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April 9, 2014

Column: Far from absent

To no one's surprise, former Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien wasn't at Holuba Hall on Tuesday to take in his old Nittany Lions' pro day.

He wasn't there physically, anyway.

If the Houston Texans' head coach caught any of the coverage from the event in blustery Happy Valley, though, his significant influence from two years of intense work at the Lasch Building with these young men could not have been more apparent.

From their intricate details of physical improvement, to their great pains of self preservation, to their talk of "situational football" and a "pro-style" system, the comments of the 11 former Nittany Lions taking their shots at the next level bore more than a little resemblance to the head coach that brought the National Football League to University Park, Pa.

"I learned a whole lot about the game of football with Coach O'Brien. He taught us so much about the game and different situations," said linebacker Glenn Carson. "We practiced situational football all the time, so that's something that not so much helped me that much today, but is going to help me in a couple of months from now."

Whether through individual meetings with organization personnel on Tuesday or in anticipation of upcoming opportunities to travel to team sites that will litter the time between pro day, the NFL Draft in early May, and rookie minicamps at the end of the month, the Nittany Lions were unanimously confident in their preparedness for those interactions.

Offensively and defensively, concepts that are routinely utilized at the next level hadn't been taught at Penn State until O'Brien's arrival, said two-time Big Ten Receiver of the Year Allen Robinson.

"Coach O'Brien, he brought a pro-style system to Penn State and a lot of people don't actually know what that means," he said. "People just think it's like a run-pass balance, but it's not. It's different sight adjustments. When it's blitz, it's different things that you gotta do. If you gotta break hot, things that you have to do in different coverages. So it's a lot more that goes into it than just a run-pass balance. I think that puts me one step ahead of the game."

Certainly, the strictly-speaking football acumen was something Penn State's pro football-seeking players identified as being one of O'Brien's biggest influences, but there were other items that stood out as well.

Specifically, the all-encompassing idea of football as business seemed to resonate throughout the afternoon.

"Football is a business. You gotta be able to take care of your body and just know that if you go down, they're not going to wait for you to get back up. You just gotta know that stuff," said defensive tackle DaQuan Jones. "And the same thing when it comes down to a head coach leaving. I think we've learned from Coach O'Brien that it's a business and you really just gotta do what's best for you and your family and really just take care of yourself before anything else."

In fact, that very mindset helped lead offensive tackle Garry Gilliam to forgo his potential sixth year of eligibility at Penn State.

Choosing to attempt to maximize his potential earning as a professional football player, the hard-luck injuries of the tight end turned offensive lineman prompted Gilliam to seek out an opportunity at the next level while his body is still cooperating. This, of course, all while enjoying the fallback of future opportunities that will exist from holding not one, but two degrees from Penn State whenever his playing days are finished.

"I got my degrees. I had triple majors, finished two of them, almost finished the third. I got out healthy, so there was no point in trying to push an extra season and I'm already 23. I would have been 24 playing another season," Gilliam said. "So, your risk of injury gets a little bit higher. I'm healthy so I figured I'd take my shot now."

For as much fan interest exists as to whether or not O'Brien will select any of his former Nittany Lions in the draft or bring in a few undrafted free agents to a rookie minicamp, those transactions will need to play themselves out in the future.

In the meantime, following Tuesday's showing, there's little doubting the significant contributions O'Brien helped bring the Nittany Lions in preparing for their shots at the NFL.





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