Coach Bill O’Brien confident rest of Penn State team will stay

By Stephen Pianovich

There has obviously been a lot of attention paid to the nine players who have transferred from Penn State in the last 10 days, but Bill O’Brien is much more concerned with the 103 players left on the team.

“People have talked to me a lot about the kids that have left, and that’s fine,” O’Brien, the first-year head football coach, said. “And I respect those guys, they made individual decisions. But I think we have to start focusing, like I’ve said all along, on the kids that are here.”

Though Penn State has lost some key members off its roster as recently as Saturday, O’Brien — who was speaking after the team’s first practice of training camp Monday — doesn’t think any more players will jump ship.

“I’m very confident that the guys that are here today are committed, and again, it’s day to day. But I’m confident in these guys, they got up at 5:15 this morning and they came out and practiced. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t pretty, but there were some good plays out here and we just have to keep getting better.”

The two most notable losses for the Nittany Lions were those of Silas Redd and Justin Brown, who would’ve been the team’s leading returning rusher and receiver, respectively. Redd ran for 1,241 yards along with seven touchdowns last season, and has landed at Southern California. Meanwhile, Brown, who is now on Oklahoma’s roster, caught 35 balls for 517 yards and two touchdowns a season ago.

Now O’Brien has to turn to players who were in backup roles just weeks ago to step up and be more productive.
In Brown’s absence, Shawney Kersey and Allen Robinson — who were listed at co-starters at one wide receiver position on a depth chart O’Brien issued in June — are expected to get more looks.

Though Redd is gone, O’Brien said the offense isn’t going to be revamped as sophomore Bill Belton takes over as the Lions’ top running back.

“You don’t have to retool everything, you know, next man up,” O’Brien said. “It’s Billy Belton’s time to shine and like I said, he came out here today ready to go, and I expect him to do that every day. He’s a good football player, and he was going to play this year. So, it’s definitely going to affect the depth a little bit, but we’re not retooling everything because one player left. This is about a whole team, not just one player.”

Behind Belton, Derek Day is practicing with the second team offense at tailback on Monday, and Curtis Dukes was with the third unit.

Other impact players the Lions lost include kicker/punter Anthony Fera, linebacker Khairi Fortt and quarterback Rob Bolden.

The nine transfers leave Penn State with 85 returning players along with 18 incoming freshmen. O’Brien said the players that stayed, especially the upperclassmen, have a sense of togetherness.

“I felt good about our football team, I felt good about their commitment to themselves, to each other, to our coaching staff and to this university,” O’Brien said. “So, at the end of the day, I felt really good about keeping this team together. I know some guys left, but that’s OK, that was their individual decision, we respect that decision, but we’re moving forward with this football team.”

O’Brien noted there were no significant injuries as of Monday, but both offensive tackle Donovan Smith and safety Jacob Fagnano were dealing with hamstring issues.

Many people have speculated how Penn State’s record would be impacted by the transfers and have guessed how many wins and losses the team would have this season after the nine players left.

O’Brien isn’t one of those people.

“I’m not going to get into predictions, but I just want us to go out there and play mistake-free football, play tough football, I want us to compete and I want go out there with the expectation to win every single game,” O’Brien said. “We take it as 12 one-game seasons and you know, when November rolls around, we’ll see where we’re at. But right now, we’re working really hard to get to that point.”

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