Passing teams need a strong presence at left tackle to be successful, and Penn State has an injury concern there as Donovan Smith hasn't practiced much this preseason because of a hamstring injury.
On a conference call Thursday afternoon, coach Bill O'Brien was hopeful Smith would be able to practice later in the day and today. A 6-foot-5, 316-pound redshirt freshman, Smith had a strong spring to earn the first-string spot on the depth chart at left tackle.
With Smith limited, junior Adam Gress and senior Mike Farrell have been working at the tackle spots. Gress has made major strides with the Nittany Lions' new strength and conditioning program, and O'Brien had positive words about Farrell on Thursday.
"Mike Farrell, he's had a good camp," the coach said. "He's going to play for us this year."
The tackle spot isn't the only injury concern on the left side of the offensive line as junior guard Mark Arcidiacono is battling a right foot injury. He has been competing with redshirt sophomore Miles Dieffenbach for the starting job, and with Arcidiacono out, Dieffenbach will get the start in the opener Sept. 1 against Ohio.
"Arcidiacono is a guy I really feel bad for, a really great kid that has just been injured, and he's one of those guys that's been on a shelf a little bit for his foot," O'Brien said. "I just feel terrible for him because I think he's a great kid who cares about playing. He just hasn't been able to get on the field. Dieffenbach has basically solidified that starting spot."
O'Brien said none of the injuries are major and added some players have been battling the flu.
SUBHD: Secondary improving
The secondary, both from an experience standpoint as well as depth, is arguably the Lions' biggest question mark entering the season, but O'Brien said he is "very pleased" with that group's work in training camp. There have been no position changes to move players to the secondary to help out with the depth.
The coach called sophomore cornerback Adrian Amos "one of our better players" on the team. Amos is in line to start on one side, opposite senior cornerback Stephon Morris. Junior Malcolm Willis is projected to start at free safety.
Senior Jacob Fagnano has been the projected starter at strong safety but continues to battle a hamstring injury.
"He needs to get back in there and get his spot solidified," O'Brien said.
The coach said junior safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong will get time in the secondary and also "will be a major factor on special teams."
SUBHD: Solid starters
Sophomore Bill Belton "has definitely cemented himself as a starter" at tailback, O'Brien said. The coach also pointed out Belton had an 80-yard touchdown run in a scrimmage earlier this week.
Senior Matt McGloin "is definitely solidified" at quarterback, O'Brien said, and sophomore Allen Robinson is a starter at receiver. The coach mentioned there is a rotation of six or seven players at the receiver spots.
SUBHD: Kicking concerns
O'Brien said he's been happy with sophomore Sam Ficken at place-kicker, but the punting job remains a competition between junior Alex Butterworth and redshirt freshman Matt Marcincin.
"The punting situation is still a little up in the air," the coach said. "Alex shows flashes, Marcincin shows flashes, and then the next punt isn't very good. They really have to be a lot more consistent, and I think that's still an ongoing battle there."
SUBHD: Unfair comparisons
O'Brien doesn't like how his tight ends are being compared so much with New England Patriots stars Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Those comparisons have been inevitable since O'Brien was New England's offensive coordinator last season and is installing a Patriots-style offense at Penn State.
Still, the coach made it clear Thursday that people shouldn't expect Lions tight ends Kyle Carter, Garry Gilliam and others to be able to do the same kind of things the two Patriots stars can do.
"We all have got to be real careful because the two tight ends we had in New England are two of the best players in the NFL in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez," O'Brien said. "We're not asking our tight ends at Penn State to be Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, we're just asking them to block well and understand route technique and understand their assignments.
"We've got four or five guys there that can play, and we feel good about the position. I think we have to stop with the comparisons about what we did with Gronkowski and Hernandez and what we're going to do at Penn State."
SUBHD: Practice schedule
Penn State's weekly practice schedule will remain basically the same under O'Brien. The team will have off on Sunday, will go over the game plan in practice Monday, have tough work days Tuesday and Wednesday, get ready for specific game things Thursday and have a walk-through Friday.