O’Brien sets new tone for PSU workout routine

Heavy metal music blared from speakers across the Penn State

practice field before a pre-dawn workout, the throbbing bass beats

echoing off nearby campus buildings.

Indeed, it is a new world in Happy Valley.

Bill O’Brien is setting his own tone barely two months into his

tenure as Nittany Lions head coach – though apparently he left the

choice of tunes to his players.

”We’ve got to talk about that. I love music, but not that kind

of music,” O’Brien joked before a recent early-morning team

workout. ”I’ll bring my iPod out here.”

The most noticeable sounds at practice once belonged to

O’Brien’s predecessor, the late Joe Paterno, whose distinct voice

pitched higher when he got angry.

More importantly – when it comes to how the new offseason

strength and conditioning routine might affect the product on the

field – is the change in the weight room under O’Brien.

Paterno favored a ”high intensity” training program with an

emphasis on endurance. Players hit the exercise machines, hard.

This past season, in fact, Paterno placed an emphasis on

conditioning to help answer a spate of injuries in 2010.

Those machines are now gone, though, from the weight room at the

Lasch Football Building. Instead, O’Brien hired a strength coach,

Craig Fitzgerald, whose program focuses more on free weights,

Olympic-style lifting and squats. Fitzgerald calls the philosophy

”all-inclusive,” and features speed, agility, explosiveness and

”football-related flexibility.”

It’s a welcome change for the most vocal critics of the

offseason program among Penn State’s fervent fans, though the

workout philosophy itself is fairly common.

But after Paterno’s 46-year tenure, even the most minor changes

are bound to be noticed.

”It’s not new to me,” O’Brien said. ”We want players that are

moving and play fast, that are in great condition and can play at a

high tempo next year … We want to move weight. That’s very

important.”

The high-energy Fitzgerald might be the perfect assistant to

keep time. He’s a bundle of energy as he barks out instructions in

the weight room.

Fitzgerald praised the previous staff for molding disciplined

players who are usually early for workouts or team events. In the

old regime, the team had an unspoken rule of keeping ”Paterno

Time,” or regularly showing up early for appointments.

Paterno’s offseason program, though, didn’t appear to put a

premium on preparing players for the NFL.

The next level of football may not necessarily be a main focus

of the new Penn State program, either, though O’Brien did just

spend the last five seasons as an assistant for the New England

Patriots. Most recently, he coordinated the potent offense while

serving as the position coach for star quarterback Tom Brady in the

Patriots’ run to the Super Bowl this month. New England lost to the

New York Giants, 21-17.

But that’s in the past.

Now, O’Brien is more focused on his team perfecting power clean

lifts, which involve lifting a weighted barbell off the floor while

hunched over at the hip up to the shoulders while standing.

It just sounds difficult.

When asked about the importance of the technique, now a regular

part of Penn State’s workout regime, Fitzgerald said it helped

develop players’ explosiveness on the field.

”There’s a good carryover,” he said. ”It carries over to your

vertical jump testing and broad jump testing. And that’s what (in)

the NFL, it seems important to test, to see if a guy can play at

your level.”

The weight room workouts followed the early-morning conditioning

drills on the outdoor practice field with temperatures in the 30s –

another new wrinkle, as is the added level of competitiveness that

O’Brien is trying to instill … even in the offseason.

The outdoor portion ended with Fitzgerald pulling out a

cylindrical blue contraption with handles he called ”the tug.”

Two players -one from the offense and one from the defense – lined

up at the 5-yard line on either side of the tug. The offensive

player won if he pushed the contraption over the goal line. The

defender won if he pulled it to the 10.

”It’s about camaraderie. It’s about getting better,” O’Brien

said about the offseason philosophy. ”It didn’t always look fun

out here this morning.

”But it’s been a good start.”