The Nittany Lions have completed the first 10 of 15 practices this spring. The biggest questions surrounding the squad revolve around the brand new set of starting wide receivers and defensive backs that will take the field next season. Today, redshirt junior wideout Brett Brackett assessed the progress at both positions.
Check out the entire transcript from Brackett's conference call with the media this morning below!
*** Transcript ***
What do you think the biggest challenge for the wideouts has been this spring and how do you feel like you guys have handled it so far?
I think the biggest difference is not having Deon, Derrick and Jordan there. The past two years, they've been there kind of telling us the ins and outs of things. This year, it's kind of been a younger group of guys that have had to step up and be leaders, helping out younger guys and being confident in themselves. But, I think we're really handling the role very well and making a lot of progress.
How has your role changed in that regard?
It's kind of been like a role reversal. Like last year, me and Zug would ask Derrick, Deon and Jordan about little things or how to do this or how to do that. And now, we've played a little bit and we're probably the most experienced guys so we're expected to know all this stuff and the younger guys are the ones asking us. So, it's kind of just been like a role reversal.
What are the challenges involved with the Spread HD, especially now that you have a more defined role?
I think the thing about our offense is that any of the receivers can play any of the spots. Last year, I had a little less of a role but I've gotten to know every position and the ins and outs of them. I think having a little bit of a tougher role this year, obviously it will be a little more challenging but I think I'm ready to step up in this situation. Coach really does a good job of putting us in the right places at the right times to make plays. It just comes down to us to make plays so I really like the challenge.
Can you evaluate the springs of the quarterbacks behind Daryll Clark, especially Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin? What have you seen from them and have they been divyying up the second-team reps?
Yeah they have. Throughout the spring, we were kind of throwing on our own and now that it's spring ball, you can see a lot of confidence growing in them. In the beginning, it might have been a little shakey because Kevin, he's still kind of a senior in high school and Matt's a walk-on who hasn't really had much experience. But Daryll has done a great job taking them under his wings and really talking through reads and everything down to just calming them down and getting them to relax and make some good throws. But, they've made a lot of progress. They're splitting their time and both of them have great characteristics and they're making plays. They're obviously having a little trouble but they're getting through it which is what you like to see.
How often did you guys get together with Daryll to throw over the winter?
We do it a couple times a week around our classes. That's just a great time for us to get together and work on our timing and get to know each other really well and kind of get a feel for what each other is going to do in certain situations. We kind of embrace that time because it's kind of hectic when you're doing it in the middle of spring ball. You should probably already have that timing down at that point so it's nice to kind of just get out there on your own with no coaches and just work on those kinds of things.
Would you be part of that last year when the other group of receivers was still there?
Yeah, we tried to get as many guys out as possible because that's a great time to learn so you're not learning on the fly during spring ball. Even the incoming freshmen and all the young guys, we tried to get them out there.
You lose three of the top receivers in school history so I'm sure you can understand why there's a lot of question marks and speculation from people wondering how good the wideouts are going to be. Can you try to give people a feel for how good you guys you might be to calm some of the concerns people might have?
Of course. I think we've got some very, very talented wide receiving corps. We've got guys that are big. We've got bigger guys than we had last year that can run, that can catch, who run really good routes. We have Chaz Powell who stepped in and has blazing speed. His hands have improved drastically from last year. Graham Zug just runs awesome routes. Catches the ball every time in tough situations. Guys like Derek Moye, James McDonald, Pat Mauti... you name them. A couple guys that have been around, a couple guys that are young but have made some plays and are capable of making plays. Derek Moye has a combination of size and speed that you don't see very often. I just think we have a lot of guys like James McDonald and Pat Mauti that have been around and know the program, know the system and can get it done.
All summer I'm sure you'll read about the wide receiving corps being a question mark. Will that serve as motivation to prove you're a pretty good group as well?
Oh, without a doubt. Anytime somebody doubts you, it definitely serves as motivation. Plus, as wide receivers, we're very confident in our abilities. All we want is a place to shine and show our abilities and let people know that we're the real deal.
Can you say who would replace who?
Kind of yes and kind of no. The thing I like about all of us is we all kind of rotate and we can all kind of play each position. From the basic standpoint, I think the Chaz Powell is sort of filling in for a Derrick Williams. Graham Zug and James McDonald and Mauti are kind of playing where Jordan was. And, myself and Derek Moye are kind of playing the spot where Deon Butler is. But, that's kind of like a base thing but we do like to rotate a lot so it kind of changes up.
What did the Rose Bowl loss do for your mindset coming into this season?
That loss kind of hurt because it wasn't just any other loss. We really expected to go out there and show our ability. We were really happy to come away from the Big Ten with a championship and wanted to show that the Big Ten could play football. Going into that whole thing, all they talked about was how USC just annihilated Ohio State and played Michigan. We were trying to represent the Big Ten and it kind of stung us to fall short of what we expected of ourselves. So, knowing that, coming into this season, we really strive for just every little bit of perfection we can do. During running drills, run through the line. Just, every little thing we can work on to get better so that when we get in that position again, we don't make the same mistake twice.
What was the biggest thing you learned from playing behind Derrick, Deon and Jordan?
Wow, there's a lot of things I learned. To narrow it down to the biggest thing... I'd probably say the biggest thing I learned from them is just to not worry about anything and your job is to catch the football. You do whatever you gotta do to catch the football. I think, obviously intracacies of running routes are big but zoning everything else out and just making plays and not worrying about anything else I think is the biggest thing, mentally and physically.
When Daryll was working with the receivers two winters ago, was it mostly with Deon, Derrick and Jordan or did you guys get reps there too?
