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Penn State Football: Open Practice Raises a (Silas) Redd Flag

by on April 05, 2012 10:25 PM

Silas Redd was split far left, one of four receivers in an open set.

Silas Redd exblursted – half-burst, half-exploded – through an open hole off right guard for Penn State’s first-string offense, running against the first-string defense.

Silas Redd tippy-toed in high gear, his feet rapidly moving like pistons over football bag after football bag. Silas Redd was definitely quicker, sharper, faster than the other seven running backs in the drills. Combined.

“Wow, did you see that?” I said to Bob Flounders of The Patriot News, the two of us off to the side, watching running backs coach Charles London put Redd and the running backs through their paces.

Flounders just turned to me and grinned. He’d seen it, all right. Watching Redd up close – running, catching, jumping – was a treat.

As new head coach Bill O’Brien noted at the start of Penn State’s drills last week, “It would be tough to beat Silas out.”

And not just for the Nittany Lions, but throughout the Big Ten Conference – Redd was the league’s No. 4 rusher in 2011 and ranks 23rd among all returning rushers in the country. O’Brien’s assessment is not really a scoop, given that Redd carried 244 times for 1,262 yards – an average of 5.1 yards per carry – in 2011.

Still, seeing (at arm's length, at practice) is believing.

It’s one thing to see Redd in a game from the press box or the stands. Or on TV. But to watch the junior tailback from Connecticut go through his paces standing less than a first down away, is to get a true appreciation of the multitude of his skills. And speed.

That much was clear on Wednesday, the Nittany Lions’ fifth of 15 practices this spring. It was the second time in nine days that writers and videographers and bloggers were allowed inside the inner sanctum – and the third time overall in the O’Brien Era, if you count a chilly February conditioning session kicked off at 5:30 a.m.

For about 40 media people on Wednesday, it was a chance to go where no Penn State beat writer has gone before.

Not only could we see Redd, there were glimpses of Bulked-up Bill Belton at running back (did I say the former wide receiver looked beefy, big and brawny?). We could also see State College’s own Alex Kenney at wide receiver, running – and running fast -- at times with their first-team offense after a couple of years seemingly MIA.

The long of it is that we saw 6-foot-6, 306-pound wunderkid Adam Gress, the offensive tackle and O’Brien favorite who has also earned rave reviews from his teammates. And the short of it is that we also saw receiver Moo Moo Smith, he of the injured left leg, scoot by in a motorized cart.

Just seeing visitors on the sidelines was worth the price of admission (which was free, BTW). At practice on Wednesday were members of the Penn State football family, both old and new. O’Brien’s wife, as well as his two sons, were along the sidelines. As were longtime fixtures like Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, the team’s director of athletic medicine, and Fran Ganter, the associate athletic director for football administration who arrived on campus in 1967 – and never left.

Over the past week-and-a-half, it’s been like a Quarterbackapolooza.

Last Monday, Danny O’Brien’s traveling road show stopped at practice, and he chatted with a few reporters. And on Wednesday, quarterback Steven Bench of Georgia, who has signed to play with the Nittany Lions this fall, was on hand. He’s not physically imposing, but he was big with the reporters. Several recruiting savants meandered by to say “hi,” and Bench was happy to greet them all.

Before this new era of openness ushered in by O’Brien, Bench would have likely languished on the bench and been full into his sophomore year of college before he even exchanged in-person pleasantries with the Penn State press.

Not now. O’Brien is savvy that way, among others.

Opening practice not only provides access, but it also shifts attention to the field, to the players, to the future. It is a marketing tool for the April 21 Blue-White Game and for the season tickets and Mount Nittany Lounge tickets now on sale.

Opening practice drives the news cycles and fills the webwaves. While there may be an ESPN major headline here and a Sandusky day in court there, what will be on the football field in the fall fills most students’ heads on the University Park campus.

As a junior imbibing at Café 210 along College Avenue on Thursday told me, “No one’s even following the Sandusky hearing on Twitter today.” And this from a journalism student whose photo of Sandusky ran on the front page of the Collegian in November.

The tide hasn’t totally turned in Happy Valley, but when it comes to Penn State football these days, this much is true:

Just about everyone likes to see Redd.

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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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