Bill O'Brien has certainly put his stamp on the Penn State football program since his arrival in January 2012. From creating a new offense to putting names on the back of the traditionally bland uniforms and getting on the microphone to call out plays during a spring game, O'Brien has done a little bit of everything in order to generate enthusiasm for his football program in the midst of NCAA sanctions. But with health and a depleted scholarship total becoming a top concern heading in to the 2013 season, O'Brien may already be thinking about ways to change things in 2014.
"I think we have to carefully think about the Blue White Game," O'Brien said while meeting with the media in Philadelphia, the second stop on the Penn State coaches caravan.
A wrist injury suffered on the third play of the Blue White Game could leave running back Zach Zwinak out of action for a while. While O'Brien joked Tuesday the injury was non-life threatening, The Reading Eagle's Richard Scarcella reports Zwinak could miss half of training camp. O'Brien mentioned multiple times between his stops in Reading and Philadelphia that Zwinak will likely be restricted to non-contact drills once he does return as Penn State prepares for the season opener against Syracuse in MetLife Stadium.
“He’s going to be OK, more than likely he will be play against Syracuse but he’s going to have to be in non-contact type deal early in training camp," O'Brien said Tuesday. "He’s one of our best players, I don’t think anyone would argue with me on that."
Zwinak worked his way up the Penn State depth chart last fall to lead the team with a 1,000-yard rushing season. He is expected to be a main contributor to the offense in 2013.
Zwinak's injury prompted O'Brien to mention that changes to the Blue White Game could be needed, although he remains unsure how the annual spring tradition could be modified. As his previous decisions to alter staples in the Penn State football tradition, O'Brien is aware of the importance to the fans and alumni when it comes to some of the traditions. But O'Brien's first job is to ensure the safety of his players, and that could mean Penn State explores new methods to showcase their football program at the end of the spring football schedule.
"So going forward, why would we ever want our best players to get hurt in a Blue White Game?" O'Brien asked. "That being said, I understand how important that weekend is to our fans and I’m not saying we’re going to put an end to the Blue White Game but I think we’ll find different ways to show the fans where we are as a football program."
Penn State has made the Blue White Game a centerpiece of a weekend extravaganza over the years. A carnival in the parking lot and autograph sessions with current and former players as well as the opportunity to encourage fans to check out other sports programs such as baseball has been built around the annual spring football game, which has been free to the public and generally welcomes decent sized crowds depending on the weather.
The Blue White Game is too good of an opportunity to open up the program for fans, and in a time when support is greatly needed, it is not likely the game actually goes away completely. The good news is O'Brien and the Penn State football staff and officials have some time to figure alternative measures out before next April.
All quotes were obtained first hand by the author during the Penn state Caravan Tour.