A deleted scene from The Office via the DCSportsguy.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Two seasons of ugly offense at Penn State had head coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lions in need of more than just a change of scheme.
The first job facing new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead was bringing some positive vibes to Happy Valley.
"He brings a ton of energy to this offense. That was something I think that kind of revitalized our offense," quarterback Trace McSorley said.
Penn State unveils its new spread offense Saturday against Kent State. After the Nittany Lions finished 7-6 and ranked 13th in the Big Ten in total offense in each of Franklin's first two seasons, Penn State fans are not likely to have much patience for growing pains.
Moorhead's ability to deliver an offense that can help the Nittany Lions close the gap on Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten East will likely play a huge part in determining Franklin's future at Penn State.
Moorhead, the former FCS head coach at Fordham and offensive coordinator at UConn, seems keenly aware of the enormity of his task and not at all overwhelmed by it.
"I've called plays in double overtime to beat Notre Dame," he said. "(But) you really understand the situation you're getting into when you become a Big Ten offensive coordinator, particularly taking over an offense that has struggled a little bit.
"I do understand the ramifications and the immediacy to produce results not just at this level but at this time in history for this program."
The last four seasons at Fordham, Moorhead went 38-13 with three playoff appearances and the most prolific offenses in his alma mater's history. Before that, he worked under Randy Edsall at Connecticut, where his offenses were more traditional and pro-style. The way his former boss preferred.
The 42-year-old Moorhead first landed on Franklin's radar a couple years ago at a coaching clinic in his native Pittsburgh.
"He gets up there and not only do I enjoy his presentation and do we align when it comes to concepts, when it comes to spacing, when it comes to West Coast philosophies in the passing game, but also a lot of the things that he's saying and how he's articulating the message and the passion that he has for it and the energy that he has for it and the confidence that he has in it," Franklin said. "Right away, I kind of wrote him down."
Franklin dismisses the idea this up-tempo offense that will feature mobile quarterbacks is what he wanted but could not have when Christian Hackenberg, a second-round draft choice by the Jets, was the quarterback at Penn State the last two seasons. Franklin points to his background as an assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers and his stints at Kansas State and Maryland as proof he can work well with drop-back passers.
Still, the roster Franklin has built while being handcuffed by NCAA scholarship sanctions dropped on Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky scandal suggests a more new-school approach.
"I think what it really came down to was embracing the direction of where football is going right now. The speed of the game. The style of the game. The excitement of the game. The entertainment aspect of the game," Franklin said. "And then I think more so than anything else it is based on our personnel right now."
With scholarship limits gone, an offensive line that struggled mightily to protect Hackenberg at least now has major-college football depth. There is skill position talent. Especially Saquon Barkley, who ran for 1,076 yards as a freshman last season.
The new offense is simplified without being simple. Long play calls are out, replaced by hand signals and a word or two at the line of scrimmage. The offensive line is asked to do less problem solving. Moorhead has not only gotten rid of huddles, he has banned the word.
"He'll always yell sideline congregation," McSorley said.
Penn State will play up-tempo, but don't expect Oregon-level blur.
"We are not a tempo team that runs plays for the sake of running them," Moorhead said. "We utilize four different tempos. It's not about running the wrong play quickly. It's about running the right play against the look that we are presented as quickly as we can."
Getting it right as quickly as possible is also the best way to describe what's expected of Moorhead this season.
Eagles rookie seventh-round pick Alex McCalister was placed on the injured reserve on Sunday and will miss his entire rookie season.
Now it’s time to eat.
McCalister, 22, said he’s going to use this year — after a conveniently timed left calf tear that doesn’t need surgery — to bulk up.
“Of course it’s frustrating, the fact that my rookie year I can’t get out there and play, but you can always turn something bad into something good,” McCalister said. “I can almost look at this as a redshirt year, just adding on that extra bulk, learning the playbook, stuff like that. It’s not all bad in my eyes.”
The rookie from Florida is 6-foot-6, with freakishly long 36-inch arms, but desperately needed to put on more weight coming out of college. Coming into the NFL, McCalister said he weighed just 236 pounds. On Monday, he said he’s up to 254.
How did he put on the weight?
“Cheesesteaks,” the rookie said.
He hopes to add an additional 10 pounds during his redshirt year, which would have him at around 264 (the same weight as Connor Barwin) — 30 pounds heavier than when he entered the league.
Will it be tough for McCalister to learn how to play at that new weight?
“As long as I have the strength behind it, I won’t lose any speed at all,” he said. “I feel like it won’t be that big of a deal.”
The Eagles took McCalister in the seventh round of the draft this spring after the Florida prospect went through a draft-day slide amid character concerns. Upon his arrival to Philadelphia, McCalister adamantly denied a report that he was kicked off Florida’s football team, but said he spent a good portion of his interviews with teams answering questions about his maturity.
