UNIVERSITY PARK -- The "Penn State Patriots" nickname hasn't caught on yet, somewhat surprisingly considering that, when it comes to offense, it's impossible to read or discuss the Nittany Lions without having detailed mentions made about the NFL team in New England.
Every PSU offensive player available to the media leading up to the Blue-White Game has been asked about comparisons to the Patriots. And they've all confirmed it's definitely fitting based on their spring practices under new head coach and former New England offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien.
Running back Silas Redd said the Nittany Lions' new offense is virtually identical to what he's seen on film from the Pats.
The Associated Press
Silas Redd had 1,241 yards rushing last season.
"Absolutely, yeah," Redd said. "The same exact play calls and everything."
With one exception.
"It's not as complex as what they were," Redd added, "because obviously their operation was much quicker than ours because they've been in it for longer than we have. But I think [we] will be able to get to something like that."
PSU will have a tough time matching what the Patriots do offensively through the air, simply because the Lions don't have a Tom Brady-caliber quarterback.
However, one major difference in Penn State's favor is the presence of a standout tailback like Redd, something the Patriots haven't had or even needed in their explosive offense.
Redd gained 1,241 yards last season, reaching a milestone few New England runners have in recent years. Only once in the past seven seasons have the Patriots had a 1,000-yard rusher -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis with 1,008 yards in 2010 -- and you have to go all the way back to 2004 to find a star tailback in New England (Corey Dillon had 1,635 yards that season).
Opponents trying to figure out what O'Brien's new offense will be looking to do can't just overload to stop the pass because Redd is capable of taking over a game by himself.
"He's had a really good spring," O'Brien said of Redd, a rising junior. "He's a great kid to be around."
The running game has progressed quicker than the passing game this spring, which O'Brien said is normal when installing a new offense. It also helps having someone as talented as Redd in the backfield, since the coaches know they can lean on him when the passing game struggles.
Again, that's a luxury even a dynamite offense like the Patriots haven't had.
Redd said he has paid close attention to Patriots game film to see how their running backs were used. One big change for him in the new offense is getting more carries in zone plays.
"They allow me to create," Redd said. "I don't necessarily have to go into a certain hole. It's a zone, and I read it the best way I can and make a play off that."
So far, Redd added, he has worked on zone runs to the C gaps, which are either between the tackle and tight end on the strong side or outside the tackle on the weak side.
Redd went through a stretch last season where he carried the ball a ton (29, 28, 28, 18 and 30 times), and he topped 100 yards in each game. Those days could be over for him in the new offense, although he still could be in line for 25 touches a game.
To get there, it likely will mean more passes coming his way. Redd had only nine catches for 43 yards last season.
When O'Brien was asked if Redd would be more involved in the passing game, the coach, who has said repeatedly that he hasn't watched game from film last year, replied, "I don't know. How involved was he last year? I don't have any idea. But yeah, we throw to the backs."
Redd is prepared for that and said he's looking forward to the possibility of six or eight passes going to him in some games.
"That's actually a great possibility that that will happen," he said, "because not only are [the running backs] going to be open a lot, we're going to be serving as an escape [target] for the quarterback when he's in trouble. And so, he can dump it right to us."
Redd even expects to be split out on occasion and noted, "That's definitely something you guys will see a lot."
"He's got good hands, he always has," fullback Michael Zordich said of Redd's receiving skills. "He's never had to use them as much as he is right now."
One key for Redd, and all the receivers, will be trying to get open in space, something the offense has spent a lot of time working on this spring.
How does Redd plan to do that?
"That's where reading the defense goes, whether they're in man or whether they're in zone," he said. "Say you go on a flat route, you're not going to go all the way to the sideline if the defense is in cover 2 because you're going to run right into the corner.
"So a lot of it is understanding the defensive players and sitting in that open space in that zone, where the little pockets are."
Redd knows that showing he can catch the ball out of the backfield will boost his NFL stock, and becoming a better blocker also will help. His strength should be a benefit with the latter.
Redd is one of the strongest players on the team, and he sort of humbly bragged about being the third-strongest guy pound-for-pound in recent testing. He noted linebacker Mike Hull was ahead of him but couldn't remember who else, and Redd has a goal of reaching the top spot during the next competition.
"Strength is a huge component [of blocking]," he said. "Not only that, it's understanding the protections, understanding whether you have a zone, understanding whether you have man and understanding what the guy next to you has. A lot of it is mental just as much as physical."
Redd mentioned he hasn't given much thought to leaving early for the NFL, although he realizes he will be eligible after this season. If he puts up big rushing yardage, as expected, and improves his receiving and blocking skills, he should project well in the draft and will have a tough decision to make.
For now, though, Redd is like every other member of the offense in that he's simply trying to learn the new playbook and maximize his role in it.
"It's been like another class for us almost," he said. "If you're buying into it, it almost becomes fun to you. Some guys obviously have trouble with it, but I think everyone is doing the best they can."