New Penn State staff prepares for opener

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
11:07
PM ET
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Editor's note: Ivan Maisel has the latest from Penn State as the Nittany Lions prepare for their season opener versus Ohio.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Shortly after 1 p.m. Monday, defensive coordinator Ted Roof conferred with head coach Bill O'Brien to change the game plan and put the Nittany Lions in shoulder pads for practice Monday. Roof wanted his defense to get some short-yardage and goal-line work as Penn State prepares to open the season against Ohio.

It's unusual to hit on Monday. But as Roof explained, "I don't know what normal is. This is the first one."

Lost in the discussion of everything else that has surrounded Penn State over the Past nine months is the actual transition of a new staff learning to work together. Football is a notoriously who-you-know business, and O'Brien, like most head coaches, called his guys together to come work for him at Penn State. Tight ends coach John Strollo came from Ball State. He and running backs coach Charles London worked with O'Brien for Roof at Duke.

"When he went to the Patriots," Strollo said of O'Brien, "I kept calling him and bugging him. 'Don't forget about me.'"

In the offensive staff meeting, you could tell the coaches had a history. O'Brien, receivers coach Stan Hixon and offensive line coach Mac McWhorter worked together at Georgia Tech. They interjected anecdotes from their days under offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen. Though the staff sat at a long oval table, O'Brien ran the meeting from the corner of the room. He sat at a desktop computer to work the video he had assembled of the Ohio defense.

Roof had never worked with defensive line coach Larry Johnson or linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, the two assistants whom O'Brien hired from Joe Paterno's staff.

"One of the reasons that I hired Ted," O'Brien said, "is his ability to get along with people."

Roof, like quarterback coach Charlie Fisher, has an accent that you could pour over waffles (for extra thick, listen to McWhorter). He made sure that he, Johnson, Vanderlinden and secondary coach John Butler learned how to work together.

"We've had three dry runs with headsets, sidelines, to rehearse the whole thing," Roof said. "Who's going to make the call, who's responsible for signing it in, who's going to be quiet when they're making a call. They are good guys and good coaches. As long as we're on the same page, we'll be fine. It's my job to tie it all together."

As for practice in shoulder pads, O'Brien liked what he saw. He liked the focus -- perhaps because, for the first time all season, he turned off the music at practice. He liked enough of what he saw that he cut it 20 minutes short.

"I don't know much about what I'm doing," he said afterward, "but I sensed that they had given really good effort to that point. A lot of the things we cut we're going to get to later in the week. It's the first day of school. Some of them have to eat and get to study hall by 7:30."

As study hall began, the offensive staff began a meeting to watch the practice video.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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