Posts tagged ‘New England Patriots’

Bill O’Brien Opens Spring Practice

Bill O’Brien was about halfway through his first spring practice press conference Monday afternoon when I got my turn at the mic. Changing the subject from the string of player personnel queries that understandably dominated the media questioning, I asked O’Brien if he’d had a chance to find a routine. It’s been a hectic seven weeks since he took over as Penn State’s head football coach, and I was curious how he was settling in.

“Other than the fact that I’m still in room five—well, I can’t give my room number out, but I’m on the fifth floor at the Penn Stater,” O’Brien said. “But I’m very settled in.”

The fact that he’s still living out of a suitcase speaks to how immersed O’Brien has been in his new role. That immersion goes even deeper this week as the Nittany Lions begin spring practice under their new coach, who will be getting his first live look at his players in actual football drills (winter workouts are limited to conditioning drills only). What has he learned so far, and what does he expect out of the next four weeks of practice, culminating next month with the annual Blue-White Game? Here are some highlights from Monday’s presser:

—The quarterback race is wide-open, with Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden, and Paul Jones currently sharing snaps. “There’s no starter,” O’Brien said, “and there won’t be a starter named possibly until the night before the Ohio game.” Meaning the 2012 season opener on Sept. 1.

—O’Brien hasn’t watched film of last year’s Penn State offense. “One of the things I wanted to do when I got here was start with a clean slate,” he said. “I didn’t want to make any judgments, especially offensively, not really knowing what they were doing scheme-wise. I wanted to evaluate them first on winter conditioning, then on spring practice.” I imagine he’ll learn a lot about his QBs over the next month.

—O’Brien said the team’s new strength and conditioning program, with an emphasis on free weights and the contagious intensity of new coach Craig Fitzgerald, has already paid dividends. He mentioned redshirt junior Adam Gress, a 6-foot-6, 306-pound offensive tackle, as a prime example. “He’s had a heck of a winter, and he’s already changed his body—he’s gone from looking one way to looking like a V-shape. That’s what you’re looking for.”

—Without getting specific, he also confirmed changes in the football support staff, alluding to rumors that have flown the past few weeks about some longtime secretaries, video staffers and others who are no longer with the program. “We’ve made a lot of changes there, and we’re really happy with the changes we’ve made,” he said. “One thing you’ll see with me, I like the phrase ‘less is more.'”

—The offense won’t review its own film until after spring practice. Until then, they’re watching tape of the New England Patriots’ offense, which O’Brien helped coach the past four years. “The basis of the Patriots’ offense will be run here,” O’Brien said, emphasizing that fans shouldn’t expect the Lions’ offense to be as elaborate or explosive as the Pats’ high-powered attack—at least, not right away. “Let’s be real clear: We’ll put in the core, then we’ll build on it in training camp.”

—He got specific about how the Lions will utilize their tight ends the same way the Patriots did—hopefully with a similar outcome. With O’Brien on staff, New England regularly went with two and even three tight ends, creating match-up problems for opposing defenses and leading to lots of touchdowns. “One of the things about the tight end position in our system, second to quarterback, it’s really the hardest position to learn,” O’Brien said. “You can do so many different things, but it’s all up to how those guys learn.”

—Asked about who will be running the offense from the sideline this fall, O’Brien was blunt: “Oh yeah, I’ll call the offensive plays.”

Ryan Jones, senior editor


March 26, 2012 at 4:29 pm Leave a comment

Of Rooting Interests, Records, and a Rout

The Steeler fans in our office won’t agree with me, but for most Penn Staters, there’s still plenty of reason to pay attention to the NFL playoffs. Three of the four teams that will play this weekend for a Super Bowl berth boast contributions from former (and, in one case, brand-new) Nittany Lions.

All-pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman ’09 (pictured) was among the defensive stars for the San Francisco 49ers, who beat New Orleans on Saturday to set up a meeting with the New York Giants in the NFC championship game. Bowman recorded 10 tackles in San Francisco’s dramatic 36-32 win over the Saints. Among the Giants who will try to slow Bowman this weekend is Kareem McKenzie ’01, a Big Blue stalwart who has started nearly every game at offensive tackle for the past decade. Jimmy Kennedy ’02 is also on the Giants roster, as a reserve defensive lineman.

