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Giger: PSU gets best of both worlds - offensively and defensively - with coaching moves


January 9, 2012
By Cory Giger, , The Altoona Mirror

UNIVERSITY PARK -- With the promise of a new modern offense under Bill O'Brien, plus his decision to keep great defensive coaches Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden, Penn State appears to be getting the best of both worlds from the coaching turnover.

What's not to like about the Nittany Lions' future? As it stands now, nothing.

O'Brien should energize what for many years has been a stale, predictable offensive attack by bringing in a dynamic system that we can only assume will be similar to what he learned with the New England Patriots.

"I got chills," PSU quarterback Matt McGloin said of those possibilities.

O'Brien also made a brilliant move by immediately announcing he's retaining Johnson, the defensive line coach and master recruiter who is tremendously well-respected by the players.

"He's recruited a lot of us up here, he's the reason a lot of us came to Penn State," tackle Jordan Hill said. "As a defensive lineman, I have so much respect and love for him."

A second great move is keeping linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, who has done phenomenal work the past few years helping develop stars like Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor, Sean Lee and NaVorro Bowman.

"If you look around the country, he's definitely one of the most respected linebacker coaches out there," linebacker Michael Mauti said.

Keeping Johnson and Vanderlinden will help assure a certain standard of excellence defensively for PSU, even with the departure of coordinator Tom Bradley. That should be a given.

So let's talk about the offense.

It should be fun to watch, especially as the years go by and O'Brien can fine tune things and bring in his own personnel.

"I expect that it will be a completely different offense," McGloin said.

Thank goodness.

Let me admit what many people already know about me, which is I'm a big Patriots and Tom Brady fan. I lean more toward the Steelers -- like 55-45 -- and would have been rooting for Pittsburgh had they met this week, but I also watch most Patriots games, as well.

The amazing thing about New England's offense is that Brady destroys defenses using primarily a 5-foot-9 receiver in Wes Welker and two tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. It's a tremendous system that doesn't require a prototypical star receiver or a great running attack.

It does require an accurate, intelligent quarterback, and the future Hall of Famer Brady excels at dinking and dunking, then burning defenses down the middle with one of his big tight ends.

"It's one of the best offenses in the league, and arguably one of the best quarterbacks of all time," McGloin said.

O'Brien is finishing up his first season as the Pats' offensive coordinator and third as quarterbacks coach. While he didn't develop their system, certainly he's learned how to maximize its potential. Brady threw for 5,235 yards this year, second most all-time.

OK, McGloin is not Brady, not by a long, long shot. And Justin Brown is not Wes Welker, and Kevin Haplea is not Rob Gronkowski.

One thing McGloin does do well, however, is make underneath throws in the 10- to 15-yard range, which we can expect to see a lot of next season. Rob Bolden throws a nice deep ball but has been horrible at shorter throws in his two years, and if he's ever going to play in that kind of offense, he must make enormous progress.

The Lions already have an outstanding running back in Silas Redd, who could be in line for a big junior year if the passing game takes big steps forward.

"It makes it extremely better for not only me, but the whole team, just because you don't know what you're going to get and we're always going to keep defenses guessing," Redd said.

I blundered my way through an admittedly poorly worded question to O'Brien on Saturday about his experience as an offensive coordinator in college, and numerous people called me out for it because O'Brien gave a surly answer before saying, "next question."

I didn't intend to challenge O'Brien, simply to get him to discuss how much he has improved as an offensive coach since going to New England.

O'Brien was offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech in 2001 and '02, and his teams finished 34th and 57th nationally in total offense those two years. He then was offensive coordinator at Duke in 2005 and '06, and obviously with less talent to work with, his offenses ranked 113th and 105th those two years.

Point is, as a college coordinator, O'Brien didn't necessarily have enough success to make anyone think he could come to PSU and overhaul the offense.

However, working with the Patriots and one of the best quarterbacks of all time for five years, surely the guy learned a tremendous amount and should be a much more effective offensive coach now.

"You turn on the TV and watch the Patriots," McGloin said, "and as an offense you can't help but get excited."

When was the last time anyone could say that about Penn State?

The Lions may never accomplish anything close to what the Patriots do on offense, but having O'Brien in charge should make them much more entertaining.

Couple that with the kind of defense the team should continue to field, and it's not far-fetched to think Penn State once again could be a player on the national stage sooner rather than later.

Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.

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