I was hoping to make it up to State College today for Penn State's media day, but after driving home from North Carolina on Wednesday I needed a day to stay at home instead of driving up to eight hours between rides to and from Beaver Stadium. But I was plugged in to what was going on at media day thanks to the wonderful world of Twitter and the Internet. Here are some of the highlights and my quick thoughts…
Freshmen and incoming players were not made available to the media, so forget about any quotes from quarterbacks Christian Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson. this is pretty much a standard or Penn State, not allowing new players to speak to the media. It's a good strategy to protect new players from the spotlight right away, so I have no real problem with it. Still, it's a shame not to get the opinions of each on where they stand moving forward.
For what it is worth, Bill O'Brien said they are pleased with both quarterback options and O'Brien noted that it was clear Ferguson had been studying up on his playbook during his time away from campus. Take that message boards! Hackenberg has also been studious it seems, so that is always good news. If you want to get carried away with anything with the hint of a suggestion in who will be the week one starter against Syracuse, O'Brien said Ferguson is slightly ahead right now and taking the most reps with the first team, but that should be expected since he was with the team in the spring.
Bottom line? No decisions yet, and don't anticipate anything too soon. O'Brien had said at Big Ten media day he would ideally like to have a starter determined about a week and a half before the opener, but he hedged on that timeframe today.
Zach Zwinak is fine and Penn State has three running backs on the roster. Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch will play this season as well. Depth issues, people. Belton had been working through academic problems before but after a summer to focus on his school work it appears as though Belton will be eligible and ready to go in 2013.
ALLEN ROBINSON TO COVER THE MAP
Allen Robinson is one of the top wide receivers in the Big Ten and was a top player on the 2012 Nittany Lions. This year O'Brien says they will utilize Robinson in a variety of new ways to maximize the production he can offer. Sounds like a good idea with an uncertain quarterback situation, if not unproven. The tight ends and running game still need the help of a game-changer, and Robinson is that kind of player on this roster. I wonder what O'Brien has cooked up for his top receiver.
ADAM BRENEMAN PROVIDES VERSATILITY
It remains to be seen just how much of a factor incoming player Adam Breneman is in the offense at a tight end position that appears to be pretty deep, but O'Brien noted how versatile he could be. O'Brien said Breneman could be a player used at both tight end positions in his offense. I have a feeling Breneman, if not redshirted, will be a bigger piece of the offense by the end of the season than at the beginning.
DEPTH ON OL AND DL IS DECENT
O'Brien said he and his staff feel comfortable with the depth on the offensive and defensive lines. Both of these units of course will be critical to the success of the team this season, especially with depth being a widespread issue across the board. Remember, tight end Gary Gilliam moved to offensive line this season, so he could be a bit of a project, but all sounds to be going OK so far. Defensive tackle Kyle Baublitz had been a player with a weight concern but O'Brien said his weight is down and he is no longer a concern.
I am actually pretty optimistic about the Penn State secondary this season. Apparently so is O'Brien. The coach mentioned Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams and it sounds as though both could be in the running for starting jobs in the fall.
The special teams remains a key concern for Penn State. Although coverage is not as much of a problem, the ability to kick the football is. This is far from a shock, just as the idea that the defense is slightly ahead of the offense. In other words, some things never change for Penn State. This I feel confident in saying though, I don't anticipate any starting linebackers to set up to return any kicks this season. Neither does O'Brien it seems.
As referenced above, Zwinak is "fine."
Some more injury notes via Cory Giger…
O'Brien: TE Brent Wilkerson (back) out for a while. WR Hamilton (wrist) out for year. LB Ben Kline should be OK but will be monitored.
— Cory Giger (@CoryGiger) August 8, 2013
DaeSean Hamilton is the receiver noted above. He is a true freshman and a four-star talent, but Penn State can use a redshirt for him to preserve his eligibility.
Just like the 2012 season, captains will rotate on a game-by-game basis. I see no problem with this practice. Let the leaders evolve as the season progresses and see who shines in moments of adversity rather than place the pressure or responsibility on a player or players who may not be cut out for that duty at the start.
YOU GET FOUR DOWNS FOR A REASON
Penn State had a knack for going for it on fourth downs last season. Maybe it was the feeling of having nothing to lose in the grand scheme of things, a new approach to offensive philosophy on offense or just a severe lack of faith in special teams, Bill O'Brien rarely hesitated to take advantage of all four downs given to him. Expect that to be the case once again in 2013.