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Penn State Football Analysis: O'Brien Maximizing 2012 Team While Keeping Eye Toward Future

by on March 27, 2012 6:00 AM

Bill O’Brien left himself some wiggle room having two scholarships remaining before he hits the NCAA limit of 85 per year.

Good thing, too, because not doing so would’ve made for a sticky situation in the courting of Maryland transfer quarterback Danny O’Brien, who happened to show up at Penn State’s spring practice opener Monday afternoon — his second on-campus visit in less than two weeks.

Perhaps there would not have been a pursuit of the redshirt junior, who can play immediately in 2012 and have two years of eligibility remaining, if Penn State used its full allotment of scholarships.

Can’t say for sure. But the situation isn’t any less awkward for the three quarterbacks taking first-team reps this spring.

Because what is known is that there is no concession in Bill O’Brien’s approach. He is doing everything he can within the thick NCAA rulebook to improve his 2012 team, moving players around the field and to different sides of the ball with the hope of balancing out the roster over the next few years.

He’s even openly inviting a prospective transfer quarterback to watch the first day of spring practice, just hours after definitively stating there is no starting quarterback yet among returnees Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones.

To put that in perspective, remember, O’Brien has not watched any offensive tape from Penn State, choosing to enter camp with as little preconceived notions of each quarterback as possible.

“I'll be real clear on that,” O’Brien said. “It's an open competition.  There's no starter, and there won't be a starter named until possibly the night before the Ohio game (Sept. 1).”

There appears to be a very good chance Danny O’Brien comes to Penn State. After previous trips to Wisconsin and Mississippi, O’Brien found himself back at Penn State, a school on his short list of probable landing spots.

How Danny O’Brien’s arrival impacts team chemistry would be a developing story through the summer.

It would also seem to present Bill O'Brien with a predicament with which he admits he hasn't much experience.

"Well, there were no quarterback controversies in New England," O'Brien quipped, alluding to Tom Brady. O'Brien promised a scientific method for determining the starter based on performance during scrimmages and seven-on-seven drills and conceptualization of decision-making and accuracy.

"We'll keep a library on these guys," O'Brien said. "And when we go to make a decision on who starts the football game, it'll be an educated decision and it'll be a fair decision."

Quarterback isn’t the only position under construction.

It was announced Monday that wildcat/wide receiver Curtis Drake moved to cornerback because of an insufficient number of defensive backs.

Previously, wildcat/wide receiver Bill Belton was moved to running back, providing much-needed depth since Curtis Dukes will sit out spring drills to focus on academics. O’Brien said walk-on Derek Day would see second-team reps behind shoe-in starter Silas Redd.

More changes could be coming sporadically throughout the spring, O’Brien said. He views spring ball as the NFL mini-camp equivalent, a time to experiment players at different positions to see where they best fit and better evaluate who are the best players.

“It's definitely something that's an issue, just numbers-wise,” O’Brien said. “When you watch us practice or you hear about us practicing, you'll see where we do a number of what we call two- and three-spot, sometimes four-spot drills, where we get a million guys repping.  We want guys to get a lot of reps.”

That won’t be an issue on the offensive line — Penn State enters the spring with 19 linemen, according to its spring practice roster, an absurdly high number O’Brien has said needs to be balanced out over the next couple recruiting classes.

Of those 19, seven are fourth-year juniors. If balancing out the roster via attrition is a priority, it would seem some of those seven may not return for a fifth year in 2013.

It's only been Day 1 of a new spring season, but wheels are already in motion for change in 2012 and beyond.

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Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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