The snow keeps falling at Penn State. And the Nittany Lions have stayed stuck indoors for the spring. Compared to the hectic changes of last spring, however, the venue change hasn’t been much of a nuisance.
“I’m content being inside,” senior guard John Urschel said Wednesday before the team’s fifth practice of the spring. “I played in the snow enough in my Buffalo days (in high school).”
Despite being inside on the artificial turf at Holuba Hall instead of on the grass just outside of the hangar, the Lions are having an easier transition this offseason.
Much of that comes from having a firm grasp of the playbook, especially on offense.
“We’re miles ahead of where we were last year at this time,” said senior Adam Gress, the favorite to start at right tackle in the fall. “We’re running things we didn’t install until camp last year.”
The increased comfort level for players comes just as much from their familiarity with the coaches. It starts right up top with Bill O’Brien, who got a delayed start to the offseason last year as he shuttled back and forth between State College and New England, working with the Patriots through the Super Bowl.
Players said Wednesday that they’ve noticed a change in O’Brien himself as everyone gets back into the groove of practice.
“I just think he’s a little more laid back this spring,” linebacker Mike Hull said. “We’ve already been in the system a year. We know his expectations. We’re way ahead on schemes, and people aren’t hesitating, just going out and making plays.”
Hull and the defense, though, had an extra hurdle this spring as John Butler takes over as defensive coordinator. Butler is the team’s third full-time defensive boss in as many seasons, following Ted Roof and Tom Bradley before him.
Last season, the veterans on defense like Michael Mauti said the toughest part of the transition was having to learn all new terminology under Roof.
By all accounts, the language won’t change much under Butler.
“He’s doing a great job. He kept everything similar scheme-wise,” Hull said of Butler. “(Butler and Roof) are similar coaches and I don’t think much is going to change.”
Wednesday practice notes
• According to reporters in State College who were permitted to watch a brief portion of the Lions’ practice on Wednesday, quarterback Tyler Ferguson got the majority of reps with the first team during some light scrimmaging.
That, however, isn’t meant to be an indication that he is ahead of fellow signal-caller Steven Bench in the battle to replace Matt McGloin. Multiple Penn State players said the reps have been split evenly between the two during the first 10 days of spring ball.
• Tight-end-turned-tackle Garry Gilliam did not practice because of a calf injury. Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones was also limited.
• West Scranton’s Eric Shrive, who has worked this spring at tackle after alternating between tackle and guard in his career, spent Wednesday as the first-team left tackle. Returning starter Donovan Smith drilled with the second team and was held out of the scrimmage work.
• Wyoming Valley Conference fans anxious to see wideout Eugene Lewis in action may not have to wait long. Some space has opened up at wide receiver as rising sophomore Trevor Williams has been working with the defensive backs this spring.
Lewis and Williams both entered Penn State as receivers in 2012. Lewis redshirted while Williams played as a true freshman, catching 10 passes. The Lions have both starting receivers back for 2013 in Allen Robinson and Brandon Moseby-Felder, but Lewis would be in the mix for significant playing time in the fall with them.
Malik Golden, who also started out as a receiver while redshirting with Lewis last season, will be working on both offense and defense this spring, according to O’Brien.