New leader for veteran front 7 at Penn State
The new leader at ''Linebacker U.'' promises to turn up the defensive pressure.
But unlike what coach Bill O'Brien is doing in overhauling the offense, coordinator Ted Roof is just giving the Nittany Lions defense some tweaks.
It's a blend of new and old for the Penn State D. Roof is the new man in charge, replacing longtime assistant Tom Bradley.
But the faces and the core philosophy will be familiar in Happy Valley. Even the only two holdovers from the late Joe Paterno's staff work on the defense: line coach Larry Johnson and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden.
''It's still a 4-3 defense. The basics are still there,'' senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said at the team's media day this month. ''Just the way it's coached and the terms are still a little different than what we're used to.''
Better get up to speed soon: the season opener Sept. 1 against Ohio is less than two weeks away.
''They were very successful, and I respect that,'' Roof said about Penn State's defense under Bradley. ''But the main core is I want us to be aggressive. I want us to play fast. I want us to be physical.''
Schematically, that means more blitzing and disguised looks up front, a change from the ''bend-but-don't break'' philosophy espoused by Bradley and Paterno.
Roof came from Central Florida to Penn State in mid-January, about a week after O'Brien was hired to replace Paterno, who was fired by trustees in November in the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
He had only been with Central Florida for about a month after leaving Auburn following the regular season. Roof spent three seasons as the Tigers' defensive coordinator, including the 2010 national championship season when the Tigers finished ninth in rush defense. Roof was previously head coach at Duke, where O'Brien was offensive coordinator for two seasons.
Roof has fit in nicely at Penn State.
''Defense is defense. It's just how you move it,'' Johnson said. ''It's just terminology. Coach Roof has got a great system. ... We've been in a four-man front. That's easy. Our gaps haven't changed. It's terminology and we're all in a new playbook. That was the biggest thing to adjust to.''
But the adjustment has been made much easier by a front seven that O'Brien has called the strength of the team. It is high praise from a rookie head coach whose sole focus up to this point has been offense.
Hill will anchor a solid, experienced line, while linebacker - big surprise - will be the strength of the defense with athletic force Gerald Hodges and fiery leader Mike Mauti on the outside, and solid Glenn Carson on the inside.
Carson said some of the blitz looks could be ''pretty exotic. It's going to be way more of a chess match out there. We're really focused on studying film and knowing concepts.''
O'Brien likes what he sees so far, especially up front.
''That front seven up there ... that's a really good group for a front seven for a college football team,'' O'Brien said at practice Tuesday. ''So we expect those guys to play well. Maybe it's putting pressure on them for me to say that. I'm sure they would accept the challenge.''
It is in the secondary where things could get interesting early, at least because of injury concerns. The projected starting safety duo of Jake Fagnano (hamstring) and Malcolm Willis (right ankle) has missed some time this preseason, with O'Brien saying that Fagnano's injury is the more serious of the two.
Stephen Morris and Adrian Amos have the corner positions locked up, though Amos might have to shift to safety if Fagnano misses extensive time.
''You can expect Amos to be in any position on defense except the defensive line,'' O'Brien said.
More reps could also become available for freshmen defensive backs like Da'Quan Davis and Jordan Lucas. Perhaps that is why Roof stressed a mastery of concepts when asked about the complexity of the new defensive playbook.
''The complex? I don't what level that is. I do know we have to be able to teach concepts and they have to be able to execute,'' he said. ''Because to do all this stuff and not be able to execute is no good ... That's why it takes time.''
In Roof's last year at Auburn, a young Tigers unit was 78th in total defense (406 yards per game) and 79th in scoring (29.3 points per game) before he departed for Central Florida.
Notes: Receiver Shawney Kersey has missed time recently with a left ankle injury. Tight end Garry Gilliam sat out practice Tuesday after tweaking his quad Monday. O'Brien said both injuries were minor. ... Right tackle is now up for grabs. Junior Adam Gress had been atop the depth chart in the offseason, but O'Brien said senior Mike Farrell has had a good enough camp to challenge Gress. ... O'Brien said Derek Day is in the lead to back up starting tailback Bill Belton.
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