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Penn State Football: Pry Hands Out Passing Grades To Linebackers After Week One

by on September 04, 2014 2:00 PM

Penn State's linebacking unit has been a hot topic ever since the conclusion of last season. How they would handle a lack of depth and experience along with a new defensive coordinator was near the top of the list of the team's concerns coming into the season.

A single game isn't enough to predict how Penn State's linebackers will play this season, but of all the first impressions to make the Nittany Lions certainly made a good one during the UCF game.

Mike Hull predictably led the way with his 11 tackles, a game high for both teams. Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell followed up 6 and 1 tackles respectively with Bell's only tackle coming for a loss. The entire unit accounted for 18 of Penn State's 55 total tackles during Saturday's game

There was a lot more pressure and coverage that didn't show up on the stat sheet. Film study will show a lot more when it comes to coverages, missed assignments and plays that the opposing offense could have taken advantage of. For linebacker coach Brent Pry, that means keeping an eye on all the little things when reviewing the tape and handing out a more complete assessment of his players' performance.

"There's ways guy can be productive, there's ways guys can hurt your success as a unit," Pry said, "So we reward guys for the positive plays, we kind of keep it neutral if they do their job, which is what we expect, but there's nothing spectacular, and then if there's issues on the play, we're going to find out why and they're going to be downgraded there."

Pry's system is a simple one. A 0 on a play represents not being good enough, a 1 is simply okay or satisfactory and a 2 is going above and beyond -- completing the assignment and more on a play.

"So we come up with a score that is an average of all of those, and you have a winning grade that you have learned over the years and you plug it in."

"When we looked at the tape Sunday and watched it as a unit, there were some really positive things: very, very few missed tackles, very few mental errors; for the most part we were technique sound," Pry said. "We did have a few things we needed to clean up as a group and a few things individually, but all three guys graded out a winner."

Somewhat amazingly Penn State only played three linebackers on Saturday, something that likely won't stay true throughout the season. Even so, the ability for all three players to see the field on every single defensive snap and be able to all come out with a winning score is certainly a positive for Pry moving forward.

But no matter how many players hit the field at the linebacker spot, the process remains the same. Play, evaluate, practice and improve. If those steps prove to be effective, Penn State can only continue to get better from here on out.

"All in all, it was a good day's work," Pry said. "There were a lot of positives on the tape, we address those things, we talk about them, and we want everyone to understand what guys did well. We address the liabilities we saw, the things that weren't good enough, and that's for the whole unit. It was a productive day for us in a lot of ways.

“We're very forthright with our players here. Everybody is accountable. We address liabilities and concerns as a unit. I think that helps the guys mature and grow that way and understand that we're in this together, and we're gonna learn from each others' mistakes and learn from each others' positives.”

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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