Lots of changes as Penn State opens spring football practice

Posted: March 26, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - It may have been one of the more eventful openings to Penn State's spring football practice in recent memory, and not because head coach Bill O'Brien was in charge of the Nittany Lions on Monday after 46 years of leadership by Joe Paterno.

In addition to the usual position switches, including the move of former West Catholic star Curtis Drake from wide receiver to cornerback, the first day of spring ball saw:

Former Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien (no relation to the head coach) on the sideline, after O'Brien spent much of the weekend visiting Wisconsin.

A Penn State police report noting that drugs and drug paraphernalia were found during a March 14 search of the apartment shared by wide receiver Devon Smith and Jack Crawford, a former Nittany Lions defensive end who is preparing for the NFL draft. Also found was a prescription bottle with Drake's name on it, the report said. No charges have been filed.

The admittance of reporters, photographers, and television cameramen to the first 40 minutes of practice, something unheard of during Paterno's tenure.

Bill O'Brien, the former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, spent much of the first 40 minutes with his quarterbacks, barking instructions as each of them, including Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden, and Paul Jones, threw in a 25-m.p.h. wind.

At a news conference earlier at Beaver Stadium, O'Brien said he moved Drake from offense to defense partly because of numbers in the secondary and "we felt like Curtis could fit in there.

"What I saw with Curtis on the football field was good size, good feet, good hips, instinctiveness," O'Brien said. "I think he's a guy that can contribute there."

The 5-foot-11, 173-pound Drake, who will be a redshirt junior in the fall, caught five passes for 102 yards and a touchdown last season and rushed five times for 52 yards. He was involved in a scuffle in December with McGloin and did not travel with the Nittany Lions to the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas.

Drake, who suffered a broken left leg for the second time during 2011 spring drills, also has been cited twice for disorderly conduct after being involved in fights off-campus.

O'Brien said all 126 players in the program, including Drake, "start with a clean slate with me.

"Curtis and I have had many conversations, and I'll keep those between Curtis and I," he said. "He's got to keep up his end of the bargain by doing well in school and keeping his nose clean, and then we'll give him a shot to play this spring."

Regarding the off-field issue involving Smith, a three-year letter winner, O'Brien said: "That was just reported to me [Monday] morning, so I'm still gathering information on that. We'll have something at a later date to report. But I don't really have a comment on that at this point."

The police report said that while investigating a possible break-in at the apartment rented by Smith and Crawford, officers found a scale, a grinder believed to cut marijuana, and "multiple blunts." A search warrant later was obtained and police removed objects including a plastic bag believed to hold marijuana.

Police said a prescription bottle with Drake's name was found "under [the] futon." Drake lives in the same building but in a different apartment.

Smith and Drake were at practice Monday.

So was Danny O'Brien, who had visited Penn State earlier this month and spent much of last weekend at Wisconsin. He also has traveled to Vanderbilt and Mississippi. He would have two seasons of eligibility remaining and would not have to sit out a year because he has his undergraduate degree.

O'Brien, who was granted his release by Maryland coach Randy Edsall, was photographed in a borrowed Penn State jacket that he wore to cope with the wind and temperatures in the upper 40s.

Asked about the quarterback, Bill O'Brien said he couldn't comment because of NCAA rules.

In other spring-practice news:

The coach said that Bill Belton, a former star at Winslow Township High in Camden County, has been moved from wide receiver to tailback, which he said was "a more appropriate position for him, body-type wise, skill-set-wise."

Defensive end Pete Massaro, a former Marple Newtown High standout who suffered a torn ACL last spring, is ready to go. "He's had a good winter," O'Brien said. "Pete's a hard-working guy. He's a typical Penn State guy to me. He's what we're all about. He'll be out there in the spring. He's going to be hard to block."

Recruiting websites reported that defensive end Curtis Cothran, a 6-5, 225-pound defensive end from Council Rock North in Bucks County, had made an oral commitment to the Nittany Lions. He also had been offered scholarships by Temple, Rutgers, Northwestern, Purdue, and Boston College.

Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494, or jjuliano@phillynews.com, or follow him on Twitter @joejulesinq

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