Notes from Penn State Open Practice: 4.18.12

Penn State vs Iowa-60

For the second time in five days, Bill O'Brien opened up his football practice to the media, and unlike last Friday, we got to stick around long enough to see plenty, especially some full-contact 11-on-11 drills that provided a glimpse of what Saturday's Blue/White Game might have in store.

First and foremost, it's pretty much an inevitability that Matt McGloin will be your QB1, at least heading into the summer. Once again, he got the first (and only) snaps with the first-team offense, although he wasn't particularly effective in that short series. He made three throws--a short one that Garry Gilliam dropped, another short one that Gilliam hauled in, and a poorly thrown deep ball--aimed at a single covered Justin Brown--that sailed out of bounds.

Rob Bolden only threw the ball once, but it was a beauty, a perfect back-shoulder bomb down the right sideline to Christian Kuntz, who was defended very well by (I think) Derrick Thomas. Paul Jones got a couple reps with the third team, and threw just one pass as well, one that sailed a bit up on Matt Zanatello, who couldn't haul it in. But Jones also showed terrific mobility, moving to his left to avoid a sack and then turning up field for what would have been a nice gain if the play hadn't been blown dead.

The running backs were the stars of the show, though. On the first play of the drill, Silas Redd made Jamie Van Fleet look foolish with a flat-out ridiculous juke move. Later, it was Zach Zwinak bursting through a hole and into the open field for what would have gone for a nice gain. Zwinak has made the best of Curtis Dukes' academic issues, and he's likely positioned himself well to be the thunder to Redd's lightning.

The most dramatic shift I saw from the team, though (aside from the media access), was the pace at which the team got to the line. It was like a two-minute drill, with at most 10 or 15 seconds between plays during the 11-on-11 portion of the practice. Bill O'Brien called it the "NASCAR" drill, referring to the speed at which the team looked to get plays off, but it's a hugely welcome change of pace from last year's squad, which often got to the line with 5 seconds on the play clock. No more burned timeouts? That's big.

Only one downside to such a quick pace--I didn't quite catch the lineups, so don't quote me on this. But it looked like the offensive line was still intact from last week, with Justin Brown, Shawney Kersey, Garry Gilliam, Redd, and, uh, someone else (maybe Brandon Moseby-Felder? Allen Robinson?) starting at the skill positions. As far as the defense goes, I think Adrian Amos was at safety with Curtis Drake and Stephon Morris the starting corners. Van Fleet was starting for Khairi Fortt, who wasn't even in pads, along with Glenn Carson and Gerald Hodges. And I did not catch the defensive line at all. Sorry.

When the team broke into specific units, I followed the quarterbacks and wide receivers, who were working together, and the running backs, mostly because both groups were practicing on my side of the field. The QBs worked on quick hitches and slants, quick 3-step-drop-and-get-the-ball-out type throws. Bill O'Brien personally coached up the QBs and WRs, instructing them on the importance of reading the corner to get the proper angle off the line. Again, because you'll ask: the QBs were all perfectly adequate, and of the three QBs vying for the starting job, Matt McGloin was the only one to make a single bad pass, throwing a slant behind Shawney Kersey. Even though it's just practice, McGloin got visibly angry at himself for the miscue.

As far as the backs go, P.J. Byers stood out because he is freaking gigantic, but as a unit, Charles London ran them through conditioning drills rather than any game-like conditions--one interesting ball security drill involved a ball on a rope that one back carried while another back trailed behind, pulling on the rope. But Zach Zwinak looked really good going through them, with London at one point shouting "You're 230! You're 230! You're a bull in a china shop!" to encourage him to run through defenders (symbolized here by a couple walk-on backs holding pads).

As far as the minutiae go, there weren't many recruits on hand, but I saw Ron Vanderlinden chatting up Andre Patton, who Jeff informs me is a wide receiver prospect from Delaware. Also, there was a referee on hand, who told me that Penn State would be "running some plays" later in the practice.

That's it for my observations from Open Practice, but in just a few days we'll all get to sit in Beaver Stadium to see the biggest, openest practice of them all.

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