Inspired O'Brien, Penn State look toward future


Inspired O'Brien, Penn State look toward future

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Back from the recruiting trail, Bill O'Brien returned to his Penn State office this week for one-on-one meetings with players and a sit-down with his staff about the roster.

Nearly a year after taking on the challenge of guiding the Nittany Lions, O'Brien has settled in quite nicely into the coach's corner suite at the football building.

``It was a very good start to a new era of Penn State football. Just like any season, you wish you had a few plays back,'' O'Brien said Tuesday in a phone interview with The Associated Press. ``At the end of the day, it seems like a successful season.''

Given unprecedented circumstances this season, an 8-4 record in 2012 can be considered a resounding success. Of course, every coach and player wants to win as many games as possible, so in that respect, the Nittany Lions are hardly satisfied.

But after a year in which the NCAA slammed the program with landmark sanctions, the team's blue-collar, never-say-die approach inspired a massive fan base looking to rally around players that had nothing to do with the child sex abuse scandal involving retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

The 24-21 win over Wisconsin in the season finale might have been the microcosm of the challenging year, a season that O'Brien sees as a blueprint for the future.

``It definitely would be a model from the standpoint of guys playing very physical, playing hard, practicing with great effort and for the most part playing good situational football,'' O'Brien said. ``It was a good start for us.''

O'Brien said he had a ``positive vibe'' after finishing up with the last of the individual meetings with about 85 players Monday. The initial focus, he said, was on making sure the Nittany Lions were getting ready for finals this week.

Graduation remains a priority at Penn State through the regime change from the late coach Joe Paterno. The American Football Coaches Association this week honored Penn State for its 91-percent graduation success rate, a program record. It was the 22nd time Penn State had received such an honor.

``I've said from Day 1, when you talk about the culture of football as it relates to the players, we've got a very good culture in terms of the balance of athletics and academics,'' O'Brien said. ``Do we have a bunch of valedictorians? No. But we have a bunch of kids who understand the meaning of hard work and the value of getting an education.''

O'Brien also isn't shy about laying out the challenges ahead.

Scholarship reductions are the most pressing issue. The NCAA sanctions in July limit Penn State's recruiting classes to no more than 15 a year for the next four years, starting with the 2013 class to be signed in early February. Most teams can sign 25.

The caveat is that a certain number of players who sign early and enroll in January will count against 2012 - for which there are no such scholarship limits. That means the 2013 class could have more than 15 signees.

Starting with the 2014 season, the Nittany Lions can only have 65 players on scholarship until after the 2017 season. The usual scholarship limit for major college teams is 85.

``As the years go, it's going to be difficult,'' O'Brien said. ``Look we don't have as many scholarship players as the teams we're playing.

``Those are the cards we've been dealt. We need a little bit of luck. But at the same time, we're going to continue to recruit high-character, high-quality guys.''

Still, recruiting appears to be going well. O'Brien is also optimistic about attracting high-quality walk-ons from Pennsylvania who will need to fill the depth chart. They're now called ``run-ons'' at Penn State because of the need to show hustle on the practice field.

``You never know until guys sign on the dotted line,'' O'Brien said. ``But we feel good with where we're at.''

Getting a strong corps of run-ons will require strong networking with Pennsylvania high school coaches, a collective relationship that O'Brien thinks is off to a good start. As an example, Penn State assistants were very visible at last weekend's state high school football finals in Hershey.

O'Brien himself even took in a game from the sideline - when he wasn't bombarded by high school assistants or other onlookers wanting to shake his hand.

``When you go out on the road and you see how much (the season) meant to people around the state, especially to win the last game, I think it was a good start,'' O'Brien said.

There's one more part of the job that no other coach has.

O'Brien also has to hang on to his own players, since the NCAA gave current Nittany Lions an opportunity to transfer and play right away because of the sanctions, instead of being forced to sit out the season.

The waiver period lasts until the start of the 2013 preseason in August. O'Brien said Tuesday that no one had left the team since the end of the 2012 campaign, and that he expected the roster to stay intact headed into spring practice in March.

Asked to assess the state of the program, O'Brien said his outlook has improved since the summer.

``When the sanctions came out, I was very concerned. But we went out and played hard, practiced hard and we won some games,'' he said. ``Every year is different.

``The 2013 team has to establish its own identity.''

It has a tough act to follow, too.


Follow Genaro Armas athttp://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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It's hard to tell after three games how the Wizards and Pacers would match up in the playoffs

It's hard to tell after three games how the Wizards and Pacers would match up in the playoffs

The Wizards crossed off an important goal on Saturday night by beating the Indiana Pacers and therefore securing the season series. If the teams tie with the same regular season record, the Wizards will get the higher playoff seed. As of today, that would mean home court advantage in the first round.

Though the Wizards have beaten the Pacers in two of their three matchups this season, we only know so much about how they would match up in the playoffs. The first game between them didn't feature Pacers All-Star Victor Oladipo and John Wall didn't play in any of the three games. The Pacers were without both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis on Saturday night.

Given the Pacers underwent so much change over the summer, there is no real data to go off of from before this season. They are a completely different team with Oladipo leading the way and Paul George now in Oklahoma City.


There are reasons to believe, however, that the Wizards would fare well against the Pacers over the course of a seven-game series. For one, they figured out how to slow Oladipo and his teammate Bojan Bogdanovic on Saturday night. Both had killed the Wizards in previous matchups.

