Optimistic offseason for O'Brien, Penn State


Optimistic offseason for O'Brien, Penn State

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Star linebacker Michael Mauti's college football career had just come to an end in November when he spotted the next generation of Penn State football players.

So, he decided to do what Mauti had done time and again during his Nittany Lions career: He helped others, and imparted some inspirational words along the way.

Adam Breneman, one of the top tight end prospects in the country, is one of them, and he listened intently. Mauti indeed passed the torch of leadership to Breneman and some other high school seniors on recruiting trips to Happy Valley that day, setting the tone for a critical offseason at Penn State.

Indeed, there is no bowl game to rally around this season. No sunny destination dancing around in the Nittany Lions' heads. No fun-filled reward for all of their hard work in this season of recovery at Penn State.

But there is hope. There is optimism. And there is Year 2 of the Coach Bill O'Brien era to sculpt.

No better time than the present.

Under O'Brien, Penn State finished an overachieving 8-4 with a second-place finish in the Big Ten Leaders Division. The Nittany Lions went 6-2 in conference, and likely would have been a lock for a New Year's Day bowl game. As it is, Penn State is not in a bowl for the first time in eight seasons.

But there is much to build on. An emotional 24-21 overtime win, for instance, over Wisconsin in the finale sent the program into the offseason on a high note.

And O'Brien will need that in his first full offseason to secure a recruiting class amid scholarship cuts. The sanctions - levied in July for the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal - 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. There is also a four-year postseason ban to digest.

O'Brien will also need to find new leaders. Mauti was one of a group of seniors who helped keep most of the team together in the frenzied weeks after the NCAA announced the punishment.

Breneman, a highly touted senior from Cedar Cliff High in Camp Hill, Pa., has a chance to be in that leadership mix someday. He has been part of a contingent of recruits who have been vocal about keeping their commitments despite the penalties.

``Now, it's our turn to come in, and, in a couple years, lead the program,'' Breneman said recently, recounting Mauti's postgame words to him. ``That was definitely very motivating to talk to him.

``It's a huge thing. Big shoes to follow up.''

Breneman, coming off a right knee injury that sidelined him for his senior season, plans to enroll at Penn State in January after finishing his prep work a semester early. That will enable him to participate in spring practice.

There's an extra benefit for Penn State if players officially join the program in January, instead of waiting until early February to declare their college choices. January enrollees count against 2012, when there are no scholarship limits. That means the 2013 team could have more 15 new scholarship players while still meeting the NCAA sanction guidelines.

So far, recruiting has been good, especially given the unprecedented circumstances of the past year. Joining Breneman in January will be junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson, a quarterback who figures to compete with Steven Bench now that record-setting starter Matt McGloin is out of eligibility.

Penn State also has a verbal commitment from blue-chip quarterback prospect Christian Hackenberg of Virginia, though he is not expected to join the team until this summer.

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

As for the current Nittany Lions, NCAA rules prevent coaches from overseeing offseason workouts, though coaches can determine what areas need to be improved in the ramp up to March and spring practice. O'Brien said his coaching staff is looking at improving flexibility and speed, while reducing body fat and creating more muscle mass.

``Is there a disadvantage to not having bowl practice? Certainly,'' O'Brien said. ``But there's also the advantage of not having them.''

In that respect, O'Brien said, that means concentrating on academics to finish the semester. One-on-one meetings with players focus on grades and requirements for majors these days, as well as ``how can they improve in football and in their role on the team,'' he said.

Unofficially, players can get together on their own for workouts. That will be especially important in the passing game, for instance, with a bevy of returning receivers. Record-setting wideout Allen Robinson, for example, has to get acclimated to a new starting quarterback.

For McGloin, this is a bittersweet time. Surely, he will miss being on the field, but he can also walk away knowing he did all he could in his final season. For now, he's busy handing the leadership responsibilities on offense to Bench - the only scholarship quarterback on the team.

``I've told Steven, it's not my team any more. You have to take over, you have to manage stuff,'' McGloin said this month. ``He knows that. I'll be around helping him out, getting ready to take over.''

Mauti is moving on, too, after a left knee injury sidelined him for the season finale against the Badgers. His father, Rich - himself a former Nittany Lion - has declined to offer more detail on his son's injury. But he did say that the younger Mauti was going to get back into shape and will prepare for the NFL draft closer to home in New Orleans.

