UNIVERSITY PARK — Holuba Hall provides ample space for a major-college football practice. When the operations staff opens access doors, the humid building turns comfortable, even when it’s filled with more than 100 sweaty athletes.
The building offers Penn State players and coaches everything they need with one major exception — a fall-like atmosphere such as the one they might encounter Saturday at Purdue.
For the third time this week, the Nittany Lions opened a practice indoors, using Holuba Hall for the 20 minutes of Wednesday’s workout open to reporters.
The indoor practices are a product of soggy weather that has halted outdoor pursuits in Centre County this week.
“It wasn’t anything that held us back,” coach Bill O’Brien said Wednesday. “It was just more of practicing inside because we felt like we could get the most done inside. I don’t really like going inside, but because of the wind and rain and field conditions at this point in the season I would rather go inside and get productive work than risk having somebody get injured on a slippery field.”
Practicing indoors doesn’t enthuse players, especially considering Saturday’s weather could resemble Wednesday’s. Forecasts for West Lafayette, Ind., call for temperatures in the low-40s with a chance of showers. But players understand the situation.
“We haven’t practiced outside, which is tough because it’s probably going to be cold out there, it’s probably going to be rainy,” quarterback Matt McGloin said. “It seems like one of those environments. We haven’t been able to get that feeling of being outside. It is what it is and we can’t control it. We have to adjust on Saturday if we don’t get out there for the rest of the week.”
Where has he gone?
State College High School graduate and sophomore wide receiver Alex Kenney started the season strong, catching 12 passes for 129 yards in the first five games. But Kenney has disappeared from the offense in recent weeks, catching no passes in limited action against Iowa and Ohio State.
O’Brien provided a lenghthy answer to a question Wednesday about Kenney’s diminished role.
“There are a lot of positions on our football team that are very competitive,” O’Brien said. “On offense, the running back position, the receiver position, the tight end position, the offensive tackle, the guard position, especially the left guard position, are very competitive positions. You have to go out there on the practice field and compete to the best of your ability. You have to know your assignments. You have to catch the ball if you are a receiver. You have to run good routes. You have to block properly in the running game. That’s what we are striving to with any position, and at the end of the week, we determine who plays based on how they practice.”
Kenney also has been used sparingly as a kick returner since last month’s bye week. Bill Belton’s struggles against Ohio State might create an opening for Kenney to field kicks at Purdue.
“In the return game, we are looking for a few different guys this week,” O’Brien said. “By the end of the week, we will make a decision who is returning kicks.”
There’s a non-performance reason why O’Brien didn’t turn to kicker Sam Ficken in some field-goal situations against Ohio State. Ficken is nursing a quadriceps injury.
O’Brien said the injury has limited the volume of work Ficken can accomplish in practice. Before the Ohio State game, Ficken particiapted in the full-team stretch and pregame drills, but he remained in the locker room when kickers and punters participated in early work.
Ficken kicked a 27-yard field goal and added one touchback on four kickoffs.
“We have confidence in Sam’s ability, but we have had to monitor his leg over the last couple of weeks, so that’s what we are trying to do leading into this game,” O’Brien said. “Hopefully by the end of the week we have a better idea of what has range can be.”
As he did Tuesday, O’Brien called tight end Kyle Carter’s left ankle injury a “day-to-day” thing. Athletic trainers heavily taped the ankle Wednesday. The redshirt freshman was involved in the team stretch but he didn’t participate in drills during the open parts of practice.
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.