O'Brien faces new challenges in wake of Freeh report


O'Brien faces new challenges in wake of Freeh report

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- In seven months on the job, Bill O'Brien has turned into much more than just the new leader of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Perhaps no head coach has ever inherited such a challenge in his rookie campaign.

"He's kind of our rock. He sets the tone for the rest of us," guard John Urschel. "He sets a very good precedent for this program."

Lately, any good news out of the football program has been overshadowed by the findings of former FBI director Louis Freeh's investigation into the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Former coach Joe Paterno and three other school officials, Freeh said last week, concealed abuse allegations dating back to 1998.

O'Brien, hired in early January after five years as an assistant with the New England Patriots, released a statement through a team spokesman last week that said he was reading the report and would offer recommendations to identify what changes needed to be made in football.

"I stand with the University leadership in a shared commitment to driving a culture of honesty, integrity, responsible leadership and accountability at all levels and within all units of our institution. We can and we must do better," O'Brien said. "Nonetheless, I too remain proud of the accomplishments and character of Penn State's many generations of student-athletes, and I look forward to doing my part to ensure we emerge stronger than before."

His words were on par with the theme he's tried to strike since he was hired in January, when he promised to honor the past but focus on the future. He said at nearly every stop during his three-week caravan of alumni gatherings this spring that he planned to build on Paterno's decades of on- and off-field accomplishments.

"Whenever I meet lettermen, and the effect he had on their lives, I can only hope to fulfill just a small part of that in my career," O'Brien said in Altoona in May. "We have a tremendous amount of respect for what Coach Paterno did here . . . I can tell you that we will keep his honor, what he stood for and everything he built here. In many, many ways, we'll keep it going because we have so much respect for what he did here."

O'Brien made those comments two months before Freeh released his stinging findings. On vacation, O'Brien could not be reached for further comment beyond his statement.

The NCAA has also launched its own inquiry. Penn State President Rodney Erickson said he planned to respond to questions from NCAA President Mark Emmert in the next few weeks, answers which could determine if college sports' governing body conducts a more in-depth probe that might lead to sanctions.

School trustees ousted Paterno in November, days after Sandusky was arrested. The board later cited in part a failure of leadership by Paterno for his ouster. Paterno died in January of lung cancer. His family has said the late coach wouldn't take part in a cover up to avoid bad publicity, and planned a comprehensive response to Freeh's findings.

Through the stormy period, O'Brien has promised the program would not forget the victims of abuse, while also trying to keep the Nittany Lions looking forward. One of the new team rules posted on the front door of the football building includes the phrase "Ignore the Noise," referring to trying to limit outside distractions.

The revamped offseason strength and conditioning program to focus on more free weights and lifting instead of machines seems to have revitalized players, as has more competitive offseason drills. And O'Brien has instilled an open-door policy for his office, a little bit of a change from the old regime.

"It's still kind of feared going in the office because he's the head coach and there's no tolerance," cornerback Stephon Morris said. "Usually, back in the day, if you went to Joe's office, it was usually because he just wanted to talk to you or you did something bad.

"Now it's just like we're going in there and it doesn't have to be about anything. You can just go in there and say, Hey, what's up, Coach?' "

The team is trying to have fun, along the way, as well. On Friday, many took part in the player-organized "Lift for Life" charity event to benefit the Kidney Cancer Association. The players raised a record 110,000, all while sharing some laughs during this tough time. More than 700,000 has been raised in the 10 years of the offseason weightlifting and strength conditioning competition.

Now, the focus turns to training camp, which starts in a month. And the Nittany Lions would like nothing more than to simply play football.

When they return, the players will be looking to O'Brien to set the tone as Penn State tries to transition from the painful end of Paterno's tenure to a new era.

"With what we did in the winter and what we did in the offseason," tailback Silas Redd said, "the identity of the team has really changed.

"It's Coach O'Brien's squad now."

Randy Moss: Roger Goodell is 'biggest reason' for NFL's problems

Randy Moss: Roger Goodell is 'biggest reason' for NFL's problems

With the NFL facing more PR issues by the day, Randy Moss has identified what he feels is wrong with a league that can’t seem to stay out of trouble.

In wake of the Josh Brown situation, which saw the NFL blame the King County (Wash.) Sheriff’s Office for the lack of initial punishment given to the Giants kicker for domestic violence, Moss said on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown that commissioner Roger Goodell is the league’s biggest problem. 

“[This is] a bad time to show up now, breast cancer awareness month where we’re supporting the women, and then you come up with this Josh Brown, where it doesn’t seem like we are supporting women,” Moss said. “I think the NFL needs to take a deep look. I think the owners are mad, and Roger Goodell, he is the biggest reason to all of this stuff that’s fallen downhill with the NFL. I have to agree with that.”

Brown was initially given a one-game suspension for violating the league’s conduct policy stemming from his 2015 fourth-degree domestic violence charge. On Friday, the 37-year-old was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. 

Steelers know they'll have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett


Steelers know they'll have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett

PITTSBURGH – So far this season, Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski have combined for 39 catches, 644 yards and five touchdowns. Making the numbers that much more impressive is the fact the numbers were rolled up with Gronk inactive for two games and fairly useless in another thanks to his hamstring injury.

Will the Steelers slow the roll of Robellus Grennetski?

Hard to imagine. As Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out, Gronk alone has tuned up the Steelers with 26 receptions for 403 yards and seven touchdowns in six meetings.

Fittipaldo explored the strategies the Steelers defense may unveil Sunday afternoon when the Patriots and Steelers get going. He also pointed out that the return of linebacker Ryan Shazier after a three week layoff and injuries for safeties Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden may put Pittsburgh at a disadvantage.

Said Shazier: “They have the tandem they want at tight end. Now they can use tight ends the way they want. You have to respect everyone on the field. Both of them are good blockers, good pass threats and great at running after the catch.”

Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said Pittsburgh will alter its approaches.

“We have to be able to play more than one defense,” Butler said. “They’re very good and they’ll pick you apart if they can figure out what you’re doing. We just have to execute the defense more than anything else. If we can do that … that’s been our problem for the most part. Some of the things that went on last week, we missed some things we should have made mentally.”

What “went on last week” was a 30-15 loss to the Dolphins.

Pittsburgh hasn’t been a big-play group so far -- eight sacks and three picks -- nor have they seen a gauntlet of great quarterbacks in the first six games. 

Interestingly, their losses have been to Ryan Tannehill and rookie Carson Wentz, probably the two quarterbacks one would figure Pittsburgh would do best against.
Between a smoking hot Brady and a can’t-be-stopped tight end tandem, there’s probably not a lot Pittsburgh can do aside from hoping for an off day.

Said linebacker Arthur Moats hopefully: “You have to continue to mix it up against (Gronkowski). You can’t give him the same look over and over. He has success on guys like that. If we disrupt him, and rush Brady and speed up his clock, I definitely think that will help out.”

In theory, perhaps. In practice? We’ll see.