But the work he'll leave behind in State College will never be forgotten. After a draining 2012 season - both emotionally and physically - Michael Mauti will clearly be known in Penn State annals as one of the program's best leaders.

``It's been a great experience up there,'' Rich Mauti said. ``It's just time to move on.''


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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Free agency frenzy

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Free agency frenzy

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, March 17, 40 days before the NFL draft.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington.

Redskins and NFL free agency tracker—I started this a week ago today and it grew to 3,500 words. The problem was there wasn’t much to add by the time that free agency actually started at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. The legal tampering period or, as I dubbed it to avoid an oxymoron being used, the “permitted tampering-like activities period” was when all of the news happened. By the time actual free agency opened on Wednesday afternoon it pretty much was all over. Thanks to those of you who followed along.

Zach Brown agrees to terms with Redskins, per source—Since Kirk Cousins’ departure was a foregone conclusion, Brown was the Redskins’ most important free agent. His retention provides continuity in the defense and that will benefit both the team and Brown. His contract (preliminary numbers three years, $24 million) showed that the Redskins are willing to invest some money in the inside linebacker spot for the first time since Joe Gibbs brought in London Fletcher to play middle linebacker in 2007.

Report: Kirk Cousins to sign epic new deal with Vikings—We heard you, folks. The collective voice of the fans who visit NBC Sports Washington on a regular basis let us know that you were not interested in a lot of posts about the Cousins saga that was unfolding in Minnesota. So this was one of very few articles on Cousins that we posted even though Cousins posts have been popular, but with the vast majority of traffic coming from out of town. So, you’re welcome. It should be noted that we will write about Cousins in the future but infrequently.

Redskins officially announce 5-year deal with WR Richardson—He was the opening act for the Alex Smith press conference, and he handled himself very well. If Richardson is even moderately successful I think he will be a major fan favorite.  

Tweet of the week

Here is what fans need to know—a team can afford to do virtually anything it wants in free agency in a given year. If they wanted to the Redskins could restructure deals and sign all of their free agents to contracts that have very small first-year cap hits, creating room to sign the Honey Badger or Suh. The problems come in later years when the cap space you pushed back starts to pile up. The Redskins generally do squeeze free agent contracts into relatively small cap spaces. For example, Richardson’s deal average $8 million per year but the 2018 cap hit is just $4 million. But they don’t like to restructure deals to push money back into later years. That created problems during the Vinny Cerrato years.

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


Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 30
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 132
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 176

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Wizards vs. Pacers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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Wizards vs. Pacers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, Bojan Bogdanovic and the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:


Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (pregame coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Live stream:
Radio: 1500 AM

Season series on the line

The Wizards and Pacers square off for the third and final time this season on Saturday night and the game will represent the tiebreaker for the season series. The Wizards beat the Pacers in their first meeting on Feb. 5 and Indiana then got even on March 4. The first game did not feature Victor Oladipo. John Wall didn't play in either of them.

Whichever team wins on Saturday night will own the playoff tiebreaker, meaning that team will get the better seed in the even they finish with the same regular season record. Right now only one game separates the teams, so that could definitely come into play. With a win over the Pacers, the Wizards could also move into third place in the East. They would tie the Pacers by record and own the head-to-head series. The one variable there is the Cavs play the Bulls on Saturday. If they win and the Pacers lose, the Cavs will be in third.


Wizards have been struggling

The Wizards won their last game on the road against the Celtics, but have lost five of their last eight overall. They remain in good shape in the big picture, but could use some positive momentum. A win over the Pacers would certainly give them that with three off days awaiting on the other end before they head out to San Antonio to face the Spurs.

Defense has been the problem. During this eight-game stretch, they have allowed the second-most points in the paint per game (53.8), the ninth-most points per game (111.0) overall and the fourth-highest opponents shooting percentage (49.3). 


Pacers are tough

The Pacers may be missing two of their best big men on Saturday as Domantas Sabonis has been ruled out and Myles Turner is questionable. Both are nursing sprained left ankles. That bodes well for the Wizards' defense in the paint, but Indiana still has plenty of firepower.

Oladipo is having a terrific season with averages of 23.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game. There's also Bojan Bogdanovic, a former Wizards player who is averaging 14.0 points and shooting 46.9 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from three this year. Bogdanovic has scored 20 points or more in each of his games against the Wizards this season. The Pacers as a team have won six of their last eight.


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