Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Most thought the spread offense would never come to Penn State, much less with a Paterno shaping the scheme. Turns out, Jay Paterno, Joe's son and Penn State's quarterbacks coach, helped bring the spread to Happy Valley last season. The results in Year 1 were tremendous as the Spread HD offense ranked 11th nationally in scoring, 14th in total offense and 17th in rushing.
Quarterback Daryll Clark and running back Evan Royster return to lead the unit this fall, but Penn State loses key pieces at wide receiver and along the offensive line. I caught up with JayPa this week to discuss Penn State's outlook on offense in 2009.
Second year of this system. Are you able to do a lot more with the offense now with an experienced quarterback, an experienced running back, or is it going to be a wait-and-see thing?
Jay Paterno: Well, now that Daryll weighs 372 pounds, I don't know if we'll be able to do anything with him running. No, I'm kidding. The big thing will be how much can our wideouts and the offensive line handle? We'll be able to keep things simple enough so the offensive line can jell because the secondary and the offensive line are really the two areas that take the most time to get cohesion. But the one thing about our offense is we're able to do some things to keep it simple for the offenisve line, but it puts more pressure on your wideouts and your running backs to line up in different places and different formations, those kinds of things. I think we'll be able to handle it. We've got wideouts coming back that have played. So we'll be as varied as we've been in the last year. It will just be a question of how much they can handle early on.
Having a younger quarterback behind Daryll, do you take fewer chances with him? How careful do you have to be?
JP: He's got to play his game. You can't worry about guys getting hurt and things like that. You don't want to be stupid about it and have him take full contact in practice, but when it comes time to play the games, he's going to go out there and compete and do what he's always done. We've just got to make sure the guys behind him are ready to go if God forbid, we need to use them. I'm hoping we don't have to and I'm hoping he stays healthy, but Daryll's got to play his game, and that involves when things break down, scrambling, making some things happen, running the ball sometimes in key situations. I don't think that will change.
Daryll's always been a confident guy, but have you noticed any major changes in him this summer, how he's approaching the season having a full year as the starter under his belt?
JP: The biggest change this offseason is he knows it's his job. He kind of acted that way last year, kind of ran around like it was his but he didn't know it was his. Coming back from the Rose Bowl, he wanted to get after it right away with everybody and start working, the whole nine yards. So the biggest difference is it's his team now. There was no question he'd be voted captain. One of the things he got out of the Rose Bowl is he played a very, very good defensive football team and had a lot of adversity and continued to make plays. He came out of it with a lot of confidence, and that's carried over.
He's been great with the young guy, [Kevin] Newsome. If it's five minutes before a meeting's supposed to start and he doesn't see Kevin, he's on the phone with him, 'Hey, you better be in here on time.' He's been part big brother, and watching him with Kevin Newsome has been like watching 'Sanford and Son.' He's the grumpy old man sometimes and he's fussing at him sometimes if Kevin's not doing things exactly the way [Clark] thinks they should be done. So it's been good.
Did Kevin make the type of progress you thought he would in the spring? It's obviously a tough situation to come in so young, but where's he at going into camp?
JP: The thing we found out in the spring game is when the lights come on, he's going to compete and make some things happen, which is good to see. There's 70,000 people at the game and he went out there and competed like it was 7,000 or 700 people out there. It didn't bug him. He turned it on and really made some plays. He made the progress we wanted him to make. He's got to make more, obviously.
We got him here in January and in the back of my mind, we were going to have 15 spring practices and 29 preseason practices before the season starts. So he's really only one-third of the way there as far as practice time, and he's more than one-third of the way where I think he needed to be and where Joe [Paterno] thought he needed to be to play this fall if he has to.
Last year, Daryll talked about how valuable it was for him to have so much experience at receiver. This year, is it a little bit of the reverse, where he's helping those guys? Who are you most excited to see when you get back to camp among those wide receivers?
JP: We're very similar to what we were in '05, when we had Michael Robinson, who hadn't necessarily started a lot of games at quarterback but who had been around and knew the offense inside and out. And we had new wideouts. The biggest difference between this and '05 is the guys we have who have not started have all played. Graham Zug has played, Chaz Powell has played, Derek Moye has played, Brett Brackett has played. In '05, we had a bunch of guys who had just come out of high school. So we're a little bit ahead that way. I think we're going to be able to do more than we did in '05. If we get the same kind of production and big plays out of the guys this fall that we did in '05, we're going to have a good chance to be a very good offensive football team. I think we can.
Obviously, Derek Moye is a guy because of his height and speed who's exciting. Chaz Powell's a guy that has really explosive speed. And then Brackett and Zug are those guys that everyone underestimates. They just continue to make plays. Zug is not afraid to go over the middle, take his hits, and Brackett's very similar. We have the pieces in place, and we'll wait and see what happens with these freshmen because we've got a pretty good stable of freshmen coming in, in terms of speed. It will be interesting to see what they do when they get hit.
You mention the freshmen. Is wide receiver a spot where you might be able to see freshmen contribute this year?
JP: Yeah, I think you'll see freshmen guys in the depth and playing some. But a friend of mine raises hunting dogs and he'd tell you, 'Until you can get them out there in the field and shoot the gun, you don't know how they're going to react.' Sometimes, you take the dog out and you shoot the gun and the dog comes back and hides behind you. Sometimes you shoot the gun and the dog goes off and chases the rabbit. We'll find out. We get out there in front of 110,000 fans and one of them goes a
cross the middle and gets cracked and takes a good hit. We'll see what happens when they get up. Based on what we've seen on some of these guys in high school and what we know about them, the ability is there. We just have to see how they pick up the offense.