Bill O'Brien has liked what he's seen from his young tight ends during camp, but he wants to temper expectations and eliminate comparisons to the Pro Bowl tight ends he's coached.
DaQuan Davis (left) and Jordan Lucas (right) have filled in nicely for a beat-up Penn State defensive backfield.
He also likes what he's seen from some of his young defensive backs, whom he might have to bring along more quickly.
Penn State's head coach was brief but upbeat during a 25-minute teleconference with reporters Thursday, and sounded pleased with the development of some of his younger players, who might have to contribute early on a squad shortened by transfers and injuries.
With cornerback Mike Wallace out for the season with a pectoral injury and safeties Malcolm Willis (ankle) and Jake Fagnano (hamstring) at least temporarily sidelined with minor injuries that shouldn't keep them out of game action, the Nittany Lions have asked true freshmen DaQuan Davis and Jordan Lucas to fill in and earn important first- and second-team reps during preseason practices.
"I've been pleased with the secondary, pleased with the defense as a whole," O'Brien said. "The secondary has some good returning players in there and some younger players that can help us."
O'Brien later added he was pleased with the improvement of safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who has been filling in for Fagnano, and that Adrian Amos has continued to see work at both safety and cornerback.
O'Brien said that he and the coaching staff will likely make decisions on redshirt candidates three or four games into the season, but that the staff has identified several freshmen who could contribute immediately.
"If you're going to play a freshman, you really need to play him," O'Brien said, "so you don't come out of there with 10 plays and you've burned his redshirt."
Offensively, O'Brien said the Nittany Lions are "still working on the identity of what the offense will be and hopefully we'll have a better grasp on that next week." Sophomore Allen Robinson heads a group of about 6-7 players who have been rotating at wide receiver and O'Brien has also liked what he's seen from a group of 5-6 tight ends, including true freshman Brent Wilkerson.
However, he cautioned reporters -- and, by extension, fans -- not to compare his tight ends to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, whom he coached in New England last season.
"I think we've got to stop with the comparisons between what we did with Gronkowski and Hernandez and what we do with our tight ends at Penn State," he said.
Special teams is also an important area of focus for the coach during the preseason. He said sophomore Sam Ficken has been solid on his kickoffs and field goals but punters Alex Butterworth and Matt Marcincin need to work on their consistency. Emery Etter has performed well filling in for an injured Ty Howle at long snapper, O'Brien said, but he wouldn't reveal who might be replacing Justin Brown at punt returner.
"We've been looking at a lot of guys at returners," he said. "On Sept. 1, you'll see who returns kicks."
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