Penn State football: ‘Thud’ time as Nittany Lions back off from full contact

tjohnson@centredaily.comAugust 22, 2013 

Linebacker Mike Hull and his defensive teammates have not had many opportunties to deliver big hits — like last season’s shot on Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller — during training camp. With limited scholarships, Coach Bill O’Brien is trying to keep the team healthier by cutting down on full contact.

CHRISTOPHER WEDDLE — CDT photo Buy Photo

— Penn State defenders break their huddle with a resounding, one-word battle cry: “Swarm!”

They haven’t gotten many chances yet to do the hard-hitting, white helmets-on-ballcarriers swarming they hope will become their hallmark later this season.

Although Bill O’Brien has kept full-contact, live-tackling practices numbered, his defensive standouts aren’t worried they’ll forget how to bring down opponents when the season begins against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium on Aug. 31.

“We’ve had a few live periods. Not too many,” linebacker Mike Hull said. “Probably under five and most of the drills were thud, we’re keeping up on our feet and trying to keep the guys healthy. I don’t think it will phase us at all.”

Thud practices — wherein Penn State players contact one another but don’t wrap up to take their teammates down — have become the norm at Penn State. O’Brien and his staff really have no choice, as O’Brien has repeatedly said the NCAA sanctions that have limited him to 67 scholarship players this season have forced him to be proactive in managing his players’ health.

Players the Nittany Lions will lean on heavily this season — Deion Barnes, Allen Robinson and Adrian Amos — have all missed practice lately for precautionary reasons.

“This is just (a) precaution for the season,” Amos said. “We’re just trying to all be healthy. ... I’ve been practicing and everything. I’m full-go, just not for contact.”

Hull and Amos are among Penn State’s top returning tacklers. Hull, who played in every game last season, finished with 58 and five of those for a loss. Amos had 44. Glenn Carson is Penn State’s leading returning tackler with 85.

“Once we get out there, get the first hit in, get the first guy on the ground, I think it will come back pretty quick,” Hull said.

Motivation galore

Yard lines, numbers and hash marks aren’t the only things painted on Penn State’s practice fields.

Upon closer examination the underlined word “Focus” appears painted on the team’s sideline. It’s one motivational tactic being used by the staff during camp. Another has proved useful in the past. O’Brien, who has used motivational speakers to encourage his team in the past, is doing so again.

So far in this training camp, former NBA player Chris Herron and renowned motivational speaker Eric Thomas have both given rousing speeches to the team.

“With Chris Herron and Eric Thomas coming in, we hear a different perspective on being motivated and being athletes,” center Ty Howle said. “With Chris Aaron’s story we heard what can be the downfalls of an athlete making the wrong decisions and his journey and his battle and it gives us somebody that we look up to and that can tell us to do things the right way.”

Training Days a hit with players

As of his conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Howle had yet to take any heat for his Larry the Cable Guy look as presented on ESPN’s Training Days episode on the Nittany Lions.

Howle, who boasted that a sleeveless flannel was his official camp shirt of the season, had nothing but positive reviews for the episode.

“Everybody loved it,” Howle said. “I thought that ESPN did a great job and I think all the players enjoyed it.”

The hour-long episode featured a few vignettes on different aspects and personalities on the team. It told Garry Gilliam’s backstory that includes a comeback from a serious knee injury, charted the quarterback competition between Christian Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson, and took a look at the team’s equipment manager Brad “Spider” Caldwell.

There was a portion of the episode dedicated to the offensive line, where some of the louder personalities go to work every day.

“I think the O-line is the funniest position group we have here,” defensive tackle DaQuan Jones said. “Just having them around really just rallies up this team every day.”

Howle said the team had fun being followed by ESPN’s cameras.

“I always said that the ad team for Brawny paper towels were my fashion designers for that week,” Howle said.

Amos takes on more

Amos, who has played safety and corner in his career, was mentioned by O’Brien as a possible candidate to help shore up Penn State’s depth at linebacker.

But Amos said he’s primarily worked as a defensive back so far.

He has lined up at nickel while Stephen Obeng-Agyapong has seen some time at weakside linebacker.

Cowboys extend Lee

Dallas Cowboys and former Penn State linebacker Sean Lee agreed to a huge contract extension Tuesday.

The team’s website reported the six-year deal is worth $7 million per year and can escalate to as much as $51 million with incentives. Although Lee has suffered injuries in his professional career that have kept him from playing a full season, he has been impressive at times for the Cowboys. He finished with 36 tackles last season.

“I’m extremely excited. I was blessed to be able to be drafted by a great franchise,” Lee said in a video interview on the Cowboys’ website. “To have an opportunity to be here a long time and hopefully compete for a Super Bowl is fantastic.”

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