Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer said this preseason that his tackles and ends are not “re-building” after the loss of three starters and a solid backup to the NFL, they are “re-loading.”
Spencer doubled down on his “Wild Dogs” on Thursday morning via a conference call.
Question: There has been a lot of expectation this year on Garrett Sickels to kind of pick up the slack, or pick up where Carl Nassib left off. What has his progress been like and what does he do differently on the field that the average person might not see?
Answer: “First of all, when we talk about Garrett and we talk about the D-line, we talk about re-loading, right? What we mean by that is to set a bar for yourself, and there was a bar set prior to you being here. You either have to match that or you have to go above it. I think that’s that whole philosophy of re-loading. Garrett has become a leader, he plays like a man on fire. First of all, tell him to stop punching me in the shoulder before the game. He punches me in the shoulder before the game. The guy plays with a great deal of fire, he leads the team by example and he’s becoming a vocal leader. That’s not easy! Sometimes you have to say things that people don’t like. He’s willing to do that and I think that’s taken his game to the next level.”
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Q: Sean, you’ve lost a lot of experience in terms of injury in terms of linebacker. Has it made your guys grow up more quickly because maybe they don’t have that experience right behind them?
A: “Obviously when you lose the caliber of player that we lost at the second level…I’ve said to people before, losing four NFL guys, you know, three guys drafted and one free agent, you look up and you see the linebacker corps that’s really experienced. And all of the sudden the injuries occur and you say, ‘Well, oh boy. We’ve got to get ready.’ But the thing I’ve been preaching is that nobody really cares about our injury situation. Having said that, the expectation is for us to go out there as if the team is completely intact. That can’t be our Achilles heel. It’s not about making plays, it’s about being gap accountable. You want them to be explosive and make plays, but if we’re doing a great job shoring up our gaps and reading our keys, this will make it a lot easier for those young linebackers…I agree, it’s made those guys grow up fast.”
Q: We’ve heard such great things from teammates about (junior college transfer) Tyrell Chavis, about his personality and what he brings to the locker room. I know he’s been through a lot in his life; can you share a bit about his journey in coming to Penn State and the adversity he’s overcome along the way?
A: “First of all, tremendous kid. And like you said, he’s gone through a great deal of adversity to get here. Long journey. He started in Virginia…Then over to Nassau Community College. It’s been a tough road for him, not to speak his business too much. But if anybody deserves a chance at greatness, it’s him. In terms of what he’s gone through and who he is, he has a great sense of humor and a great sense of life. He’s never really down, he’s got tremendous attitude. Old man perspective. I tell him, ‘We went to high school together, I think!’ He understands and has great knowledge of the game, and I think the best for him is yet to come.”
Q: With his late arrival, how much did that hold him back and how close is he to playing a bigger role on your defensive line?
A: “Obviously he had not done much physically for close to a year. So I think the first three weeks were just getting over the soreness, the regiment of being in a Division-1 college program. I think at that point, that’s going to hold him and slow him down. His reps have increased. But as you know, I’m going to play nine or 10 guys right now and I don’t think I have a dominant guy, you know like a Carl Nassib where you say ‘He’s gotta be in there at this point in time.’ I think the closest to that right now is Garrett Sickels. But the rest of the guys right now are doing a great job of understanding their roles and I think as the season goes on Tyrell’s role will increase more and more. He is versatile enough to play nose and three-technique, so we’re excited about that. He brings an explosiveness that I think is probably a little different than the rest of those guys.”