Hackenberg back at practice for Penn State

Lions to lambs: Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg is thrown for a loss by Buckeyes defensive lineman Adolphus Washington in the second quarter.
Lions to lambs: Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg is thrown for a loss by Buckeyes defensive lineman Adolphus Washington in the second quarter. (Getty)
Posted: October 31, 2013

Well, at least there was one bit of good news that emerged from the rubble of Penn State's blowout loss to fourth-ranked Ohio State.

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who suffered an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder in the first quarter and struggled before being lifted in the third, participated fully in the Nittany Lions' initial practice of the week on Monday and was declared "ready to go" by head coach Bill O'Brien.

Hackenberg, a freshman, was hurt when he was tackled after the whistle on a penalty call had stopped play. But O'Brien said he still believed the hit "was not a dirty play at all."

"The deal there was, the whistle blew," O'Brien said Tuesday at his weekly teleconference. "I'm not sure the guy heard the whistle. It was a very loud stadium and he kept going. I just felt it was an unfortunate thing that happened. Christian, I think he's a tough kid, he's fine."

Not much else went right in Saturday night's 63-14 defeat. The Nittany Lions defense allowed school records (since 1900) for points and total yards (686) to the Buckeyes, and the fallout from that game has been criticism leveled on Internet message boards against first-year defensive coordinator John Butler, a native of Montgomery County.

"That's a bunch of crap that he's taking heat," said O'Brien, who called Butler "a helluva football coach [who] works his tail off."

"He's doing a helluva job; I don't care what the scoreboard says or what the yardage says," he said. "Look, it wasn't a great team effort. We didn't do anything on offense to help the defense. We scored 14 points. We got down 21-0 and we couldn't even score a touchdown. So it's a team effort. If anybody should take any heat, it's Bill O'Brien, not John Butler."

O'Brien acknowledged communication issues between Butler and the players on the field with the defensive calls, and noted that the secondary played "a little soft" in pass coverage.

O'Brien said he was pleased with the way players returned to practice Monday. He talked to them about the highs and lows of October - the four-overtime win over Michigan, the blowout loss at Ohio State - "and that's kind of what life is all about." He said that seeing their response was "the fun part of coaching this football team."

But he didn't want anyone to get the idea that the stunning weekend experience was fun.

"Losing sucks, don't get me wrong," he said. "It's not fun for anybody. But when you get a bunch of guys that showed up like they did Monday and go back to work, to me that's a pretty neat thing and that bodes well for the rest of these guys' lives."

Nittany notes. O'Brien said safety Ryan Keiser, who is recovering from a hand injury, came out of Saturday's game in good shape. He said defensive tackle DaQuan Jones battled through a shoulder strain and a back issue against Ohio State but should be fine for Saturday's game against Illinois. . . . As indicated by Penn State's latest depth chart, seven positions in Saturday's starting lineup are up for grabs. One of the more surprising is at offensive tackle, where junior Donovan Smith, who has started 14 straight games, is in a three-way battle with Adam Gress and Garry Gilliam for the two starting spots. "They've had their bright spots and their not-so-bright spots," O'Brien said. "So we've made that a competitive situation this week."


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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