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Penn State Football: Coaches Clinic Scrimmage First True Eye Test for Position Changes

by on March 31, 2012 12:15 PM

Penn State put the pads on for the first time this spring for Saturday’s Annual Coaches Clinic scrimmage.

After two practices in shells only, it was the first chance to truly assess some of the position changes coach Bill O’Brien made to accentuate his schemes and accumulate depth. The session was closed to the media.

“The spring is about, in many ways, just like mini camps in the National Football League,” O’Brien said at his spring practice press conference Monday. “The spring is about experimentation, maybe practicing a guy at one spot for about five practices and then moving him to another spot and seeing how he does in different areas and trying to get your best players on the field.”

Notable position switches have been well-documented by this point.

  • Wildcat/wide receiver Curtis Drake to cornerback
  • Wildcat/wide receiver Bill Belton to running back
  • Linebacker Dakota Royer to tight end

Listening to O’Brien, he of a Brown University education, suggests a more measured approach to moving guys around position to position.

Yes, he wants to make sure he has the right guy in the right spot at the right time doing the right thing (sound familiar?), but he’s also cognizant of the toll repetitions have on probable starters.

That’s seen in the NFL, where it’s not unusual for teams to sign free agents to provide enough bodies to get through the grind of training camp healthy. If they give a serious impression, they get to keep their uniform.

“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,” said O’Brien, the former offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots.

“We want guys to get a lot of reps. So because of the numbers in the secondary, that was one reason to make a couple moves there, because we don't have enough players over there, and then we wanted to make a move that made sense.”

Drake, a high school quarterback, started as a true freshman at wide receiver in his first year and was on the field for 186 plays. A broken left tibia has slowed his production since, but the pass-catch-run combo gives the redshirt junior value on offense.

Belton, a true sophomore, is splitting second-team reps with Derek Day behind Silas Redd and while Curtis Dukes takes the spring off to focus on academics. With Brandon Beachum and Stephfon Green gone to graduation, Belton may stay at running back, and, obviously, line up at receiver if needed.

“We just felt like that was, in our staff's opinion, a most appropriate position for him, body type-wise, skill set-wise,” O’Brien said.

Royer, a third-year sophomore, brings a different body type to tight end, the position, O’Brien said, that is the hardest in his offense to learn next to quarterback.

“At the tight end position you have basically what we call a Y, which a Y is a bigger guy, a good in line blocker, runs intermediate routes, short to intermediate routes,” O’Brien said. “His number one job is to block, and then his second job is to run short intermediate routes and be open. He's got to have good hands, he's got to be smart. He'll be involved in protections. He'll be involved in a lot of different things in the offense.

“Then we have the position that we call the F position, and the F position is more of what we call a move guy, a little bit better pass receiver than he is a blocker, has good hands, is smart.

“And they'll be interchangeable. One time [Garry] Gilliam will be the F and [Kevin] Haplea will be the Y, and vice versa, Gilliam will be the Y and Haplea will be the F. Or Dakota or Jesse James will be the F and Gilliam will be the Y.

“So you can do so many different things, but it's all up to how those guys learn and how they're able to develop learning their own position.”

A process that started Monday but hit its first true measuring stick Saturday.

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