It's back to work for O'Brien, surging Penn State

It's back to work for O'Brien, surging Penn State

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Bill O'Brien allowed himself to relax a little for his first weekend without a football game in nearly two months - but only briefly.

So after taking his wife out for a nice dinner, it was back to the work - bright and early - the next day for Penn State's coach. Following a well-earned off week, the Nittany Lions want to keep the momentum of a four-game winning streak rolling into this weekend's tough trip to Iowa.

``Our team needs to understand that, that it's one thing to have a bye week,'' O'Brien said Tuesday. ``But it's a whole other thing to be playing a team like Iowa, and we've got to try to go out here and practice and be precise and practice hard with great effort every day.''

His players seemed to have heeded the message, even the younger Nittany Lions thrust into starting jobs who have never played such prominent roles before this season.

``We're not leaving any stuff on the field, and taking the approach of six one-game seasons,'' sophomore receiver Allen Robinson said.

Both Penn State and Iowa enter this weekend's tilt with identical records (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten). A win Saturday for Penn State, coupled with a victory by No. 7 Ohio State over Purdue, would set up a high-stakes showdown on Oct. 27 between the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes for first place in the Leaders Division.

But O'Brien has schooled his players well. While they appreciate the kind words, they're ignoring the feel-good narrative that has emerged from the four-game winning streak for a rebuilding program that been mired for months in scandal.

That storyline may disappear if Penn State can't snap its four-game losing streak to Iowa in Iowa City. The Nittany Lions haven't won there since a 31-7 victory in 1999.

``This is the meat of the schedule, a very tough schedule, starting with an excellent Iowa football team,'' O'Brien said. ``It's nice, we respect the recognition ... but it's much more important to focus on the opponent.''

If the first half of the season is any indication, the Nittany Lions won't have a problem getting motivated for Saturday. The NCAA took away any shot at the postseason because of sanctions related to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, so these players treat every game like it's a bowl game.

Senior leaders like standout linebacker Michael Mauti and fullback Michael Zordich have set the every-second-counts tone. But O'Brien has also received strong first-half performances from the sophomore Robinson (Big Ten-best seven receiving TDs); and redshirt freshman tight end Kyle Carter, the team's second-leading receiver with 23 catches for 279 yards and a score.

``What's impressed me is the poise, the ability to focus ... and the ability to understand the task at hand,'' O'Brien said. ``We've got a bunch of guys here who understand there are certain things you can't control.

``Let's do the things we can control and try to get better at those.''

Carter this week was named to the John Mackey Award midseason watch list, the only freshman to be named a candidate for the postseason award for the best collegiate tight end. They're two of a group of Nittany Lions who have nicknamed themselves the ``Supa Six,'' with the other members being cornerback Adrian Amos, left tackle Donovan Smith, tailback Bill Belton and defensive end Deion Barnes.

All six players have played big roles in O'Brien's considerable rebuilding program.

``That's what you work for,'' Amos said. ``It's our job to make an impact.''

O'Brien said neither he, nor his team, care about individual honors, though the coach didn't pass up an opportunity to lobby for his players, though. Mauti and fellow linebacker Gerald Hodges, along with defensive tackle Jordan Hill, were left off the midseason list of the Top 25 candidates for the Rotary Lombardi Award, given each postseason to the nation's top college lineman or linebacker.

Mauti, Hodges and Hill are the key cogs on one of the Big Ten's top defenses.

``But I do think that there's a certain amount of ridiculousness that a guy like Mike Mauti or Gerald Hodges or Jordan Hill, those three guys defensively aren't on,'' O'Brien said when asked about the omissions. ``I can't imagine that there (are) many linebackers or defensive linemen in the country better than those guys.''

O'Brien also singled out middle linebacker Glenn Carson for his first-half play. He said he didn't know how the awards process worked, but that he thought the lists should be released after the season instead of in the middle of the year.

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Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

USA Today Sports

Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

The Ravens have reportedly agreed in principle to a new contract extension with head coach John Harbaugh, a move already being praised by national pundits everywhere. 

It was nearly a month ago that the Ravens announced Harbaugh would be returning as the team’s head coach in 2019, which was noteworthy considering his status as a potential lame duck head coach.

In the same release, the team announced they were working towards a contract extension with Harbaugh, whose current deal was set to expire next year.

Despite reports from national NFL insiders, including Jason La Canfora and Peter King, that Harbaugh might prefer to hit free agency as a highly sought-after head coach after the 2019 season, it appears the Ravens will keep him in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. 

This news comes on the heels of a busier-than-usual coaching carousel, with a quarter of the 32 NFL teams changing head coaches in the last month, including two AFC North rivals. Harbaugh almost certainly would have been the cream of the crop among coaching free agents no matter when he became available, so the Ravens were looking to lock him up long term.

After a tough November home loss to the Steelers that put the team at 4-5, Harbaugh was asked about his job security, and he remained steadfast and confident.

"I've never been someone who's worried about keeping a job," Harbaugh said. "It's always been, for me, [about] doing the job. I've got a bunch of great coaches and a bunch of great players that bust their tails every day to do the best job they can. I feel really good about the way this team has been coached for the last 11 years, and for the last number of weeks we've been in the season. So, there are no regrets. Never been any regrets here with me."

After that game, the Ravens rattled off six wins in seven games to make the playoffs, and many players credited Harbaugh with keeping the team together. It was prior to Week 16 when the front office announced Harbaugh would be returning no matter how the season ended, but the strong finish and AFC North title certainly made the decision easier.

A coach with a special teams background, Harbaugh is an anomaly in the current era of young, offensive-minded head coaches. He won Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, and holds a 104-72 career record in Baltimore.

The terms of the new deal have not yet been released, but it will be interesting how many years the team is committing to Harbaugh.


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Bradley Beal's agent says guard's not looking for a trade: 'He wants to win'

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Bradley Beal's agent says guard's not looking for a trade: 'He wants to win'

Bradley Beal, his agent Mark Bartlestein told Bleacher Report, would like to stay in Washington - even as he's a hot topic among front offices as the trade deadline approaches.

From Bleacher Report:

His agent, Mark Bartelstein, is not looking for a trade. "Brad wants to win, Bartelstein told B/R. "He wants to win at the highest level, and he wants to compete for championships. I think he's seeing progress, and he's going to do everything he can to lead this team. They got themselves into a huge hole, and he's going to do his best to get them out of it.

The Wizards are facing tough decisions when it comes to the future of the franchise as this season's trade deadline approaches. Beal, as NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig detailed this week, is among the most tradable assets they have, especially when it comes to their three major contracts. But owner Ted Leonsis took a firm stance against tanking while speaking to reporters in London, and Beal is integral to their playoff hopes with John Wall sidelined. 

This isn't the first time this season that Beal has denied wanting to be anywhere but DC. When drama swirled around the team earlier this season, Beal denied a report that he had requested a trade.

"That's nonsense," he said at the time. "I heard it earlier before the game and I was like, 'If it didn't come from the horse's mouth, it wasn't me.' I got this Washington jersey on and I come here and work everyday, you know, until otherwise. This is where I wanna be."

Earlier this season, it was reported that the Raptors were interested in Beal but couldn't afford what the Wizards were asking for him. According to the latest report on Beal from Bleacher Report, there are a number of teams who may still be interested. 

Again, from Bleacher Report:

There are so many teams in the mix trying to make that extra push that want Beal," a Western Conference executive told B/R.

But even if some fans are clamoring for a big trade at the deadline, the price tag for Beal - who had 26 points in the Wizards' comeback win over the Knicks this week - only seems to be rising.