CHICAGO -- Early Wednesday morning, Penn State senior offensive guard John Urschel shared on Twitter a picture of the private plane which he, a few teammates and coach Bill O'Brien traveled on to the Big Ten Conference Media Days. Aboard that plane, the mood was relaxed.
They enjoyed the normalcy, cherished the fact that this year isn't last year. That theme has carried throughout the summer.
"This year, it's been much more laid-back," Urschel said, "very relaxed."
A summer ago, the Penn State football players dealt with the after-effects of the Jerry Sandusky trial, the Freeh Report and NCAA sanctions. The latter occurred two days before the Big Ten Media Days, and Urschel remembered a much different plane ride.
"There was definitely more tension," Urschel said, "but, last year, Michael [Mauti] did a very good job of making sure we were all prepared and being a leader."
Mauti and fullback Michael Zordich played host to an impromptu gathering of players who pledged their loyalty to Penn State.
Mauti arrived at Big Ten Media Days, standing up for Penn State and disparaging anyone who wanted to criticize the program.
Wednesday, athletic director Dave Joyner called those actions an inspiration, a bridge to the success that would come in the fall and lead to the placid present this summer. Even the dreaded transfer period of the sanctions will end soon, on the day preseason camp begins in early August.
Senior linebacker Glenn Carson recounted the routine of his summer schedule: He works out with the team in the mornings, and he works as a marketing/promotions intern with the Class A State College Spikes baseball team during the day.
Complications like a year ago haven't arisen, which he believes has made a difference. As much as the team discussed ignoring the outside circumstances they were given, he said they had an effect.
"We did the best we could to not let that be a distraction," Carson said, "but it's really hard to not let that be a distraction.
"Knock on wood, so far we've had no drama this year. I think we just have the right guys on the team right now."
Senior cornerback Malcolm Willis agreed. This is his fifth year in the program.
He has played for two coaching regimes and worked with numerous players.
Last week, he met with O'Brien in his office for a routine conversation and told O'Brien he thought this team did more extra work than any on which he had played.
For instance, Willis said, after the team's morning workouts he'll ask safety Adrian Amos or wide receiver Allen Robinson if they want to practice on their own in the afternoon.
Many times, Amos and Robinson will come, and they'll be joined by five or six others who want to take part in the extra reps.
At this point, not Urschel, not Willis, not Carson, none of them, can tell exactly how Penn State will perform this fall.
They believe the signs are encouraging, though, less about transfers or scandals and solely about on-field performance, and, after a summer ago, such a feeling holds much promise.
"It's all over now," Carson said, "and it's just great to be back to football."
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05. First Published July 25, 2013 4:00 AM