Sunday, July 28, 2013

Penn State football: Your key questions answered with August camp right around the corner

Time always flies at the Big Ten Media Days event in Chicago. Great city. Great interview subjects and great nightlife.

The 42nd version of the event is officially in the books and the PSU contingent of head coach Bill O'Brien, offensive guard John Urschel, linebacker Glenn Carson and safety Malcolm Willis had plenty of interesting things to say over two days.

I know Penn State fans still have plenty of questions with August preseason camp set to begin in a couple of weeks.

And I've got some answers.

Here we go ...

1. What Penn State players should fans (and media) being talking about more as the season approaches?

Bill O'Brien had a long list of names, many of them interesting.

I can tell you he thinks redshirt junior offensive tackle Garry Gilliam, a converted tight end, has a chance to push for serious playing time if he can stay healthy. He had a lower-leg injury in spring.

O'Brien also praised his two young corners, true sophomores Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams. They are projected starters.

Looking for a couple of long shots on defense? O'Brien mentioned redshirt freshman defensive end Evan Schwan, a Central Dauphin graduate, and redshirt junior defensive tackle Kyle Baublitz, from Central York.

"Those two guys, they had good springs (and) their good size guys, we think they're going to be really good players,'' O'Brien said of Lucas and Williams.

"Kyle Baublitz had a really good offseason, he'll play a lot of football for us. ? Evan Schwan has had a really good -- he redshirted for last year -- offseason. Where can he help us?''

2. What changes will Bill O'Brien make to his in-season routine?

Provided Penn State's health holds up and the Lions aren't forced to use some young, inexperienced players in key roles, O'Brien is going to tweak his Mondays.

After the Monday afternoon workout has concluded for PSU's key players, O'Brien wants to hold a scrimmage for his scout team (or "Dirty Show") players to see if he can speed up their development.

He said New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, one of his mentors, did extra drilling with his practice squad guys following practices and it produced a key player, guard Dan Connolly.

"We've got a plan right now to do a better job with the developmental players, whether it's 'Dirty Show' or maybe some younger players that play a little bit in the game but don't play more than 20 plays,'' O'Brien said.

"So we're going to try to do this (because) health, again, is going to be a big question. ? On Mondays what we'll do is, when the guys that played the majority of the game are done with practice, so they go over there and they condition, we're going to have basically a Dirty Show/Developmental scrimmage, maybe let the graduate assistants call the plays.

"I'm going to watch it from afar and just run our base packages and just let the guys play.''

?3. How do the Penn State veterans feel about the pending quarterback derby between redshirt sophomore Tyler Ferguson and true freshman Christian Hackenberg?

"I really trust Coach O'Brien,'' PSU senior middle linebacker Glenn Carson told me.

"Obviously, I trusted my career with Coach O'Brien by staying (in 2012) and things like that. So I have all the trust in the world in Coach O'Brien.

"He knows quarterbacks, he's the best guy to make a decision like this. You know what? These quarterbacks have confidence and I have confidence in them.''

It's been well-documented that Ferguson has been away from the program for a significant stretch of July to spend time with family but O'Brien is confident that Ferguson will be ready to go for camp.

PSU senior right guard John Urschel praised Ferguson for making the decision to move across country, from California, to play football in State College.?

"Let me tell you about what, that kid, that's a serious move,'' Urschel said of Ferguson.

"He accepted a scholarship from Penn State sight unseen. Hadn't made a single visit to Penn State, packs up his backs, moves all the way across the country and comes to Penn State. I don't know if I could have done that.?

"So that really says something about him. His family's back home, his girlfriend's back home, he's at a school he's never been before. He doesn't even know anyone on the East Coast, so that really says something about him.''

4. Who is one of the most underrated members of the Penn State football program?

The name Tim Bream is rarely mentioned but Penn State's head trainer for football is a valuable asset to O'Brien.

"He's had a great impact on our program,'' O'Brien said of Bream, a PSU alum who returned in 2012 after spending 19 seasons with the Chicago Bears.

"He's a very bright guy. He's one of the best trainers I've been around. He came highly recommended to me when I took the job by a lot of different people that had a lot of respect for him in the NFL and in college.

"People make a big deal, I know people talk a lot about an NFL 'model' at our place,'' O'Brien continued. "We have a college model (medical care program), so that's the model that we have and he's done a great job of coming in and ? (he has) a really good bedside manner with the players. So the players trust him.''

O'Brien called Bream "cutting-edge" in his all-around approach to treating PSU's football players and said it's not unusual to see him in the football building at 5 a.m. to start his day.

O'Brien also had some strong comments regarding the way Sports Illustrated portrayed Bream's methods in a May story that cast Penn State's medical care program in a negative light.

"I thought it was absolutely ridiculous,'' O'Brien said. "I thought that was ridiculous. I think he's a top-notch trainer, he's a good person. ? I think he's just a helluva guy and he's an honest guy.

"I just think the world of Tim Bream.''

5. Does Bill O'Brien have any hobbies?

Well, there's this: O'Brien has read a couple of interesting books in the last few months.

"I read a lot of books. I read 'Elusive Hero', a book about John Kennedy, this summer,'' said O'Brien, referring to the Chris Matthews' book, 'Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero'.

"I read Tom Coughlin's book, 'Earn the right to win','' he added, referring the New York Giants' book, 'Earn the Right to Win: How Success in Any Field Starts with Superior Preparation'.''


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