Penn State notebook: Young players get shot to shine early in week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Monday afternoons are a little different for the Penn State football team now.

Monday, as usual, signifies the start of the new week, new opponent and the day to watch film from the previous game, but it also has added significance for the younger players. On Mondays, Penn State has a weekly scrimmage primarily involving the younger, seldom-used players. Think intensity of a game with guys who don't get much of a chance to play on Saturdays.

Coach Bill O'Brien said the team began this activity this season. He said he thought it would be good for developing depth, making up for a lack of bowl practices and gauging improvement in young players.

"It's very competitive," he said. "The coaches compete; the guys have fun with it. We crank the music, and you can see guys getting better and better with it, so we think it's been productive for us."

He said about 300 plays have been run this year by the players in those scrimmages.

Running back Zach Zwinak said the previous coaching regime didn't do anything like this for the younger players. He said it looks like they're having fun and he has had fun watching them.

"Apparently last week, one of the younger guys jumped over someone," he said.

Hull healthy enough

O'Brien said linebacker Mike Hull should be ready to play Saturday against Indiana. Hull was injured in the first game of the season against Syracuse and missed the Eastern Michigan and Kent State games. He played sparingly against Central Florida. O'Brien suggested Hull should be closer to full strength after the off week.

"It looked to me as of yesterday that he was moving around better, he feels better," O'Brien said. "But he's just a tough guy and Penn State linebacker, that's how you describe him, and it's good to have him back in there."

Safety Ryan Keiser is expected to miss the Indiana game, O'Brien said.

Off-week intensity

The open date for the Nittany Lions was a little more relaxing in that they only practiced four days and banged-up players were able to heal. But O'Brien said he kept the workouts intense. Three of the four days of practice involved full pads.

He said the staff was able to critically evaluate the first four games and figure out which tendencies the team has to correct and what players needed to improve upon individually.

"Again, how productive was the bye week? The proof is in the pudding on Saturday against Indiana," O'Brien said.

An extra tackle

Versatility and, to an extent, unpredictability have been hallmarks under O'Brien. The latest version of these characteristics could play out in the form of having an extra lineman.

On a couple of plays against Kent State, Penn State placed three offensive tackles on the field at the same time. The third tackle lined up the way a traditional tight end might.

Offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach said Penn State had just installed this formation in the week of practice before Kent State. O'Brien said his New England Patriots offense used to do something similar, but the difference between college and the NFL is that the extra tackle in the NFL can be an eligible receiver. That's not the case in college -- the extra tackle is only for blocking.

"That does give us an added physical presence out there," he said.

psusports

Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.


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