Curran: O'Brien in a mess at Penn State

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Curran: O'Brien in a mess at Penn State

Well, if Bill O'Brien hoped to enhance his coaching career by showing he could deal with adversity, he landed in the right spot.

But as sanctions for the Penn State football program dropped on Monday, this feels less like adversity and more like unmitigated disaster.

And now it's worth wondering whether O'Brien would have made the decision to leave the Patriots and join the diseased Penn State program as Joe Paterno's successor if O'Brien knew then what he knows now.

A story this morning detailing O'Brien's contract shows that O'Brien did little to protect himself contractually from the Sandusky fallout.

Sara Ganim for The Patriots News reports that "if (O'Brien) wants to terminate employment for any reason before his five-year contract is over, he has to pay back his base salary at the time multiplied by the number of years left."

His base salary, Ganim reports, is 950,000 for 2012. He makes another 1 million for media-related university appearances and 350K from Nike.

Ganim also points out that the bonus structure in O'Brien's contract tied to the win-loss success of the Nittany Lions is where O'Brien will really take the hit. O'Brien would make up to 33 percent of his base salary for winning his division in the Big Ten, winning the Big Ten championship game, playing in a bowl game and winning the BCS title game.

The sanctions levied will make two of the bonus targets -- playing in a bowl game and winning the BCS title game -- completely unreachable for four seasons, since one of the penalties is that the Nittany Lions can't play in a bowl game.

O'Brien released a statement Monday morning reaffirming his commitment to the program despite the sanctions brought against Penn State:

"Today we receive a very harsh penalty from the NCAA and as Head Coach of the Nittany Lions football program, I will do everything in my power to not only comply, but help guide the University forward to become a national leader in ethics, compliance and operational excellence. I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead. But I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes.

"I was then and I remain convinced that our student athletes are the best in the country. I could not be more proud to lead this team and these courageous and humble young men into the upcoming 2012 season. Together we are committed to building a better athletic program and university."

You'd like to be able to credit O'Brien's desire to face the challenge in Happy Valley and say that it seemed like a good idea at the time when he took the job. But it wasn't. And now it's miles worse.

Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

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Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

FOXBORO -- Joe Thuney may not have won the starting left guard job officially, but Bill Belichick says he's on the right track. And for a rookie, that's feat in and of itself.

The third-round pick out of North Carolina State -- you may remember it as the Kevin-Faulk-in-the-No.-12-jersey selection -- has been the first-team left guard since the start of training camp, and he hasn't moved since. Thuney has occasionally taken snaps at center, and the Patriots have him learning multiple spots behind the scenes. But every time Nate Solder has run on to the field as the left tackle, Thuney has been there by his side at guard. 

Even going back to OTAs, held not long after he was drafted, Thuney was the top choice at that position. 

"Joe has done a good job with what we’ve given him," Belichick said. "There was a point where we felt comfortable making that, I’d say temporary move, It wasn’t permanent. But he has handled it well. I think he’s certainly moving towards being able to lock something down at some point. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think he is certainly gaining on it. He has had a good preseason, had a good spring."

What once may have been deemed a temporary move back in the spring -- perhaps due to players like Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson and Josh Kline dealing with injuries early in the offseason -- now seems like it should be a permanent one.

Thuney's run as the No. 1 left guard has been uninterrupted because his performance hasn't warranted a change. He's held his own against former first-round defensive tackle Malcom Brown in one-on-one practice drills, and he's been the highest-graded player on the Patriots offensive line through two preseason games, per Pro Football Focus. (The only players with higher grades on the team through two games are tight end AJ Derby and defensive end Trey Flowers.)

The man who went viral before the draft for his ability to solve a Rubik's cube in just over a minute has flashed an understanding of how quickly things move on the inside. Plus, playing under unretired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Thuney has been quick himself, both picking up pressures and working to the second level in the running game with aplomb.

Thuney will still have a preseason game or two to solidify his grasp on a starting role, but even for the brief period during which Mason and Kline were simultaneously healthy, Thuney was the choice on the left side of the interior offensive line. Now that Mason is dealing with what's been reported as a hand injury, Jackson remains on PUP, and Jonathan Cooper is still out after suffering a foot injury early in camp, the job seems like Thuney's to lose.

That Belichick even hinted Thuney is "gaining on it" is an indication of just how impressive he's been during his short time as a pro.