It started basic. It has turned complex.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien unloaded part of the offensive U-Haul in training camp, meaning once the Nittany Lions handled the fundamentals, players delved further into college football’s version of the New England Patriots’ playbook.
“I don’t really know how much we have seen,” tight end Kyle Carter said. “I know it’s the Patriots’ offense. Coach says he gets bored with what he’s doing. It’s all new to us. I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more to it.”
The scope of the offense presents major suspense as Penn State prepares for next Saturday’s opener against Ohio University.
After the Blue-White Game, O’Brien, who spent the past five years with the Patriots, said he unveiled 10 percent of the offense.
O’Brien opened parts of three training camp practices to reporters. During none of those periods did reporters witness live action between the first-team offense and first-team defense.
Offensive details gleaned from O’Brien and players this month are cordial yet vague. Asked about his team’s offensive identity, O’Brien, who doubles as the Nittany Lions’ offensive coordinator, stretched the possibilities.
“We are going to be a multiple personnel team, run play-action, empty (backfields), changed-up tempo, hopefully be good at situational football and hopefully we can put that on the field Sept. 1,” O’Brien said.
When it comes to offense, O’Brien said, “you put it all in early then you kind of scale it back as you get ready for the game.”
O’Brien started installing the offense March 26, when the Nittany Lions held their first spring practice. The 15 practices proved beneficial, but the 3 1/2-month NCAA-mandated embargo of player-coach interaction temporarily stunted progress.
The preseason opened with some glitches, especially when the unit faced defensive regulars.
“It was tough because we were learning a whole new offense and it’s a very tough offense to learn, and we were going against a great defense,” fullback Michael Zordich said. “We were kind of getting beat up at first, but we kept building confidence and working our techniques. I think we have put together a very good offense that can do a lot of damages to defenses this year.”
Increasing the volume of offensive options leveled the intrasquad competition.
“There are days when we get the better of them and there are days when they get the better of us,” linebacker Glenn Carson said. “It has been fun seeing the offense make plays and then go back in the defensive room and make adjustments and figure out how we can beat them. It has been very competitive. It’s almost like going against another team.”
O’Brien hasn’t revealed a Week 1 depth chart, but the summer depth chart included 13 potential offensive starters: a quarterback, tailback, fullback, two tight ends, three receivers and five linemen. The backs, tight ends and receivers are all potential targets for quarterback Matt McGloin.
Tracking the targets evolved into an exhausting training camp pursuit. Cornerback Stephon Morris said he must be ready to cover four potential receivers on each play. His assignments when his unit meets the first-team offense range from covering vertical threats such as the 6-foot-3, 201- pound Allen Robinson to tracking the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Carter.
“They are keeping the defense on their toes,” Morris said. “To be honest, that offense is crazy because of the formations they give. It’s very complex. You can tell it’s an NFL-based scheme.”
Schemes and plays aren’t the only new twists. Senior center Matt Stankiewitch is the only full-time starter returning from last year’s unit, which ranked 110th nationally by averaging 19.3 points per game.
McGloin, Stankiewitch, Carter, Robinson, running back Bill Belton, guards John Urschel and Miles Dieffenbach and tackle Donovan Smith appear entrenched as opening day starters. The other three players bracing for O’Brien’s first Penn State snap remains a mystery.
And in this case, the mystery is subject to change.
“It’s hard to compare the current and past offense,” Urschel said. “We are obviously doing different things. These are things I can’t exactly go into and it’s certainly complex.
“Bill O’Brien is a great offensive mastermind. I have been thoroughly impressed with how focused he is on details and how focus he is on every single part of the offense. His focus and our focus will show in the fall.”
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy