Nittany Lions defense still taking shape

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - With the Penn State defense directed by its fourth coordinator in as many years, the mystery for opponents is which alignment the unit will exhibit once the season starts on Aug. 30.

Bob Shoop, the latest chief of the defense, didn't provide much clarity Monday during the team's media day.

"Each defense takes on its own identity, and the identity of this group has yet to be determined," Shoop said. "The question has been asked a lot: Are you a 4-3? Are you a 4-2-5? Are you a 3-4? Are you a 3-2-6, a dime defense? I think we do a real good job as a staff of identifying good players and putting them in a position to be successful."

He conceded that the 4-2-5, in which a player lines up as a combination safety-outside linebacker, is something that would fit given the Nittany Lions' limited depth at linebacker and the no-huddle spread offenses so prevalent in college football.

"This isn't 20 years ago, when it was rock-'em, sock-'em robots running downhill," Shoop said. "There are more three- and four-wide-receiver sets than ever before. So what you're trying to do is trying to maximize your athletic ability on the field. That body type - a tall, long, athletic hybrid safety-outside linebacker - has become a key component for what we do."


Hello, hello

Head coach James Franklin also is not one to offer much information.

Franklin stopped himself while answering a question about different ways of utilizing quarterback Christian Hackenberg, saying he didn't want to give any help to Central Florida - the Lions' first 2014 opponent.

"One of the things that I always struggle with," he said, "is how do I answer your questions and give you the information that you need with also not talking directly to [UCF coach] George O'Leary, because he's watching this right now."

Franklin then looked directly into the bank of cameras in the back of the Beaver Stadium media room and waved. "Hi, George," he said.


A business trip

While calling the season-opening journey to Ireland to play UCF "a unique experience," Franklin emphasized that it's not going to be much of a sightseeing trip.

"We've got a tight schedule," he said. "What we've got to do is, we've got to make sure our guys have an unbelievable experience at Penn State, get a degree that means something, so once they graduate, they can afford to go on a vacation back to Ireland and enjoy the countryside. But this trip really isn't for that."