Tuesdays with O'Brien

September, 4, 2012
9/04/12
5:25
PM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Nine players might have transferred from Penn State and the roster might be slimmer than ever, but Bill O'Brien swore at Tuesday's news conference this team contains no walk-ons.

No, O'Brien said while chewing gum, this team has "run-ons."

"I know that goes against everybody's term for non-scholarship players over the last 100 years of college football," O'Brien said with a smile, "but that's just our term for them. ...

"These guys don't walk, they run on the field. They sprint on the field. They bust their butts on the field."

O'Brien's staff has placed an increased emphasis on "run-ons" this season. They've turned to several former walk-ons -- Derek Day, Matt McGloin, Matt Lehman -- to spark the offense, and they've tried to unearth future "run-ons" by visiting in-state high schools that haven't produced an FBS player in 25 years.

O'Brien said Tuesday that he's hoping his "run-on" program sends a loud message to high school recruits in Pennsylvania.

"High school players can really look at that and say, 'Here's a place I've grown up loving, and I've always wanted to play there, and here's my opportunity,' " he said. "I think there's no doubt, hopefully, that resonates with kids in Pennsylvania."

"Run-on" isn't the only new term the first-year head coach has coined. Scout teams and foreign teams are gone, too. They're now referred to as the "Dirty Show," something O'Brien admittedly stole from the New England Patriots.

Instead of chastising the offense when the defensive scout team makes a play, the "Dirty Show" will celebrate and maybe spike a ball as coaches congratulate them.

"Coach O'Brien is a positive thinker the way he goes about everything," fullback Michael Zordich said. "Nobody really likes to be called the foreign team or scout team or walk-on because it feels like they just came and nobody wanted them here -- which is far from the truth."

Kick returners: The official depth chart listed Bill Belton and Adrian Amos as the starters, while linebacker Gerald Hodges and wideout Alex Kenney were the backups.

But, O'Brien said, he wasn't so sure his All-Big Ten linebacker would return kicks Saturday. Hodges fumbled one punt, caught another punt with his hands above his head and returned the opening kickoff out of the end zone to the 12-yard line.

"He's an excellent athlete. He caught every one in practice, but that's a lot on his plate," O'Brien said. "His main role is obviously as our outside linebacker, so he might or might not be back there."

Open competition at punter: Alex Butterworth averaged just 35.8 yards on five punts Saturday, so O'Brien said the punting job will be a week-to-week battle. Joe Baker and Reynolds Parthemore are the other two punters listed on the roster.

"It's not good enough," he said. "Everybody knows that."

Redshirt?: Akeel Lynch is a true freshman who has impressed this coaching staff, but O'Brien said the staff is still trying to balance a few things with his playing time.

"The decision you have to make there is just like with any freshman," he said. "If you're going to play those guys, then you better play them. So we're going to see how practice goes this week with Akeel and make a decision later in the week."

If Bill Belton can't go Saturday, Lynch could be called into action.

Sticking with McGloin: O'Brien dismissed any talk of a quarterback controversy by reiterating that McGloin will remain the team's QB1. O'Brien was asked if Paul Jones might make an appearance against Virginia:

"Paul has made a lot of improvement but, right now, we're going to stick with one guy," O'Brien said.

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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