Penn State Football Returns to Field After Offseason Turmoil
A challenging offseason riddled with fallout from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal has left a Penn State program scrambling to lay the groundwork on how to best navigate rough tides for the next four years under heavy NCAA sanctions.
Respite will present itself to a group of men Monday for the first of 29 allotted preseason practices. About 70 scholarship players are expected to report to campus Sunday afternoon for a team meeting, coach Bill O’Brien has said. The NCAA allows up to 105 players to participate in preseason camp. Fresh meat can be summoned Aug. 27, the first day of the fall semester.
Excitement has been fizzing for weeks, since the release of the Freeh Report, since the NCAA banned the Nittany Lions from national title contention for four years and reduced 40 of their scholarships over four years, since star tailback Silas Redd bolted west to Southern Cal and other roster defections left roster depth soft at some positions.
Finally, it’s back to football. Click. Clack. Strapped up. Running and catching and throwing and tackling and coaching for a month before taking the field Sept. 1 against Ohio and the biting reality that no matter what outcome transpires on the field, Penn State will not be going to Indianapolis to compete for a Big Ten championship.
Not this year. Not next year. Not until 2016.
Upsetting? Sure. But there will be football, and that excites the hell out of everyone involved with Penn State football.
“People that aren’t on the inside of that program right now have no idea about the toughness, and it’s confirmation to me as to why I took this job,” said O’Brien, the second coach to lead the Nits into preseason camp since 1966. “We’ve got kids that wanna stick together. I knew there may be some kids that will leave.”
Lest we forget:
- Redshirt junior kicker/punter Anthony Fera (Texas)
- Senior wide receiver Justin Brown (Oklahoma)
- Junior running back Silas Redd (Southern Cal)
- Junior linebacker Khairi Fortt (California)
- Junior tight end Kevin Haplea (Florida State)
- Junior quarterback Rob Bolden (LSU)
- Redshirt freshman safety Tim Buckley (North Carolina State)
- Freshman defensive lineman Jamil Pollard (Rutgers)
- Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki (Illinois)
More could be forthcoming. The NCAA allowed that to be the case when it announced players can leave the program at any time before the start of preseason practice 2013 and immediately become eligible at their next school. There’s some stipulations, namely that if a player enters a game during the 2012 season, he can still transfer but must sit out the remainder of the year.
Of course, we’d be remiss not to make mention of the players who have left the program before sanctions were announced, too.
- Defensive end Shawn Oakman
- Wide receiver Devon Smith
- Cornerback Curtis Drake
- Cornerback Derrick Thomas
- Defensive tackle Evan Hailes (medical reasons; will assume a coaching role)
O’Brien expects those reporting Sunday to be with the team for the duration of the year. Keeping the 2012 team intact has been the primary objective since late July, when the NCAA sacked the first-year coach with this competitive disadvantage.
Pre-sanctions, O’Brien already had a tremendous re-tooling task at hand. Penn State is implementing a brand new offensive scheme that mirrored the one O’Brien orchestrated in New England with the Patriots.
“I looked back at the team and I saw a lot of white eyes, because they were watching that film as fans,” O’Brien said, recalling an early offensive meeting last spring.
“So I shut the clicker off … and I said, 'Look guys, we're looking at the schemes here. Don't worry that that's Tom Brady and don't worry that that's Wes Welker and [Rob] Gronkowski and the other guys.' ”
Redd, the departed junior tailback who rushed for more than 1,200 yards last season, figured to be the centerpiece of the offense. Brown, the only returning wide receiver with more than five catches, leaves starting quarterback Matt McGloin without his top target.
Defense, aside from a razor-thin secondary, figures to be the bedrock of the team once again. Linebackers Mike Mauti and Gerald Hodges, as well as defensive tackle Jordan Hill should be among the best in the conference at their respective positions.
All of that will unfold in the fall. For now, we settle for the month-long prelude into what will easily become one of the most unforgettable seasons of Penn State football in 126 years.