So it won‚??t exactly be the Patriots taking the field at Beaver Stadium in two weeks. But that‚??s to be expected.
The question is, how much will Bill O‚??Brien‚??s first Penn State team try to be like New England?
Make no mistake ‚?? the offense is based on the Patriots‚?? successful scheme that O‚??Brien helped evolve as a coordinator and play-caller last season. But O‚??Brien knows the Nittany Lions will have to be adapt to their personnel.
It‚??s something they likely won‚??t have a full handle on until after the season begins. Speaking Thursday on a mid-preseason camp teleconference ‚?? unheard of under the old regime ‚?? O‚??Brien said he‚??s still learning the strengths of his offense.
‚??I don‚??t really have a feel for that yet,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said. ‚??I think that any good offensive team has to be able to run the football when it has to absolutely gain yards. We have to be able to run the football. I think we have to be really good in situational terms: third down, red area, two-minute.
‚??We‚??ve had a lot of work on that, about halfway through camp here. It‚??s been pretty decent ‚?? hasn‚??t been all pretty ‚?? but I think we‚??ve made progress. I think we‚??re still working on the identity of what the offense will be. Hopefully we‚??ll have a better grasp of that over the next week.‚?Ě
A case in point would be the tight end position. With the installation of the new offense, the position figures to be much more involved in the passing game compared to past years at Penn State.
But it doesn‚??t mean the tight ends will necessarily become a focal point of the attack as it did last season in New England.
‚??I know a lot‚??s been made of that,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said. ‚??I think we all have got to be real careful, because the two tight ends we had in New England are two of the best players in the NFL in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. We‚??re not asking our tight ends at Penn State to be Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, we‚??re just asking them to block well and understand route technique and understand their assignments.
‚??We‚??ve got four or five guys there that can play and we feel good about the position. I think we have to stop with the comparisons about what we did with Gronkowski and Hernandez and what we‚??re going to do at Penn State.‚?Ě
As far as personnel on offense, O‚??Brien has most of his starters already in place. He confirmed Thursday that sophomores Allen Robinson and Miles Dieffenbach will start at receiver and left guard, respectively.
Junior Mark Arcidiacono was expected to challenge for a starting spot on the line but has been hampered by a foot injury since the spring.
Tackle Donovan Smith has been bothered all camp by a tweaked hamstring, but O‚??Brien said he expected him back as early as today.
Injuries continue to hit an already-thin secondary that has seen safeties Jake Fagnano and Malcolm Willis both miss time in practice. While O‚??Brien said those issues are minor, reserve cornerback Mike Wallace remains out long-term because of a pectoral injury suffered in the spring.
Despite that, O‚??Brien said there haven‚??t been any moves to bolster the depth in the defensive backfield. They like what they see from their group of true freshmen.
‚??I‚??ve been very pleased with the secondary. I‚??ve been pleased with the defense as a whole,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said. ‚??The secondary has a number of good returning players. Also some younger players in there that we think could really help us like a Da‚??Quan Davis or Jordan Lucas.‚?Ě
A rough few months has seen the Lions lose their top kicker (Anthony Fera, transfer), punter (Fera again), punt returner (Justin Brown, transfer) and even the projected long snapper (Ty Howle, injury).
Some of the spots have already been filled. Sophomore Sam Ficken is in line to handle field goals and kickoffs. Emery Etter will take care of the snaps on kicks.
Punter, though, remains a concern.
‚??I think the punting situation is still a little up in the air,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said. ‚??Alex (Butterworth) shows flashes, (Matt) Marcincin shows flashes and then the next punt isn‚??t very good. They really have to be a lot more consistent, and I think that‚??s still an on-going battle there.‚?Ě
The return game may indeed be solidified by now. But O‚??Brien is keeping that to himself.
‚??We‚??ve been looking at a lot of guys as returners,‚?Ě he said. ‚??You‚??ll see on Sept. 1 who returns kicks.‚?Ě