Penn State Football: O’Brien Detours Caravan for Stop at MetLife Stadium
DUBOIS -- Penn State’s Coaches Caravan is barely over and Bill O’Brien and his players are already starting to focus on the Aug. 31 season opener against Syracuse.
Even though it's 113 days away.
In fact, O’Brien couldn’t even wait ’til the caravan’s six-day, 12-city, 1,471-mile, 3,000-alumni tour was back in State College to start getting ready for the Orangemen.
So on Wednesday, the big blue caravan bus was directed to make a stop at 1 MetLife Stadium Drive in East Rutherford, N.J., on its way from New York City to Scranton.
That’s the address of MetLife Stadium, home to the New York Giants and Jets, and where the Nittany Lions will open up their 2013 season against Syracuse. It was a brief bus stop, but O’Brien and his entourage hit the playing field to get a taste of what it is like inside the world’s most expensive stadium, built for $1.6 billion and opened in April 2010.
For O’Brien, it’s a familiar chew. While an assistant with the NFL’s New England Patriots, he was at MetLife twice. On Sept. 19, 2010, the Patriots lost 28-14 to Jets, while on Nov. 13, 2011, the Pats downed the Jets, 37-16.
O’Brien can’t wait to get game-planning for his return visit, this time as a collegiate head coach. For the first time in a long time – given recruiting and spring practice and the caravan – time is not of the essence for the coach as he begins his 17th month on the job.
His assistant coaches are spending the month of May on the road visiting high school prospects (O’Brien and all other head college football coaches are not permitted to do so April 15 through May 31). So the Penn State coach is getting ready to load up digital game tape of Syracuse and start dissecting. At the same time, he’ll start prepping for the official start of summer practice, which begins on July 31, and will include 29 practices, as allowed by the NCAA for all BCS schools.
“While (the assistants) are on the road, I’ll be trying to get really, really get ahead on planning for training camp,” O’Brien said on Thursday in DuBois, the 11th of 12 caravan stops. “I’ll be planning for Syracuse, planning for Eastern Michigan. I’ll be getting a lot of football work done, which is really what I love to do.”
Penn State’s second game of the 2014 season is Sept. 7 in Beaver Stadium against Eastern Michigan. And it is entirely possible by the time O’Brien vacations in mid-July -- his first break from work since late December -- that he’ll probably have devoured computer video files of Central Florida (Penn State’s Sept. 14 opponent) and Kent State (Sept. 21) as well.
Even though he literally just spent day and night meeting with thousands of Penn State fans and alumni, and dozens of media members – including Blue White Illustrated’s Nate Bauer, who won a coveted "Billy," for most caravan stops by a member of the media, with 11 out of 12 – O’Brien loves the X’s and O’s of the game most of all. That’s why, on occasion, he watches game tape displayed on the wall to the left of his desk, the projection magnified so much that at times the players are as big as G.I. Joes.
PENN STATE PLAYERS BACK ON CAMPUS
O'Brien's own troop of players is also starting to look ahead, beginning on Monday. With the two weeks after the Blue-White Game off for finals and a bit of R&R at home, they will return to campus en masse. At that time, they’ll start a 12-week regimen designed by strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald.
O’Brien promised on Thursday that Fitzgerald will be “mixing it up a bit.” That’s quite a statement, given last summer’s workouts featured sprints up a steep hill outside of Penn State’s Medlar Field ballpark and sessions in The Pit, a 20- by 50-foot sand area that was anything but a day at the beach.
“Our guys will be back on Monday to start the first session of the summer,” O’Brien said. “Ninety-five percent of our team will be back and they’ll be working hard. We’re not allowed to do anything with them football-wise, from a coaching standpoint. But they’ll be there with Fitzy and his crew and getting going on a voluntary basis. They’ll be working hard.”
On their own, the players will meet to do 7-on-7 drills, and also break off into position groups, with footwork and technique drills overseen by veteran players. Key group leaders on defense will be linebackers Mike Hull and Glenn Carson, defensive backs Adrian Amos and Malcolm Willis, and tackle DaQuan Jones. For the offense, expect the summer leaders to include bulked-up wide receiver Allen Robinson and a whole host of offensive linemen, led by John Urschel and Ty Howle.
“This summer, we’ll be back in that weight room, lifting and running with Fitzy,” offensive tackle Donovan Smith said after the spring game. “We’ll be working on our technique with the other guys, out on the field. And we’ll do that all the way through training camp.”
In the words of former New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott, after his team defeated O’Brien’s New England Patriots in an AFC divisional playoff game in January 2011 as Scott looked ahead to playing the Pittsburgh Steelers (a game the Jets lost):
And in the words of Bill O’Brien on Thursday, another caravan nearly under his belt and three months of game-planning ahead:
“We have a big summer ahead of us.”