There are question marks about his team at many positions, more after 10 players decided to leave in the last two weeks. Bill O'Brien has his own concerns about what Penn State has to get accomplished between now and the start of the season.
Bill O'Brien poses for photos with Penn State seniors at Media Day.
But he also, after seven months with the program, knows what he has.
"Nobody's in that building," he said, his usually stoic face breaking into a smile. "Nobody sees what we see."
The Nittany Lions held their annual Media Day on Thursday in Beaver Stadium, and only a percentage of the topics O'Brien discussed during a 40-minute news conference pertained to personnel, plays or what he's seen during the first three preseason practices. Reporters, several who came from around the nation, wanted to know how the Nittany Lions' coach and his team have weathered the NCAA sanctions against the school and the player departures that followed.
O'Brien understands that many want to know how he plans to keep the program together in the long term. In keeping with the theme he established since coming to Penn State, he wants to focus on the short term.
"It's important to set a tone every day, to come in there every single day you go into a meeting and set the tone for that day," O'Brien said. "My job is to make sure every single day that I do the best I can to prepare the team for that day, that week, that year."
Besides a few minor hamstring injuries, the Nittany Lions have made it through the first few practices in good physical shape. And the mental attitude has been better than some might expect, O'Brien said.
"We've had a fun camp," O'Brien said. "We're very positive. We like to laugh. There's a lot of chop-busting going on … It's football. We compete, and at the same time, we're very, very mindful of what happened here. But it's time to, in my opinion, stop the dour attitude, time to think about ways to help us through this, time to understand we've got to move this university program and the athletic department forward."
Notes: One of Penn State's top priorities during the preseason is replacing Anthony Fera, who handled the kicking and punting duties for the Nittany Lions last year.
O'Brien said that junior Alex Butterworth and redshirt freshman Matt Marcincin are "battling it out at punter," while sophomore Sam Ficken has "kicked consistently" at the placekicker spot. The coach also said he feels good about Penn State's coverage teams, and that the Nittany Lions spend three periods each practice on special teams.
-- O'Brien said Penn State has a plan for how to adjust its scholarship table for the next few years in response to the limitations imposed by the sanctions (15 scholarship players per class; maximum of 65 on the roster) but would not go into specifics with reporters Thursday.
"There's a plan, it involves a lot and it's already taking place," O'Brien said. "That's not anybody else's business."
-- No. 2 quarterback Paul Jones has progressed and will "definitely see time" in games this season.
-- O'Brien did not get into discussions he had with tight end Dakota Royer, who decided this week to leave the team but will remain at Penn State to finish his degree. The coach confirmed that Royer will remain on scholarship per the NCAA's ruling on transfers included in the sanctions.
-- Instead of two-a-day practices, O'Brien said the Nittany Lions will go with one long practice during the day then reconvene in the evenings for more of a walkthrough. The idea is to help prevent some wear and tear on the players.