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Penn State Football: For Bill O’Brien, NFL Pedigree Key Component in Keeping Program Afloat

by on August 02, 2012 6:03 AM

Penn State opens preseason practice in four days. The goal, since NCAA sanctions were handed down last week, has been to first keep the 2012 team intact.

First-year coach Bill O'Brien's pitch, in part, is the NFL pedigree of the coaching staff, including his own, which includes a five-year run with the New England Patriots, most recently coaching quarterback Tom Brady and serving as Bill Belichick’s offensive coordinator.

Education and playing on TV is great. In fact, O'Brien requested to his superiors that they try like hell to ensure the NCAA did not take PSU off the air. But that does not distinguish his program from any of the others he’ll be recruiting against moving forward. A staff that includes holdovers Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden, who routinely insert defensive players into the NFL, helps. Coaches such as Stan Hixon and Charles London, who left NFL jobs last winter to join O’Brien’s staff, help too.

And last week in Chicago at the Big Ten Media Days, O’Brien made no qualms he’ll be using that NFL shield as a carrot to dangle out in front of prospective recruits and current players still on the fence about their future after 2012.

“I’m gonna open this place to the NFL,” O’Brien said. “You wanna scout our players? Come on in. We’ll put some sort of limit on it, but not too much limitation on it. You guys wanna watch tape and get ready for the draft and get ready for the draft as it relates to Penn State? Come on in.”

Of course, junior tailback Silas Redd, the 1,200-yard rusher, is a major loss. But the other five transfers thus far include a third-string quarterback, a backup linebacker, a walk-on safety, a tight end that provided depth and a freshman defensive lineman who never played a snap of college football.

More could come, the biggest names being, according to reports, senior wide receiver Justin Brown and kicker/punter Anthony Fera. But considering the severity of sanctions that include a four-year postseason ban and loss of 40 scholarships, in addition to any player being allowed to transfer until preseason practice 2013 without having to sit out a year, O’Brien has been widely successful.

O’Brien said he will not set a deadline for players to decide whether they will remain at Penn State. He expects, however, that once camp opens Aug. 6, they’re in it for the long haul.

“Look, I understand that we can’t play for a national championship,” O’Brien said. “I think at the end of the day, these kids wanna do that. But right now, how many schools really have a legitimate chance at winning the national championship? I mean, I don’t know, man.

"So my point in that is the one thing I know we can do, if you’re interested in playing in the National Football League, we can help you get to that level. With our coaching, our guidance, with our knowledge of that league, that’s something we need to build on.”

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