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Penn State Football: A Dozen Items for Bill O’Brien’s Summer To-Do List

by on June 14, 2012 11:15 PM

It’s still 78 days until Bill O’Brien coaches his first game as Penn State’s new head football coach.

And in that mix is a few weeks of vacation – at least for his assistants, who will taking off for as many as three weeks in July.

Not for Bill. He still has a lot to do. To wit:

1. Scour Penn State’s summer camps and focus on recruiting.

“June will be about camps and more evaluating of prospects,” O’Brien said during the Coaches Caravan.

Penn State has already hosted two Advanced Skills camps, with Kicking (Sunday), Youth (June 24) and Position (28-30) camps yet to come. By month’s end, more than 1,000 players will have attended Penn State’s football camps. Their goal: Learn football the O’Brien Way and, for many, catch the eye of the Nittany Lion coaches working the camps, with the slim hope of getting a scholarship offer.

O’Brien has been a strong presence at the camps, interacting with players – prospects and poor players alike. But the camps are only part of the recruiting process this time of year.

“The coaches want to get the right kids into camp and evaluate them,” said recruiting analyst Ryan Snyder of Blue White Illustrated. “The assistant coaches are also getting into touch with high school coaches, looking at prospects’ academics now that the school year is over and finding out about any personal issues recruits may have.”

2. Prep for summer drills in August. “We need to get things down organizationally for training camp,” O’Brien said last month. “We need to look at how we’re going to practice. There are a lot of NCAA rules to follow.”

3. Evaluate the current roster and determine his top 55 to 60 players. That’s a number O’Brien has used repeatedly, at the start of spring drills and while on the road for the Coaches Caravan. That dovetails with his experience with the New England Patriots; in the NFL, the regular season roster limit is 53 players. (Offseason, it is now 90, up from 80.)

4. Scout the opposition. As noted last week, the Nittany Lion coaching staff is already at work breaking down video and game-planning for contests against Ohio University (Sept. 1), Virginia (Sept. 8) and Navy (Sept. 15).

5. Address the marketing of football. WhiteOut orchestrator and Paterno consigliere Guido D’Elia was excused in February, leaving a void that has yet to be filled -- or, at least, announced. Meantime, marketing consultant Jeff Fisher has done yeoman duty filling in.

6. Firm up the weekly television highlight show. D’Elia’s firm, “Mind Over Media,” produced the Emmy-winning program “The Penn State Football Story” for many years. The small crew (i.e., a two-person team shot and worked sound for the game) working on the fast-paced program included a number of Penn State grads. They’re out of the mix.

Penn State needs to find a company to produce it or decide to keep the show in-house. A strong possibility: The television pros at WPSU, the public broadcasting arm of Penn State. Their team includes folks who have produced the women’s basketball show for many years, assisted with game-day productions, directed other Penn State sports programming and have worked extensively with various networks. One source said NFL Films was given some consideration, but it came with a big price tag.

7. More appearances. Look for more speeches on the stump for O’Brien, who has said that his goal in Year One is to not say “no” to any reasonable request for an interview, invitation or camp. And he’s made good on that so far.

On Thursday night, that included hosting a BBQ for more than 100 media and guests on the second-floor veranda outside his Lasch Building office, which overlooks the Penn State outdoor practice fields. Next stop: A Big 33 function in Camp Hill.

8. Fine-tune his schemes. With his basic depth chart set, his No. 1 quarterback established and his secondary suspect, O’Brien and his staff – especially himself as primary play-caller and Ted Roof, who runs the defense – know what they have to work with. Summer is the time for fine-tuning.

9. Review academics. Spring grades have been in for a few weeks, and there are two six-week summer sessions for players on the eligibility fence to make things right. O’Brien has said he will meet with Todd Kulka, Penn State’s longtime and no-nonsense academic adviser, to see where each and every player stands heading into the fall.

10. Build future schedules. Without the day-to-day pressure of practices and (so many) appearances, you can be sure O’Brien will have a sit-down with Fran Ganter, the associate athletic director for football administration, to see if those “marquee games” O’Brien talked about are feasible – logistically, financially and with the Big Ten brass. He won’t have to go far; Ganter’s office is across the hall.

11. Send out written scholarship offers. Penn State has made plenty of verbal offers – and has received nearly a dozen verbal commitments. But major college football teams cannot offer a written scholarship offer to soon-to-be seniors until Aug. 1.

That wasn’t always the case. In the summer 2010, the NCAA changed the bylaw that decided when schools could submit written scholarship offers to recruits. Instead of sending out written offers on Sept. 1 of a recruit's junior year, it is now Aug. 1 of their senior year.

Penn State will busy. “Every verbal commitment will get a written offer during the first two weeks of August,” said Snyder of Blue White Illustrated. “Some will get it early rather than later.”

12. R & R. The Penn State coaching staff has gone all-out since January, saving recruits, identifying new recruits, learning O’Brien’s system and learning their own players.

Next month will bring a much-needed rest, said O’Brien:

“In July we’ll hopefully take a few weeks off, recharge the batteries a little bit, then come back ready to go.”

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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