments to see if they work."
How is Joe Paterno?
"He's fired up," one observer said. "Today was his birthday and he was after guys in practice. I think he looks fantastic considering the shape he was in over the past few years."
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