Over in the AFC, there aren’t any Penn Staters on the Baltimore Ravens’ roster, while Rich Ohrnberger ’08 holds down a spot on the New England Patriots’ injured reserve. Of course, the Pats have become a team of interest for Nittany Lion fans, as New England’s 45-10 drubbing of Denver showcased the offense run by new Penn State coach Bill O’Brien. Unless you’re a Broncos fan, that was fun to watch.

There’s plenty happening with current Penn State athletes, of course, and a typically busy winter sports weekend brought two highlights of note. The first came courtesy of the fleet feet of freshman Robby Creese, who set a U.S. collegiate and under-19 record in the 1,000 meters. He covered five laps at the Ashenfelter Indoor Track in 2:19.53. I got winded just typing that.

And the defending NCAA champion wrestling team recorded a first, blanking conference rival Wisconsin, 43-0, on the road for the program’s first ever Big Ten dual meet shutout.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

January 16, 2012 at 1:03 pm Leave a comment

A Few More Thoughts on Bill O’Brien

The news hasn’t stopped since Bill O’Brien was announced Saturday as Penn State’s new football coach.

As he promised in his introductory press conference, O’Brien is working to fill out his coaching staff even as he completes his current job of preparing the New England Patriots’ offense for its playoff run. In addition to  defensive line coach Larry Johnson, O’Brien announced he will keep linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden from the Nittany Lions’ existing staff. It looks increasingly like the rest of O’Brien’s staff will come from elsewhere.

Already on board is Charles London, an offensive assistant with the Tennessee Titans with whom O’Brien coached at Duke; he’ll coach the Nittany Lion running backs. And reports Monday stated that O’Brien was set to name Ball State offensive line coach John Strollo (another former Duke colleague) and Buffalo Bills wide receivers coach Stan Hixon (with whom O’Brien coached at Georgia Tech) to his staff soon. Rumors abound about the makeup of the rest of the staff.

Opinions about O’Brien’s hiring abound as well, of course, and most have been (more…)

January 9, 2012 at 6:53 pm 4 comments

Bill O’Brien Lands in Happy Valley

Nearly 24 hours after his hiring was reported by the media, and nearly two months after Joe Paterno’s six-decade tenure came to an end, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien on Friday was officially announced as the 15th head coach in Penn State football history.

O’Brien, who reportedly signed a five-year contract, will be introduced Saturday morning in a press conference at the Nittany Lion Inn. The press conference will be carried live at 11:30 a.m. on Big Ten Network and

O’Brien, 42, is wrapping up his fifth season as an assistant coach with the Patriots, his first NFL team after 14 seasons as a college assistant. (There’s a nice career summary here.) His first coaching gig was as an assistant at Brown, his alma mater. Of course, Brown is Joe Paterno’s alma mater, as well.

Paterno released a statement Friday evening congratulating O’Brien, (more…)

January 7, 2012 at 2:17 am 3 comments

An Unhappy, Uncertain Start to the New Year

The strangest and saddest season in Penn State football history came to a close Monday with a lopsided loss to Houston in the TicketCity Bowl. That leaves the coaching search, which figures to be finalized this month, and possibly as soon as the next few days — although, as we’ve stated, very few people have any idea when that decision will be made.

The only thing we do know is that literally dozens of names have been “reported” by various outlets as possible candidates. Among the names being taken most seriously in the new year: San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, New England Patriots’ quarterbacks coach Bill O’Brien — whose hiring Jon Saraceno ’79 of USA Today reported as imminent just two days ago — Boise State head coach Chris Petersen, and, yes, Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak ’82. Despite a public denial of interest in returning to his alma mater, Munchak (pictured), whose Titans were eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend, is rumored to be considering the job.

The New York Times has an interesting take on the uncertainty surrounding the search, summing up a growing consensus: “Who will the next coach of the Nittany Lions be? No one is sure. Maybe not even Penn State.”

Ryan Jones, senior editor

January 3, 2012 at 9:59 am Leave a comment

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