It's finally here. For the first time since November, Penn State players are playing real football as spring practice started today. Coach Bill O'Brien talked to the press before the first practice this afternoon, seemingly excited to get back onto the field and to begin to get ready for the 2013 season. He was met with questions on a range of topics from the apparent quarterback competition to the leadership that was lost to the depth issues that will face this team this year and beyond. Some of the highlights:
On what he has seen from Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson so far:
It's fun when you're working with the type of guys that you're working with right now. We have a very smart room; a hungry room. They are young, they listen, they ask great questions. They really want to be coached, so it's going to be really fun to go out on the field and watch these guys practice. You've known me now for awhile. I don't feel a lot of anxiety over things like that. Just with this position battle, we are going to let it play out, and at the end of the day, we are going to have to obviously name a starter. I'm not into alternating quarterbacks. I'm not saying that we'll never do that but I'm not really a big believer in that right now. But we'll let this thing play out and go into training camp and see what happens. But these are young guys that are very talented guys and it will be fun to coach them and watch them progress.
On incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg:
Certainly he'll be in the mix. At every single position, we are going to play the best players so, whether that means a guy...Christian can't do anything about the fact that he can't be here until June. So just like Steven Bench last year, obviously we named Matt the starter but after spring practice or thereabouts in June there, but when Steven Bench came in, he worked his way up the depth chart to number two. So yeah, Christian will come in and we'll teach him the offense and give him some reps and see how he does, certainly.
O'Brien would later add that it's not a certainty that Hackenberg will be redshirted for his freshman year.
Other Position Battles
On the running backs:
I think you've got three very, very different skill sets in the fact that you've got (Zach) Zwinak who is just around 235, 240 pounds; big, tough kid, very strong guy, had a great off season in the weight room. Then you've got a guy like Billy Belton, who is not quite as big as Zwinak, he has got good quickness, he can catch the football. He's lost some weight, he's in better condition and we're really looking forward to seeing what he does. Then you've Akeel Lynch who had a tremendous off season in the weight room, improved his speed, improved his conditioning level and he's somewhere in between size wise and all those different things I talked about early on, between Zwinak and Belton, so he's a little bit of both.
On the defensive tackles:
DaQuan Jones we think is a really good player, and we think he's had a really good off season and he's in good shape. He's strong. We're going to have to monitor his reps this spring because he's played a lot of football here at Penn State. But we really have high expectations for him going into next year. Got Kyle Baublitz, who is a veteran player who had a lot of time last year as a backup player. He'll be in there. He'll play a lot this spring there. He'll play a lot next year. Then we've got some younger guys there: Austin Johnson, who we think has a chance to be really, really good player and hopefully sooner rather than later, but he's had a really good off season and comes from a great family. He's just a really good kid and we are really glad that he's on our football team. We think that he can have a bright future. Then we have got Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia, two tough guys that gave us a lot of problems on the Dirty Show (scout team) last year.
And, at center:
Ty Howle will be in that mix. He'll be the starter going into the spring there. We've got Wendy Laurent, who will play there, too, and we've got Angelo Mangiro who will be in there.
Leadership and Depth
Who will step up in the locker room and on the field:
There's definitely a group of guys from last year's team that played a lot of football for us, John Urschel, Glenn Carson, Adrian Amos, that certainly have leadership ability, and were part of that leadership team last year. So now it's time for some of those younger guys to have a good spring practice and work hard and help us in that role, too. So we'll see how that develops. But this year is a different year, and I think we've got some good guys coming back that played a lot for us last year that will be good for us.
On depth issues:
We don't have a lot of depth at linebacker, that's for sure. We have guys there that played a lot of football for us last year, Glenn Carson, Mike Hull, and Nyeem Wartman didn't play a lot, he got injured (vs. Virginia) but we think he has a really bright future. Ben Kline, won't be (practicing) in the spring but we know that he's going to help us in the fall as a special teams player and then fighting for time at linebacker.
Okay, so there are some depth issues when just strictly numbers. I just talked about the linebacker position so certainly it's not because of lack of talent. That's not what we are saying. We think we have a lot of really good players but based on numbers, there are some depth issues, so a guy like Brandon Bell or Zayd Issah, we'll be looking for those guys to come in here in the summertime and see what they can do; can they help us on defense; most importantly can they help us on special teams. That will be big. Obviously, we've talked about Hackenberg at the quarterback position. Then as we move on down the line, as we look at the offensive line position, it's hard to play as a freshmen but we have three guys coming in there that we think can add depth to that position. Defensive line the same way, secondary the same way. We already have two guys in the secondary, Anthony Smith and Jordan Smith, they came in January. So we will see how they fit in. We have Richy Anderson on offense we think can help us as a slot receiver and maybe play some running back, too, in certain situations. Yeah, there's certainly some numbers issues but I think we are still dealing with a little bit of the same situation that we dealt with in 2012. I think when it gets really, really difficult is really '14 to '15, '16. In '13, even though we have depth issues, we don't have to get down to 65 until 2014.
- O'Brien confirmed that Ben Kline would be out for the spring with his shoulder surgery. He also added that Kyle Carter and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong would perform in non-contact drills over the next few weeks. Angelo Mangiro also has a hamstring problem that will keep him out initially.
- He would like to work Malik Golden, who is listed as a defensive back on the roster, on both sides of the ball if possible. Golden was recruited as a wide receiver and made the switch for this season.
- O'Brien is hoping for more consistency out of Alex Butterworth at the punter position this year. He won the specialist weight room person of the winter award from Craig Fitzgerald.
- O'Brien says there's a lot to improve on after losing 31 seniors and going 8-4 and 0-2 to start last year's season. He's looking forward to position battle at tight end, running back, defensive line and linebacker to start out the spring.
- On a personal level, he's much more comfortable in his second year in State College and attributes a lot of that to his wife. He's also not allowed to fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket or else he'll get in trouble.
You can find the full interview transcript posted at GoPSUSports.com
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