UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) - The new regime at Penn State changed up the look of the team's pro day.
Players auditioning in front of more than 25 NFL scouts or assistant coaches on Wednesday worked out in sleek, form-fitting blue and gray workout gear - with names on the backs of the shirts! Nameless gameday jerseys are as much a staple of autumn Saturdays in Happy Valley as falling leaves and tailgating.
There's no indication the plain-Jane jerseys will disappear under rookie coach Bill O'Brien, though his NFL connections might come in handy for the Nittany Lions hoping to get to the next level.
Though he never coached this group of Penn State seniors, O'Brien spoke about them like family.
"That's one of the ways you show it. You want these guys to have career opportunities when they're done playing, and you can help them with developing a relationship with the NFL," he said Wednesday outside the team's indoor practice facility.
Like O'Brien's predecessor, the late Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno, the team kept the workouts themselves off limits to media.
Unlike Paterno, O'Brien spoke to reporters while players ran through a regimen that included 40-yard dashes, bench presses and positional drills. Under O'Brien's watch, Penn State has switched to a new offseason training regimen that focuses on free weights, Olympic-style lifting and squats.
Strength coach Craig Fitzgerald has said the new regimen, in part, helps improve players' explosiveness, what he has called an important trait in NFL testing.
"Talking to all the current players, they love it, they love what's going on," safety Drew Astorino said about the workout routine. "Great attitudes. Looking bigger, looking stronger. They feel good, so you've got to be happy with that."
Penn State's best pro prospect is Devon Still, the 6-foot-5 defensive tackle (11 1/2 tackles for loss) who wreaked havoc in opposing backfields until being slowed by turf toe in the 30-14 loss Jan. 2 to Houston in the TicketCity Bowl.
Still said Wednesday he took three weeks rehabbing the injury before the NFL combine last month, when he still wasn't 100 percent. He's not fully over the injury yet, though Still said he's feeling better. As proof, the 300-pound Still clocked in at 4.95 seconds on his 40-yard dash, .08 seconds faster than at the combine.
Still called the turf toe injury "annoying," though the potential first-round pick still has nearly six more weeks to get fully healthy before the NFL draft.
"This was a big deal," Still said about Penn State pro day, "just because I didn't put my performance in at the combine. I just wanted to come out here and compete."
For many pro day attendees, including Still, Wednesday was their first opportunity to meet with O'Brien. He was named coach Jan. 6, four days after the TicketCity Bowl. By that time, most of the departing seniors had dispersed and didn't return to State College.
"Great personality," tight end Andrew Szczerba said. "You could have graduated 10 years ago and he'll treat you like you're on his team right now."
O'Brien came to Penn State after serving as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, whose high-octane offense has made stars out of quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Szczerba said he hoped to talk more extensively with O'Brien in the next few days to get pointers on making it in the NFL. O'Brien's success using the tight end with the Patriots also swayed the verbal commitment of Adam Breneman, a junior at Cedar Cliff High School in Camp Hill, Pa., who recruiting services have called one of the top tight ends and prospects overall in the country.
It was perhaps the biggest recruiting commitment yet of O'Brien's brief Penn State tenure.
"Coach O'Brien's offense is one that I can thrive in," Breneman said last week after announcing his college choice before more than 400 people at his high school gym.
NCAA regulations forbid college coaches to talk about recruiting before players put their commitments in writing. But O'Brien said getting ready for the NFL isn't his prime selling point to potential Nittany Lions.
"If prospects ask about it, I'll give my take on the NFL," O'Brien said, "but we talk about Penn State and the university more than anything else."
Notes: Two rising sophomores made the most notable position switches this spring. Bill Belton, a receiver who took snaps in the wildcat offense last season, has moved to running back, while Dakota Royer is going from linebacker to tight end. ... O'Brien said Penn State was one of a few schools contacted by former Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien for a potential transfer. A redshirt sophomore, Danny O'Brien was granted his release from the Terrapins last month after completing 150 of 266 passes for 1,648 yards with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions last seasons.