Yeah, we definitely got reps in those situations but when it came to the first team reps and stuff like that, it was Derrick, Deon and Jordan. But, there were times where they had class or couldn't come so we were able to fill in for them then. Even while they were there, they rotated and we got our reps because that's a great time where to learn how to do things and it's a great time for young guys to learn so it's not on the fly like during spring ball.
Are the first team reps being split up? Are a lot of guys getting different looks and if so, do you anticipate that's what maybe the coaches would like to do during the season, rotating a lot of guys in?
Yeah, I mean, I think even when they were there, me and Graham saw a good amount of time when they were there and I think the reason they're doing that this spring is because we really don't have any guys coming back that are definitive, big-time players that you know are definitely going to be the guys you'll have on the field. So I think they're really trying to see right now in the spring who can play and who can battle through a little bit of soreness from getting hit all the time and who can just be mentally tough and make plays and all that kind of stuff. So, I think now is kind of the time for coach to sit back and evaluate us as players so he knows what he has going into camp. I think they'll definitely narrow it down when it comes to camp so we know who his main guys are. But, just like it's been in the past, I'm almost positive we're going to rotate too.
How much of a challenge is it for the younger guys to learn all the intracacies of the offense?
I think one of the good things about the offense is that it's not overly complicated to learn. There's a lot of different aspects of it. But, with the verbage and the older guys helping out, it kind of starts to click and it takes a little bit of time but like I said, with the winter workouts and with spring ball, the younger guys are asking older guys questions and just kind of learning. It gets picked up fairly easily and I think that's a tribute to the coaches, simplifiying it for us until it starts to pick up and then learning as we go. But, I think the younger guys do a really good job of picking it up and asking questions when they have questions instead of just running around like they don't know what's going on.
How have the defensive backs looked from your end?
Since I've been here we've had a lot of good corners. Justin King and Lydell Sargeant and Tony Davis are some of a few in the years past that we've played with. I think that this secondary definitely has the ability to be probably one of the best secondaries we've had. There's a lot of guys who have physical ability beyond belief and they're just kind of scratching the surface right now and coach is really trying to focus on getting their ability to the forefront and making them as good as they can be. And there's guys like A.J. Wallace who is just a freak athlete. He's a big guy, he runs very well, also makes plays. Guys like D'Anton Lynn and Knowledge Timmons, who both have size and speed that can make plays. Even the safeties, we have a lot of talent at safety. It's all just going to be who steps up and who makes plays, who's going to be out there on the field on Saturdays.
What have you seen from some of the safeties as they try to replace Scirrotto and Rubin?
I think with the safeties, I've been really impressed with guys like Drew Astorino. He's just got an uncanny knack for finding the ball. He's a very good athlete back there and he plays the position very well. Then there's guys like Andrew Dailey and Nick Sukay and even Gerald Hodges who aren't afraid to make plays back there. They're not going to be afraid. They're not going to shy away from a hit. They're not going to be afraid to make plays and I've been really impressed with their ability to find the ball and just be around the ball and make plays.
Who are the fastest guys on the team?
I think in regards to the fastest guys on the team, in the timings we had at the combine we had ourselves in the spring. There were a lot of guys that were up real close to the 4.4, 4.3 range and Chaz Powell was right in there, Knowledge TImmons was right in there... even Derek Moye I think was in the 4.4s. He's got a lot of surprising speed for his size. Some of the defensive backs like D'Anton Lynn and A.J. Wallace, they ran pretty good times. But for the fastest, I'd probably put it up between Chaz Powell and Knowledge Timmons.
Do you ever take throws anymore?
It's been on rare occasions. Coach mentions it sometimes that he'd like to see me take a couple of snaps but when it comes down to it, it's only been on rare occasions.
When would those rare occasions be?
Like if we're doing one-on-ones in practice and I've already been through the rounds a couple of times, coach will say, Hey why don't you go throw it a couple of times? But, that hsasn't even been in spring practice. I don't think I've thrown a pass during spring ball. That was just during winter workouts and stuff like that.
What do you think some of the differences are between your game now and your game in the spring of 2007 when you were first moving over to receiver?
That was a funny time. I think there's a huge difference in my game now and my game then. I'm a lot more confident in what I do. I actually know what's going on now and I use my size to my advantage now, being able to overpower corners. My size is a lot bigger than them. I've gotten quicker, a lot quicker, in and out of my breaks off the line of scrimmage, and I feel like I'm just a lot more confident making plays.
What was funny about it?
The funny part about it was, I came in as a quarterback, I played quarterback all through high school and playing quarterback... what I didn't realize, is a whole lot different than playing any other position on the field. You have to be a lot more physical. I think you have to know what's going on and at quarterback, obviously you have to know everything that's going on on the field but even the wide receivers, you gotta play fast, you gotta make plays and some of these guys like Deon, Jordan and Derrick made it look really easy when I first switched to receiver. They almost made it look too easy and I was almost just overwhelmed by just playing with them. Thanks to those guys... it's really gotten a lot easier. It's still tough but little things have gotten easier at understanding how to play receiver and stuff like that.
How has Daryll changed from this year to last year?
Daryll compared to last year has really been focusing on timing with the receivers. He did that a lot last year but I feel like a big focus on him with his timing, making sure the ball is out on time, making sure he's being a leader, making sure he's talking to the entire offense in the huddle and being the commander in chief. He's doing a really good job at taking over that role. He's our offensive leader and he's going to be the one we lean on to make plays. He did it last year and we expect it again this year. He definitely expects a lot out of the wideouts. He's working on his game and he demands us to keep up with him.