Bill O'Brien talks spring ball during Big Ten football teleconference

Opening Statement: "We just finished our 10th practice of the spring yesterday. We're working hard and seem to be improving and we're looking forward to the Blue-White game next weekend."

Q: How challenging will it be for a guy like Christian Hackenberg to come in and get caught up to speed and pick it up over the summer on such short notice, because he is one of the quarterbacks? A: I don't think it's easy for any of the quarterbacks to pick it up (the offense). Just the offense itself, it's not the easiest offense in the world to pick up. It's a language and we have to do a fantastic job of teaching it well and making sure that our players, especially the quarterbacks, understand the emphasis of each play and the concept that we're trying to get done. At the end of the day, when I say "expand," I think what I really was saying yesterday was we have to do things a little bit different because we have a different team. We have veteran tight ends. Last year, our tight ends, a lot of those guys were brand new. We've got a receiver (Allen Robinson) that caught 80 passes last year and the year before that he only had three. We've got a veteran team. It doesn't necessarily mean that we'll be doing more, it just means that we'll be doing different things.

Q: How important will it be for you to manage your linebackers this year? A: That's something that I think about 24/7. I think our three linebackers that are in starting spots right now (Glenn Carson, Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman), I believe that they are very, very good players. They're tough guys, they're smart guys, and they're instinctive players. I do think that there's some guys behind them that can help us that have improved. Gary Wooten has definitely improved over the spring. Ben Kline has been out with a shoulder deal but he's been in non-contact type drills and he'll be back in training camp. We got a freshman coming in, in Brandon Bell that we think can help us, but there's not a lot of guys there. We certainly have to do a good job the rest of the spring and obviously over summer and into training camp of making sure that Carson, Hull and Wartman are as healthy as they possibly can be going into the opener.

Q: Has there been a group that has pleasantly surprised you with its play thus far this spring? A: Last year when I came in, I had heard that the offensive line wasn't the greatest in the world. And I can tell you from day one last year, I felt like those kids gelled well and played hard and were tough guys and played well for us. This year I know these guys a lot better. So I wouldn't say that one position group has stood out over another. I think all of these guys I have been impressed with the effort in practice, I've been impressed with their retention, their ability to retain what we taught them in the fall. I just think we've got a bunch of good kids here that I really enjoy coaching.

Q: How is your patience with younger quarterbacks and how is their patience with not being in your system that long? A: I think everybody here has been patient. Our quarterbacks, these are smart guys. It's not like they've made a ton of mental errors. I think that these guys have had productive practices. Has every play been great? No. But, you could say that for every position. The word patience is a very important word here, especially as it relates to me. Coming from pro football, I definitely have to learn more patience with all these young players. I think I have, but I can even do a better job of being more patient with them. These guys are 18-19 years old and we've got to let them grow and get better and that's what we're trying to do.

Q: What kind of quality from practice can you get without tackling as much as you probably would like, and will that extend to the spring game? Will you limit the tackling in the spring game? A: You can get a very, very high quality practice without tackling. You can get a ton of work without tackling. What I meant was, we don't go to the ground. We don't want guys diving to make tackles or diving to break-up footballs or break-up passes. We want guys playing on their feet and moving their feet to get in position to make a tackle; moving their feet to get in position to catch a pass or break-up a pass. That's how a high quality football player practices. In the spring game, no, the spring game will be a game. We will tackle in the spring game, and the special teams, those might not be live but, the 11-on-11; offense and defense will be live.

Q: Can you discuss the running back situation? Is there a leader at this point? A: We have three running backs that have all competed very, very hard. (Zach) Zwinak, Billy Belton, and Akeel Lynch. Each guy has improved; each guy has practiced well. I have been very pleased with that position this spring. I would say, right now, if we broke the first huddle, probably Zwinak would get the first reps. But, we're going to play all three of those guys. It goes back to depth. I don't think that you're just going to play one guy all year. Wherever I've been, the most successful running games I've been around, have rotated backs. Zack's had a good spring. Billy Belton, I believe, is a much-improved player. He's lost some weight, he moves quicker, and he banged his toe up last week so he's missed a couple practices here but he's still putting in some good things. And Akeel Lynch has improved every single day of spring practice. So we'll play all three of those guys next year."

Q: Are you considering moving anybody over linebacker because of being thin there? A: We're not going to consider moving anybody. For that position, there's really nobody to move. We're just going to do a great job of monitoring it and getting those guys good reps, but then making sure we get them out of there and get some of our younger guys reps. That's what we have to do.

Q: Is there one thing that stands out to you with the way your tight end position has developed? Could you comment on Brent Wilkerson, what type of player he is? A: The one thing that stands out to me about the tight end position as a group is that they are smart guys. That position in our offense is very difficult to learn, second only to quarterback. It's a very, very difficult position to learn because you're involved in run-blocking, running routes, pass protections - you're involved with a lot of things that go on. I've been very impressed with all those guys; their instincts and their football intelligence. Brent Wilkerson is a guy that I've mentioned a couple times. I can tell you that we really think highly of him. He's a dynamic young player that we think is really going to help us next year.

Q: Is there enough time left in spring practice for one of the quarterbacks to really separate themselves from the other? Can you compare and contrast the styles of Steven [Bench] and Tyler [Ferguson]? A: These guys have had an equal amount of reps. I think they've both had their good moments and their bad moments. I definitely think there's enough time. Any time you have practices left there's always enough time for one guy to separate himself. We'll see what happens over the next few practices here. I don't really like to get into all the compare and contrast. I think they both do some things well and there's some things that both of them need to improve upon. 

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Last Updated April 12, 2013