Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien is opening spring practices with a clean slate for everyone on the roster, including the quarterback position.
"I'll be real clear on that," O'Brien said during a press conference Monday afternoon in Beaver Stadium. "It's an open competition. There is no starter and there won't be a starter named until possibly the night before the Ohio game [2012 season opener]."
Penn State utilized two starting quarterbacks in 2011, with Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin splitting playing time all season long. This spring both look to be competing for the job once again, and O'Brien is anticipating Paul Jones to be in the mix as well. Jones is now in good academic standing with the team and O'Brien anticipates he will be available for the fall.
"We'll mix and match their reps, each guy will get a chance to work with the first team," O'Brien said when asked about his
"I haven't really watched a lot of Penn State's offense over the last few years," O'Brien said. "Something I wanted to do was start with a clean slate with these guys and just evaluate them on winter conditioning and spring practice and to this point I've been very pleased with these guys. They are competitive guys, smart guys, they really want to be coached. They want to be good and we'll start evaluating them on the football field this afternoon."
The key to O’Brien’s offensive mindset has always been the tight end position, including with the New England Patriots, where multiple tight ends would be a common sight on the field at any given time for the AFC East powerhouse franchise. Right now, O'Brien seems happy with his tight ends at Penn State and suggests that the Nittany Lions may also utilize multiple tight end sets.
"It's a very important part of what we're going to do offensively," O'Brien said. "I've been very impressed with Garry [Gilliam, coming off injury], Jesse James... and Kevin Haplea is another guy. These guys have had good winters and they're going to be a big part of what we do."
"I learned a lot about that position in New England and hopefully that will carry over and I'll be able to teach these guys what I learned in New England at Penn State."
Wide receiver Curtis Drake is being tried out at cornerback this spring. Bill O'Brien likes Drake's footwork and knows that the cornerback position is one to be concerned with after losing some important players to graduation.
Defensive end Shawn Oakman, who was recently dismissed due to legal infractions, will not return to the program, according to O'Brien. O'Brien also did not comment on the recent news involving wide receiver Devon Smith.
Defensive end Pete Massaro, who ended his 2011 season with a spring ACL injury, is working on returning to the team, and O'Brien is looking forward to him being a factor on defense.
"He's had a good winter. Pete's a hard working guy, a Penn State guy and we're looking forward to having him on the field this spring," O'Brien said. "He's going to be hard to block."
Another player who saw his 2011 season end prematurely with an ACL injury, linebacker Mike Mauti, will not be participating in spring football activities. O'Brien said he does expect Mauti to be back on the field in the fall but said they will keep him out of the practices this spring as he continues to work back to 100 percent.
While quarterback Paul Jones is expected to participate in spring practices, running back Curtis Dukes will not. O'Brien mentioned that one of the back-ups to Silas Redd will concentrate on academics this spring but he is expected to return for the summer and fall.
O'Brien joked about how he is still adjusting to life in State College, and mentioned he is still living out of a suitcase at a nearby hotel. O'Brien says he is feeling good about being settled in as far as his job is concerned though, and mentions that he is feeling good about recruiting moving forward.
O'Brien reasserted the idea that he will be the one calling offensive plays. Quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher will handle the quarterbacks, and handle the quarterbacks when the offense is on the sideline. It is not decided if Fisher will be on the sideline or in the coaching box.
"Right now our job is to evaluate this football team and find out who our best players are and who is going to play the most in the fall," O'Brien said.
Full (raw) press conference video...