Bill O'Brien's feelings about his 2013 team heading into the start of spring practices might be best summarized by something he said about his defensive line Monday:
Bill O'Brien says the coaches getting the players in the right spots will be the key to compensate for depth issues this spring.
"We feel good about what's there," Penn State's head coach said during a news conference in Beaver Stadium, a few hours before the Nittany Lions took part in the first of 15 spring practices. "There's not a lot there, but there's enough there."
Penn State is beginning to feel the initial stages of the scholarship reductions but the difference isn't that great, at least not yet, according to O'Brien.
"I think we're still dealing with a little bit of the same situation we dealt with in (20)12," O'Brien said. "I think where it gets difficult is (20)14, 15, 16."
The Nittany Lions lost nine senior starters but O'Brien likes the players coming back and believes they gathered enough game reps -- and leadership experience -- to pick up the slack. He also knows his team isn't bursting with depth at every position.
O'Brien is looking forward to watching linebackers Mike Hull, Glenn Carson and Nyeem Wartman play together, for example, but has to be careful about what they do this spring because there aren't many scholarship players behind them.
"It's going to be imperative for myself to monitor that and make sure we're not giving those guys too many reps," he said.
Same goes for the defensive line, where senior DaQuan Jones will be counted on to produce -- during the spring and this fall -- while youngsters like Kyle Baublitz, Austin Johnson, Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia mature.
The offensive line lost center Matt Stankiewitch and right tackle Mike Farrell but O'Brien believes the way Mac McWhorter coaches -- giving multiple players experience at center and some players reps at all five spots on the line -- plus the addition of former tight end Garry Gilliam to the mix at tackle gives Penn State plenty of options.
The quarterback competition between sophomore Steven Bench and JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson will be the most anticipated of the spring -- "We have a smart room, a hungry room. They ask great questions and they want to be coached," O'Brien said of the quarterbacks -- but the running back picture will also feature plenty of competition. O'Brien said 1,000-yard rusher Zach Zwinak will be the starter at the outset of the spring but will look for big contributions from Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch as well.
"You've got three very different skill sets," O'Brien said of the running backs. "I'll have to do a good job of putting them in the right spot to take advantage of what they do best."
Penn State enters the spring relatively healthy. Linebacker Ben Kline will sit out this spring as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery and safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (shoulder) and tight end Kyle Carter (ankle) will not participate in contact drills, but "basically everybody else is going be out there," said O'Brien, including freshman tight end Adam Breneman, who is nine months removed from an ACL tear.
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