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O'Brien likes progress of freshmen

Every freshman hits the wall this time of year, says Bill O'Brien.

Breneman (81) has as many catches over the last two games as Jesse James and Kyle Carter combined.

But Penn State, looking to bounce back from a loss yet again this week, is not in position to rely on upperclassmen.

Freshmen -- those in their first season and those who have redshirted -- were the theme of O'Brien's press conference in Beaver Stadium on Tuesday. Penn State's coach talked about those who will likely play more this Saturday against Purdue (linebacker Brandon Bell and wide receiver Geno Lewis), those who have played extensively already (quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman) and even a few true freshmen who will redshirt but are turning heads during the team's Monday night developmental scrimmage sessions.

"I think that every true freshman definitely hits that wall -- everyone does," O'Brien said. "And the ones that are able to, so to speak, climb that wall -- what does that mean? It means if you don't have such a great practice or don't feel well or had a tough exam that day -- are you able to go out and focus on football?"

O'Brien talked about the improvements Hackenberg has made over the course of his true freshman season even as his numbers have tailed off after a hot start.

"The thing that's great about this kid is he's smart, he's got a great work ethic, and he's 18 years old. That's not an excuse, that's just what he is," O'Brien said. "I think this guy over the next three weeks, I think you'll see improvement and I think you'll see him get better and better here."

O'Brien said Hackenberg's good pal Breneman has played through ankle and foot injuries for much of the season.

"I thought he played very well against Minnesota," O'Brien said. "I thought he blocked well and caught the ball when it was thrown to him. He's another guy who's a young player who's got a very bright future here."

Bell, who has been a frequent participant on special teams, could see more action with the linebacking group this week in place of Ben Kline, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle, O'Brien said.

Lewis, who doesn't have a catch in three of his last four games, might see more time at wide receiver, partly because, though they hope to have him available for the game, Allen Robinson could be limited this week with a shoulder injury he suffered against Minnesota and partly because veteran Brandon Felder has turned in a few dropped passes in the last two games.

Redshirt freshman running back Akeel Lynch, who has been hampered by an MCL sprain, returned to practice this week, O'Brien said.

O'Brien also likes the battles he has watched behind the scenes, including those between true freshman offensive linemen Andrew Nelson, Brendan Mahon and Tanner Hartman and defensive linemen Garrett Sickels, Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren.

"There's a lot of faces in that recruiting class I think you guys will get to know in the next four-five years," he said.

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