Hey! Look! Football! Yes, seriously. After the seemingly endless parade of scandal and despair that has taken place over the last several months, Penn State football players returned to the field this week. Coach Bill O'Brien was so excited . . . that he showed up 15 minutes late.
After a sleepless night, Bill O'Brien stepped foot on Penn State's practice field early Monday morning, before the sun peeked over nearby Mount Nittany.
He told reporters he was anxious for his first preseason practice here. So, he arrived at 4:45 a.m. -- 15 minutes after the rest of his staff.
"They're going to be busting my chops," he said with a smile.
Regarding the team, O'Brien had plenty of praise for sophomore Bill Belton, who replaces
Silas Reddas the No. 1 tailback. Belton looked sharp in drills, for which players wore only helmets and shells, and has established himself as the primary back, though he played wide receiver last year.
"It's Bill Belton's time to shine," O'Brien said. "He came out here today ready to go. ... He's a good football player and he was going to play this year. [Redd's departure] is definitely going to affect the depth a little bit, but we're not retooling everything because one player left. This is about a whole team, not one player."
The Morning Call also notes that Penn State used primarily single back sets during the media portion of practice. It will be interesting to see where Michael Zordich fits into the equation if that's the case, although we already know that the team's emotional leader will see plenty of time on special teams doing this:
Speaking of Penn State Running Backs. According to Bill Connelly from the SBN Mothership, despite the loss of some guy who used to wear number 25 and thought he was as important as Curt Warner, Penn State is in good hands at running back . . . at least for the time being.
Silas Redd: Redd'swas easily the marquee name on the list of transfers, but I don't actually think Penn State will miss him as much as anticipated. On a per-carry basis, Reddreally didn't do much that junior Curtis Dukes and sophomore Bill Belton didn't also do in 2011. I really like the combination of the 237-pound Dukes and the 196-pound Belton, and a lot is expected of freshman Akeel Lynch as well. If there is one position at Penn State that could handle the loss of a strong player, it is running back.
Connelly takes a look at the impact of the transfers on this year's and next year's depth charts. It's good reading. In a bonus good news, Coach O'Brien expects no further transfers from this year's team.
But O'Brien thinks he's reached some roster stability now that training camp has started. As of the first practice, the roster stood at 109 players including walk-ons, or 92 percent of the roster as of July 23, when sanctions were announced.
"I'm very confident that the guys out here today are committed," O'Brien said. "Again, it's day to day, but I'm confident in these guys. ... They got up at 5:15 a.m. to practice."
Justin Brown was the latest to depart after the senior, who would have been Penn State's leading returning receiver, left the team Sunday. With a picture of him in his Penn State uniform running away from a defender posted on his Twitter page, Brown thanked well-wishers for their support.
According to the NCAA exception, players have all season to transfer, but lose immediate eligibility with their new teams if they play a game with Penn State.
"I respect those guys. They made individual decisions," O'Brien said about the transfers. "But I think we've got to start focusing, like I said all along, on the kids that are here. ... I think we're really good where we started today. We've just got to keep getting better every day."
He which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart. To the delight of the Penn State community, New Jersey linebacker Brandon Bell has affirmed his commitment to the Nittany Lions.
After visiting Penn State University on Tuesday and meeting with coach Bill O'Brien, Oakcrest High School rising senior Brandon Bell reaffirmed his verbal commitment to play football for the Nittany Lions in 2013.
"I didn't make my decision based off of just today, I talked it over with my mom and dad and I prayed on it," Bell said in a phone interview Tuesday night. "It still feels like it's the right place for me to be."
To the delight of non-Penn Staters everywhere, Dorian Johnson and Zack Bradshaw decommitted from the Nittany Lion's 2013 recruiting class. Neither was much of a surprise. Johnson, an elite level tackle prospect from Pittsburgh, had committed recently although he was wary of leaving his hometown. Bradshaw still loves Penn State, but the expected competitive disadvantage imposed by the sanctions heavily impacted him. He just committed to Virginia. Good luck to both young men. They have conducted themselves with class throughout.
The Elephant in the Room. Since obviously we can't avoid this forever, multiple parties have followed the Paterno estate's lead and have filed appeals with the NCAA regarding the sanctions against the football program. A group of Trustees led by Capt. Ryan J. McCombie have retained Paul Kelly of Jackson Lewis LLP to lead their appeal. A group of former players led by Michael Robinson have also retained Mr. Kelly. The players' letter to the NCAA can be found here.
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