It’s easy to see why the Eagles took a chance on him, though. He’s athletic and long and has the kind of traits teams want to see in a pass rusher.
Now he’ll have an extra year, which he said will “definitely” help him to become more NFL-ready.
“Just having that extra time to gain that weight, dive into the playbook even more,” McCalister said. “By this time next year, I’ll be ready to go.”
After a grueling preseason practice in the summer heat last Tuesday, Temple football players, their gear drenched with sweat, gathered at the Temple logo at midfield at Chodoff Field on campus and took a knee on the turf to listen to a familiar voice.
But it wasn’t that of head coach Matt Rhule or any other member of the Owls’ coaching staff.
It was the voice of former Eagles and Super Bowl-winning coach Dick Vermeil, whose message was simple yet effective: “Hard work is not a punishment.”
That’s a motto the Owls have to live by this season if they want to live up to the lofty goal they’ve collectively set for themselves.
As senior linebacker and defensive leader Avery Williams explained, the 2016 Owls are determined to be “the greatest Temple team ever.” The motivation and conviction for that goal comes from the nightmarish ending to last year’s dream season.
“Man, we ended the season with a losing record,” Williams said of last December’s losses to Houston in the AAC title game and Toledo in the Boca Raton Bowl. “We lost those two games. That’s not good at all around here.
"We want to be the greatest Temple team ever, every year. When I leave, I want those dudes to focus on being the greatest Temple team that year. Nobody’s complacent around here. We want to get better each year and just keep getting better.”
It’s one thing to say you want to be the greatest at anything. It’s another animal to go out there and actually do it.
By now, most know the tale of Temple’s 10-3 campaign in 2015, which included landmark moments such as the first win over Penn State since 1941, the classic primetime showdown with Notre Dame and the first-ever AAC Eastern Division title, among other things.
Needless to say, topping those achievements will be a hefty task for a team that needs to replace plenty on the defensive side of the ball with three leaders who’ve moved on to the NFL.
But Rhule’s message to his team coming into camp was to forget all about last season because, as far as he wants his team to be concerned, last season is over and is just a figment of imagination.
And with just a few days left until Friday’s 2016 opener against Army at The Linc, it seems Rhule’s edict has gotten through to his players.
“Yeah, there is pressure, but that’s what athletes live for. They live for the pressure of being that same team or being better than last year’s team,” said senior quarterback Phillip Walker, who's coming off a record-breaking season in 2015 and remains one of the Owls’ key components. He’s looking to become the first quarterback in program history to lead the Owls to back-to-back bowl games.
“[This season] is an opportunity for us for to be great this year again and we’re looking forward to it," Walker said. "I think we have a great team that’s willing to go out there and put everything on the line each week just to have success at the end of the season.”
“We have a motto around here saying we want to be 1-0 every week,” said senior running back Jahad Thomas, who’s part of a deep and talented backfield. “We want to be undefeated once it’s all said and done and that’s the goal here. … What comes with that is great execution. We all gotta be in sync — offense, defense and special teams.”
The fact of the matter is that, after last season’s new heights of success, expectations for Temple’s program have risen. And, in all likelihood, they’ll continue to rise.
Williams feels the key to dealing with those rising expectations is not worrying about them and focusing only on what the players themselves can control.
“If the hat’s on your head, you’ve got to produce,” said Williams, a Baltimore native who amassed 49 tackles and an interception last season.
“We never pay attention to the opponent, it’s all how can we get ourselves better and what are we doing wrong? In life, you never getting beaten by another person, you’re really beating yourself. You messed up. If you’re not working as hard as you can in school, it’s your fault. It’s not the teacher’s fault for making the test. You never look at the opponent, you always look at yourself and see how you can get better.
“We don’t pay attention to nobody else but ourselves. We always look interior, never exterior. When you start looking on the outside world, then you’ll start letting the outside world affect you. So you have to look at what’s wrong with you and what’s great with you and how to perfect it.”
To achieve their goal this season, the Owls know they’ll likely have to go through Houston, the defending conference champion and heavy AAC favorite entering this season. No. 15 in the AP preseason poll, the Cougars demolished Florida State in last year’s Peach Bowl after vanquishing Temple in the AAC title game.
Houston (West) and Temple (East) will not meet during the regular season as both are in different divisions of the AAC. The two teams can only meet this season in a conference title game rematch.
The Cougars are on the minds of the Owls as the season gets ready to begin, but the Owls know there’s work to do first before any shot at Houston becomes a realistic option.
“We haven’t beaten Houston since I got here, so I really want to get after them,” said Williams, one of the Owls' most-trusted voices on defense. “But in order to beat Houston, we’ve got to go through all 12 games on our schedule. So we have to take it one day at time.”
It all begins again Friday night.