Oladipo was held to 18 points, over five points below his season average of 23.5. He had four turnovers, shot 7-for-16 (43.7%) and finished a -18 in a game the Pacers lost by seven.

The Wizards had some success with Tomas Satoransky guarding Oladipo. Satoransky is 6-foot-7 with long arms. He was able to recover on several occasions to alter Oladipo's shots.

Satoransky and Bradley Beal also did a good job keeping pace with Oladipo on the fastbreak. The Pacers had only four fastbreak points in the game. Oladipo is especially dangerous in the open court.

“We just made sure that we were aggressive with him and made sure he saw a lot of bodies in the paint," Beal said. "The last game, he got a lot of easy ones in transition. We just made sure that we got back on the shot, loaded to the ball and forced the other guys to attack.”

For Bogdanovic, it was about limiting open shots from the perimeter. Bogdanovic had 11 points, three below his season average and had four turnovers. Beal and Otto Porter stripped Bogdanovic for steals and Marcin Gortat took a charge on one play in the third quarter.


But it was all about taking away the outside shot. Bogdanovic only hit one shot in the first half and it was a three. The only reason he got it off is because Kelly Oubre, Jr. lost his balance backing up. That gave Bogdanovic the window he needed. Otherwise, Oubre helped frustrate the former Wizards small forward. So did Gortat and Ian Mahinmi, who did a good job covering their teammates off screens.

The Pacers are an average offensive team, ranking 16th in points per game and 14th in offensive rating. They are better defensively, ranking ninth-best in opponents points per game and 12th in defensive efficiency.

If the Wizards can limit Oladipo and Bogdanovic, the Pacers' two leading scorers, they should have a good shot at beating the Pacers in the playoffs. Beyond them, the Pacers are thin in the scoring department. Turner only averages 13.6 points and no one else beyond him can consistently make an opposing defense pay for mistakes. Conversely, several Wizards players have given the Pacers major trouble through three games this season.

Gortat, who had 18 points and eight rebounds on Saturday, has averaged 13 points and eight rebounds on 57.7 percent shooting against Indiana. Kelly Oubre, Jr., who had 16 points in 18 minutes, has averaged 15.5 points and is shooting 50 percent from the field.


In addition to those guys, Markieff Morris, Porter, Mike Scott, Mahinmi and Satoransky are all shooting over 50 percent against the Pacers. Satoransky is shooting 71.4 percent through three games.

The Wizards have the pieces to counter what the Pacers do best. Indiana is seventh in three-point percentage, but the Wizards are the best team in basketball in opponents three-point percentage. The Pacers are built around an All-Star guard, but the Wizards have two All-Star guards. The Pacers have a collection of talented wing players, but so do the Wizards.

"Hypothetically, I do like Indiana," Beal said. "I like how we match up with Indiana and I feel like there is a lot of stuff that we can take advantage of. In a lot of categories, I think we can win them."

Add it all up and the Wizards have every reason to feel confident if they see the Pacers in the posteason. Keep that in mind because they very well could meet up in the spring.

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Need to Know: Looking ahead—Key Redskins 2019 free agents

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Need to Know: Looking ahead—Key Redskins 2019 free agents

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, March 18, 39 days before the NFL draft.  

Looking at next year’s free agents

There is still work that the Redskins can do in free agency and they still have some of their own players they want to retain. But with a lot of the player movement already in the books, we can take a look forward some of the key Redskin who currently are set to be free agents when the 2019 league year opens.

Note: I’m not including Brandon Scherff here because the team has a fifth-year option on him that they surely will activate before the May 2 deadline.

QB Colt McCoy (Week 1 age 32)—Lots of questions here. Will the Redskins want to keep him around for another year as Alex Smith’s backup? Or will they want a younger and cheaper backup? Will McCoy want to move on rather than back up another QB who doesn’t miss many games?

OL Ty Nsekhe (32)—The Redskins gave him a second-round restricted free agent tender this year so it’s possible that he could be gone or on a long-term contract in Washington. If he is a free agent, his value and the difficulty of retaining him could depend on if he ends the season as a reserve tackle (easy) or as a starting guard (hard).

OLB Preston Smith (25)—As we saw with Trent Murphy (three years, $21 million with up to $30 million), pass rushers get paid. Smith also makes big plays. Since Smith came into the NFL, he is the only player with at least 20 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. If the Redskins can’t reach a deal on an extension with him this year the franchise tag is a distinct possibility.

WR Jamison Crowder (25)—This year the supply of quality receivers both as free agents and in the draft sent contract prices skyrocketing. To guard against that happening next year, the Redskin should start talking to Crowder about an extension soon.

ILB Zach Vigil (27)—As I noted here, Vigil went from being cut in September to a very valuable reserve in November. Both Zach Brown and Mason Foster will still be under contract, but the Redskin still should make an effort to retain Vigil for special teams and as a capable backup.

Other Redskins who are slated to be UFA’s next year are DL Ziggy Hood and ILB Martrell Spaight.

It’s also worth noting that WR Maurice Harris and DE Anthony Lanier will both be restricted free agents next year. Both positions were pricey in free agency this year, so both could require at least second-round tenders, which likely will increase to about $3 million in 2019.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Regarding the reported visit of defensive lineman Jonathan Hankins with the Redskins:


Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 29
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 131
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 175

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