Bill O’Brien understands Happy Valley is not the final stop for some of his standout players.
The former NFL coach knows Penn State is seen as a stepping stone for those players whose ultimate goal is to jump into the NFL after graduation.
O’Brien, unlike the previous coaching regime, has acted upon this knowledge by consistently opening practice to NFL scouts throughout the season. As a result, both members of the team and the scouts themselves have enjoyed the opportunity for increased exposure.
Scouts have been able to visit practice occasionally in the past, but O’Brien said the coaching staff has made it available to scouts once a week this season.
The coach said his primary reason for implementing the change was to help the future of the team’s NFL prospects. However, it also dealt with the future of Penn State’s program, since many other schools frequently allow scouts into their practices as well.
“I do think it helps when kids know that if you come to Penn State, if you play well and you produce on the field,” O’Brien said, “you’re going to be seen at practice, at games and you’re going to have a chance [to go to the NFL].”
Senior Jordan Hill, one of the team’s top NFL prospects, said he doesn’t try to do anything “extra or out of the ordinary” when the scouts are at practice. However, he admitted the presence of the professional representatives has increased the team’s attention to detail.
“It’s definitely cool, a different experience seeing them around while you’re practicing,” Hill said. “It’s a little different because you’re always thinking, like, ‘[Did] I do something wrong?’ ”
Scouts also bring about an added intensity at practice, said offensive line coach Mac McWhorter, as the team “picks up the tempo” when they are there.
But players and coaches aren’t the only ones appreciative the switch in scouting availability.
In the words of Eric Stokes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ director of college scouting, O’Brien “gets it”.
“It’s just giving [Penn State’s players] a lot of exposure,” Stokes said. “Obviously, having coach O’Brien there is a little bit different because he understands, coming from an NFL perspective, how big that is to have an opportunity to do a full evaluation on players.”
The Buccaneers were one of several NFL teams represented at the Nittany Lions’ practice on Wednesday, as well as the Steelers, Jets, Rams and Vikings. Throughout the season, O’Brien has said a scout from all 32 NFL teams has visited practice.
Stokes said that although scouts can’t meet the players personally, they enjoy the opportunity to discuss the background of certain players with the coaching staff. Scouts look to discuss anything from a player’s academics to his work ethic, he added.
“Obviously, [it’s a benefit to us] just from the standpoint of getting to see them move around at practice,” Stokes said, “what kind of athlete they are, what kind of body types they have, just kind of how their body language, just their overall demeanor is at practice.”
The Buccaneers’ representative said scouting staffs are usually able to spot premier NFL prospects without practice availability.
However, Stokes said Penn State’s consistent invitations to scouts have increased the likelihood of them piquing an interest in the team’s players.
“Clearly, when you have an opportunity to go in and see a player and do the research and do the film…it obviously gives you a greater level of being more comfortable,” Stokes said.
Stokes said he was speaking on behalf of the entire scouting community when stressing his appreciation for O’Brien’s decision because the Lions often produce talented NFL players.
In the 2012 NFL draft, four Lions were selected. The Bengals’ second round pick, Devon Still, was the highest selection.
“We’re definitely excited about that and we’re always excited to scout Penn State, because we always know they’re going to have prospects that have NFL potential,” Stokes said.