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Penn State Football: Open Tryout Set for Wednesday

by on September 18, 2012 1:21 PM

Penn State will hold open tryouts for walk-ons after Wednesday’s practice, and Bill O’Brien is going in with an open mind.

Position-wise, O’Brien is hoping a couple defensive backs emerge as possible future contributors because of the depth concerns in the secondary.

Kicking, which has been a target of criticism through three weeks because of Sam Ficken’s struggles, was not mentioned as an area of need by O’Brien.

"I just want to try to get out there and see if we can find some good football players, you know, guys that are just hungry to play football that can move around a little bit, maybe catch the ball well," O'Brien said. "Maybe they're bigger guys that we think have a future as a lineman."

Males and females are invited to tryout. If picked, they are eligible to play this season provided they pass NCAA clearinghouse requirements. A team spokesman said that procedure shouldn't take longer than two weeks. O’Brien had no estimate for the number expected to participate. The try-out is held every year.

No Plans to Play Any More True Freshmen

Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said Tuesday there are no imminent plans to play any more true freshmen. Of course, injuries dictate the course of those discussions.

Six have played this season: linebacker Nyeem Wartman, tight end Jesse James, wide receiver Trevor Williams, cornerback Da’Quan Davis, safety Jordan Lucas and quarterback Steven Bench. Wartman injured his knee Sept. 8 at Virginia, and O’Brien expects Wartman, who blocked a punt in the season opener, to be out “for a while.” Wartman could petition for a medical redshirt if he weren’t able to return.

George Howanitz, the head coach at Valley View High School, spoke with his former player Tuesday evening and was told Wartman was hoping to play this week. He said he has a bad sprain and bone bruise on his knee.

"It's nothing that needs surgery," Howanitz said, adding Wartman can run but has trouble squatting.

"It is disappointing because you feel bad for the guy," O'Brien said. "He's just a great kid who has a really, really bright future at Penn State. You just feel bad for him that he was playing pretty well and then he has the injury. I wouldn't expect him back for a while though."

Two names that popped up in the preseason were wide receiver Eugene Lewis and tight end Brent Wilkerson, but both positions are deep enough that an injury or two still might allow both to redshirt.

"These guys are ready at a moment's notice. They are. They practice that way," O'Brien said. "Some guys go back and forth between the dirty show and the first and second team practices. That's tough on them, but this is a very strong freshman class that I think has a really bright future here."

O’Brien said scholarship limitations in the wake of the NCAA sanctions did not factor into discussions on who to redshirt.

"We think about the here and the now, what's best for the football team right now," O'Brien said. "There are certain conversations that we have that do look to the future a little bit, but not as it relates to this team here, this freshman class here right now."

Other notes from Tuesday's weekly news conference:

  • Running backs Derek Day (shoulder) and Bill Belton (ankle) are day-to-day, but O'Brien said Day is a little closer to returning than Belton.
  • Left tackle Donovan Smith remains day-to-day with an ankle injury.

"I know you guys hate that answer, but it's the truth," O'Brien said. "If he comes out today and he can move around, then maybe he's got a better chance to play. If he comes out today and he's gimpy, then probably won't play."

  • O'Brien does not regret going for it on 4th-and-goal from the eight-yard line instead of attempting a 25-yard field goal to perhaps boost Ficken's confidence. He said even if Ficken had converted on a missed extra point earlier, he still would've gone for it because the play call was successful in previous weeks.

"I talk to Sam all the time. I have belief in Sam," O'Brien said. "It's just at that point in time I felt good about that play call from the yard lane, the hash mark that we were on, the time in the game, so I don't think it has anything to do with confidence with Sam."

  • Interestingly enough, O'Brien said he was not thinking about giving back-up QB Steven Bench any time Saturday, despite leading 34-0 in the fourth quarter. 

"No, I felt like it was still a ballgame there," O'Brien said. "I know what the scoreboard said, but I just felt like it was still Matt's game and I stuck with Matt there."

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