STATE COLLEGE — It took about two minutes after the stretching was done for Bill O’Brien to hit full volume at Penn State’s first practice of the spring.
The second-year Nittany Lions boss, O’Brien quickly organized some one-on-one passing drills. Quarterbacks and receivers vs. defensive backs. Press coverage. Best-out-of-five.
With the rest of the squad lining up to watch, O’Brien belted out, “Let’s hear it!” His voice boomed throughout Holuba Hall, as the Lions were forced indoors by the blinding snowstorm that hit the region.
No matter. The players off to the side roared. Spring ball had officially begun.
Steven Bench was up first, looking deep for former WVC star Eugene Lewis. But top corner Adrian Amos was all over the redshirt freshman and Bench was forced to throw it out of reach down the right sideline.
Bench’s top competition, Tyler Ferguson, answered for the offense by connecting with enormous tight end Jesse James to tie it up.
The defense took over from there, stopping Bench and Ferguson on the next two throws to win the first of many mini-competitions the coaches have lined up for the spring. The players — wearing helmets and jerseys but no pads — were eager just to get back on the field.
Before one of the snaps, O’Brien barked at cornerback Da’Quan Davis for trying to get an early jump on his mark, senior wideout Brandon Moseby-Felder, drawing the coach’s ire.
In the end, it was bragging rights for the defense and a series of up-downs for the offense.
On offense, O’Brien clarified that junior Miles Dieffenbach will remain at guard. He had been listed as a center on Penn State’s initial spring roster update, but there are no plans to have him compete for the starting center job.
To open the spring, senior Ty Howle will take the place of the departed Matt Stankiewitch at center. Promising sophomore Angelo Mangiro could challenge for the starting spot eventually but is currently battling a hamstring injury, according to O’Brien.
That makes the first-team spring offensive line, from left to right, Donovan Smith, Dieffenbach, Howle, John Urschel and Adam Gress.
On the other side of the ball, O’Brien said he is excited to see Valley View’s Nyeem Wartman work with Glenn Carson and Mike Hull as the first-team linebackers this spring.
“We don’t have a lot of depth at linebacker,” O’Brien said, noting that Ben Kline will miss spring ball while recovering from shoulder surgery. “But Nyeem Wartman we think has a really bright future. … Nyeem, I think he worked very hard this offseason and we’re looking forward to seeing what he can do.”
O’Brien said Kline is the lone player who will sit out the spring session entirely. A pair of returning starters in tight end Kyle Carter (wrist) and safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (shoulder) will participate but will be held out of contact drills.
Heralded true freshman tight end Adam Breneman will participate but the staff will monitor his workload closely as he returns to the field from the ACL injury he suffered last summer.
Redshirt freshman Malik Golden (safety/receiver) and senior lineman Nate Cadogan will split their spring reps between offense and defense.