Bill O'Brien Press Conference: Eastern Michigan

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

With one win under their belts, BO'B says the Nittany Lions have room for improvement - and they will improve.

Coach O’Brien is looking forward to Saturday, when the Nittany Lions will face Eastern Michigan and finally return to Beaver Stadium (it’s been a long nine months).  John Cappelletti and the undefeated 1973 team will be in the building, and O’Brien is hoping for a big crowd to welcome them back to Happy Valley.

As far as EMU goes, O’Brien said the team has to be prepared for all kinds of things from special teams.  As far as Penn State’s running game goes, he admitted that he needs to do a better job with the play calling, and he hopes we will all see that improve on Saturday.  Offensively he expects EMU to be similar to Syracuse, and he’s hoping for a great week of practice.

Here are a few things BO’B wants everyone to know:

  • Christian Hackenberg played a nice game, and he’s only going to get better
  • He does not agree with those who say the offensive line struggled last week
  • He talks to Craig Fitzgerald every day (even when he’s on vacation)
  • He wants to continue to find different ways to use Stephen Obeng-Agyapong on the field
  • Garry Gilliam and Adam Gress will continue to compete for play time at right tackle
  • Talking to the media is kind of like shaving your head with a cheese grater

Injury Update:

Coach O’Brien: DeShawn Baker is out, Brad Bars is out for the season, Kyle Carter is day to day, we don't know about his participation (for Saturday) but we think he's doing better.  Kasey Gaines is back to train.  Matt Lehman will be out for the season, Brent Wilkerson is out for a longer period of time.  Same issue there, he had surgery but he will be back at some point in time, we think later in the season.

Other than that, few bumps and bruises but that's where it's at right now.

Hack Attack:

Q.  Bill, how well do you think Christian (Hackenberg) handled himself running NASCAR (no huddle) on Saturday?

COACH O'BRIEN:  We didn't do it that much, we did it some.  When we did do it, I thought he did a nice job of it.  He's got good poise, he's a smart guy.  Like I said after the game, it's one game and he needs to make improvement.  We spent a lot of time in the film room yesterday showing these guys the tape and personally spent a lot of time with Christian, showing him the mistakes that he made and where he's got to improve week to week.  He's got a great demeanor, great poise, smart guy, fun to coach and he'll improve.

Q.  Bill, how much is a balancing act between integrating new concepts for Christian and game planning toward things that he's comfortable with, and is there a timeline when it comes to getting him deeper into the play book?

COACH O'BRIEN:  Great question.  It goes back to what I said to Neil.  You don't have the luxury of seeing them.  It's the first time you've coached them in a game, not the first time you've coached them but going from the Lasch practice fields to MetLife Stadium is a pretty big jump.  So we're figuring each other out.  Now he knows what I'm like on game day and I know what he's like.  It's going to be interesting going forward.

He's a bright kid, he's been able to pick up so many different things in our offense, so it's more me doing a better job with him than him doing a better job, to be honest with you.

Q.  You not only trusted Christian with your offense but you let him come out and talk to us afterwards.  Why was that important that he do that?

COACH O'BRIEN:  I think he's a mature guy and I talked to him before he came out and talked to you.  I mean, we try to work with them on those things because I know some of you guys are going to…no, I'm just kidding!

Anyway, I think he's mature, well-spoken, he's bright, humble, he loves his teammates and he loves Penn State.  Here is a guy, just like a lot of these guys in the freshman class that could have gone anywhere.  He had scholarships to over 50 schools, and he committed to us before the sanctions came out, and he stuck with us when the sanctions came out.  Down the road, all of these guys that did that (because there is more than just him), they're better men for having done that.

I felt like after a game like that, just, "why wait?"  He's going to talk to you guys eventually anyway so it's good to get him out there after a win and let them see what that's about.  Kind of like shaving your head with a cheese grater is what I told him.  Just kidding.

Next Man Up:

Q.  Bill, you've been an advocate for Matt Lehman since last year.  What impact will his absence have on the team this year?

COACH O'BRIEN:  Certainly anytime you have a player the caliber and type of guy that Matt Lehman is go down, it's not good.  It falls into the category of "next man up."  The next guy has to be able to fill it and do it, whether it's another tight end or somebody else.  (Fullback) Pat Zerbe is doing different types of things for us, guys like that.

But, to talk about Matt, I just absolutely love guys like that, guys that overcame the odds.  He was at Shippensburg, he comes here and he tries out and he makes the team and, you know, a year later he's on scholarship.

He's really, really worked hard to improve his game this offseason, came back in the training camp and had a fantastic training camp, and I told him the other day, I said, "Matt, I've seen a lot of knee injuries and I can give you many, many examples of guys, most recently Mike Mauti, who just made the Minnesota Vikings, who hurt their knees and have gone on to have tremendous careers," and I think he's a guy that can fall into that category.  If he's willing to work at it, he's got a future in football ahead of him.

Multipurpose Use:

Q.  What initially made you and the staff think that Stephen Obeng-Agyapong might make for a good option at linebacker and are you surprised how far he's come given his performance on Saturday?

COACH O'BRIEN:  Not surprised at all.  We think he's a very good football player, he's instinctive, he played a lot of football for us last year, he was a key special teams member last year.  He has decent size, a pretty big safety, which makes for a decent outside linebacker.  He is a thick kid, so he can take on low blocks, and he has a thick upper body so he can take guys come into his grill a little bit, and he has good ball instincts.  We need to keep devising ways to use him.  He's a very valuable member of our team.

Q.  You complemented Stephen Obeng's play at linebacker when he took a lot of snaps there on Saturday, but it was a situation where you had kind of a need.  If there was a longterm injury is there a chance that he could permanently move to linebacker, fill in, go into the depth chart as linebacker, or is he more of a safety and fills in when he can?

COACH O'BRIEN:  He's one of our guys who is a multirole guy.  Yesterday he practiced with the linebackers, and today he will practice with the safeties, and tomorrow he's going to practice with the fullbacks, and the next day he might practice with the tight ends, and Friday maybe special teams  I'm being serious.  We have a lot of guys like that.  He's a multipurpose guy, and he understands that and he will fill those roles admirably.

Coming Up:

Q.  Can you talk about Eastern Michigan and what you see from them coming into this week?

COACH O'BRIEN:  Defensively they pose problems scheme-wise.  They line-up in different fronts and coverages, and they're going to pressure you.  They play tough, they have some kids that can really run and you better be on your P's and Q's because they're going to come after you.  I think offensively it's similar to what Syracuse was.  You're going to see spread gun-run type things and schemes that try to take advantage of your schemes.  Special teams is going to come in and play extremely hard and throw some stuff at us.  We better be on our toes for all kinds of things in special teams.  This is a game where we have to have a great week of practice and we've got to be ready to go.

We have a lot of respect for Eastern Michigan and I have a lot of respect for Coach English, they have guys that coached at the University of Michigan with Ron English and Stan Parrish, so we have a lot of respect for their team.


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