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Penn State Football Up-Down Drill: Jordan Hill Ends Career on High, Bill O’Brien NFL Speculation Cools

by on November 25, 2012 1:34 PM

There’s only 279 days until Penn State returns to the football field on Aug. 31 at MetLife Stadium to take on Syracuse. The storylines there are already brewing, including Bill O’Brien clashing with dear friend Doug Marrone, who introduced Bill to his wife at a sports bar following a victory when the two coached at Georgia Tech.

Of course, it’s a long 279 days away. And so much can change between now and then thanks to the unprecedented NCAA sanctions, which allow any player to transfer to any school until preseason practice 2013 without having to sit out. Between the off-field distractions of opposing coaches courting players and the on-field self-scout and recruiting games wrapped around usual NFL draft preparations, it promises to be an interesting offseason for Penn State on the heels of an 8-4 record.

Who’s Up

Jordan Hill – Finished with a career-high 12 tackles, including three tackles for loss and two sacks. Almost single-handedly blew up Wisconsin’s ground game in the second half and overtime. The senior will work out in State College to prep for the NFL Draft. Head athletic trainer Tim Bream will evaluate Hill’s knee on Sunday and determine the next treatment steps from there.

Zach Zwinak – Hit exactly 1,000 yards on the season despite receiving three total carries in the first three games. He averaged 147.3 yards per game in November. To put that in perspective, Silas Redd averaged 140.6 yards per game in Oct. 2011, when he led the nation in rushing with 703 yards. Zwinak emerged from fifth on the spring depth chart to first heading into the offseason.

Jesse James – Freshman tight end who enrolled last January became a red zone favorite for quarterback Matt McGloin, ending the season with five touchdown grabs. His 90 receiving yards Saturday were a career high. Like Zwinak, he committed himself to the program after the game, and he should team with Kyle Carter to form one of the most dangerous pass catching tight end duos in the conference for the next three years.

Who’s Down

Bill O’Brien NFL Speculation – Talk of a potential return to the NFL can be placed on the back burner until the NFL season runs its course, and, more importantly, once it becomes known an NFL head coaching offer is even on the table. Last week, O’Brien evaded a question regarding whether or not he’ll return to Penn State next season. This week, O’Brien mapped out his upcoming schedule, which includes hitting the recruiting trail Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and meeting with every member on the roster to review performance, academics and expectations heading into winter conditioning. Bottom line: O’Brien sounded like a man focused on the present, which, right now, means coaching Penn State.

“Next year's team will be a lot different from this year's team,” O’Brien said. “Who knows, next year we might come out in the wishbone. Whatever suits us is what we're going to do. It takes time to evaluate that, but as far as our coaching staff and myself, we're ready to go to the next stage, which is really recruiting.”

Bill Belton – We know that Belton has met with O’Brien regarding his role with the team and where he stands. His will make for one of the more interesting ‘exit interviews’ O’Brien holds with each player in the coming weeks. After a 103-yard effort at Iowa on Oct. 20, Belton rushed for 25 yards over the final five games and did not receive any carries in three of the final four weeks.

Quarterback Situation — This is more about what’s behind rising-sophomore Steven Bench. To wit, that would be no one. Christian Hackenberg, one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation, is a strong verbal commitment but is not locked down to Penn State until he signs a letter of intent in February. He is reportedly not going to enroll early in January, meaning Penn State may need to find a junior college transfer or another high school recruit in order to establish depth at the position in spring practice. Otherwise, Bench will receive the majority, if not all, of the first-team reps, which, given his limited reps in practice this season, may not be a bad thing.

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