"They have a great understanding of what they need to do as leaders both on and off the field and in the community," he said. "It is a pretty neat group of guys to be around, and I wish we had them around for longer."
O'Brien didn't go down his entire depth chart, but he reiterated that a number of players have cemented their status as starters, including senior quarterback Matt McGloin and sophomore running back Bill Belton of Winslow Township High.
In a recent scrimmage, Belton scored on an 80-yard run.
"His pass protection is getting better, and he's catching the ball out of the backfield," O'Brien said.
O'Brien said that six to seven players are in the receiver rotation and that four to five could be in the mix at tight end.
Among the receivers to watch is Allen Robinson, a 6-foot-3, 201-pound sophomore.
"Allen Robinson has had a really good camp to this point, and he will be a starter," O'Brien said.
The coach said that tight end Brent Wilkerson (6-3, 239) has been among the impressive incoming freshmen.
O'Brien believes that there is decent depth on the offensive line, although it's an area he describes as being "banged up lately."
The coach did say that offensive tackles Adam Gress (6-6, 311) and Mike Farrell (6-6, 306) have enjoyed strong camps. Another potential tackle, Donovan Smith, has been hampered for most of camp by a hamstring injury.
O'Brien said that Miles Dieffenbach has looked good in the preseason and, if he keeps progressing, could earn one of the starting guard spots.
Mark Arcidiacono, a junior from St. Joseph's Prep, was expected to be in the mix for a starting guard spot but has been hindered by a foot injury.
"I just feel terrible for him because I think he's a great kid who cares about playing," O'Brien said. "He just hasn't been able to get on the field."
O'Brien said that several players will see time on the defensive line, but that his starting defensive line would be tackles Jordan Hill and DaQuan Jones and ends Pete Massaro from Marple Newtown and Sean Stanley.
O'Brien added that defensive end Deion Barnes, a redshirt freshman from Northeast High, will be among the players in the defensive-line mix.
The strength of the team will be at linebacker, with senior all-American candidate Gerald Hodges of Paulsboro, junior Glenn Carson, and senior Michael Mauti starting.
O'Brien didn't say who would start in the secondary, but he praised the play of sophomore cornerback Adrian Amos, senior corner Stephon Morris, and junior safety Malcolm Willis. O'Brien said that safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong would not only see time in the secondary but also on special teams.
The coach wouldn't divulge who his return men would be, but said he has been pleased with the work in camp of sophomore placekicker Sam Ficken. He is looking for more consistency from punters Matt Marcincin and Alex Butterworth, and said that Emery Etter has been impressive as a long snapper.
Penn State opens its season Sept. 1 at home against Ohio University.
Contact Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @sjnard.