UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) -Study time is almost over for Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin.
He's finally getting a grasp on that new-fangled playbook, the one modeled after the Patriots' attack by Nittany Lions coach and former New England offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien.
"Now during camp, we've taken a major step forward in terms of the playbook. We're starting to get comfortable instead of thinking about what we're doing," McGloin said Thursday.
Good thing, too, since the season opener is just 10 days away, Sept. 1 against Ohio.
So much has happened with the program the past several months that the transition to a new offense - which in most circumstances would be the dominant topic of a preseason camp - is a secondary storyline as a historic season approaches.
More than 90 percent of the roster stayed at Penn State after the NCAA announced landmark sanctions July 23 for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Bowl games are out for the next four seasons, and O'Brien must deal with significant scholarship cuts during that same time frame.
Nine players took advantage of an NCAA waiver to transfer immediately to play for new schools this season, most notably star tailback Silas Redd to Southern California and receiver Justin Brown to Oklahoma.
The Nittany Lions who stayed have become rallying points for the community. Many area fans and alumni feel the NCAA unfairly punished players for a scandal with which they had nothing to do.
Players including McGloin, have stressed their sympathy for child abuse victims and their desire to do more to raise awareness of the problem, following O'Brien's message.
At the same time, "We definitely have a chance to make history at Penn state," McGloin said. "We have an opportunity to bring this great university back from the bottom."
A team under siege by media since the scandal broke in November has grown tighter during the rough times. To that end, O'Brien during camp has also set up team activities like bowling and movie nights, and bringing in motivational speakers.
"I think we're so much closer than we were before," cornerback Stephon Morris said. "It's a new era."
Those team activities have also served to break up the grind of camp, especially one in which the team is getting used to the tendencies and schemes of a staff - especially on offense.
The playbook is thick. The starting receiving trio will be entirely new. Tight ends could be a factor again after disappearing from the offense the last couple years.
"We've made some big strides" learning the playbook, fullback Michael Zordich said. "It was tough because we're learning a whole new offense. It was very tricky, tough to learn."
After getting beat up early on in practice by the defense because of the learning curve, Zordich said the offense has pulled even as players have learned assignments and techniques.
It all revolves around McGloin, who unseated one-time top prospect Rob Bolden as the starting quarterback each of the last two seasons. The senior was anointed the starter in the offseason, and Bolden has since transferred to LSU.
"I feel like Matt has a very good grasp and how it all fits together," O'Brien said this week. "We're going to be a multiple personnel team, multiple formation team. Run, play action, empty (backfield.) Change of tempo. Hopefully be pretty good in situational football."
A former walk-on who has inspired confidence in teammates with his swagger, McGloin said he never gave thought to transferring himself. The Scranton-area native said he stayed for his family, and because of loyalty to the program.
Now he's got a chance to learn from O'Brien, the rookie head coach who mentored star signal-caller Tom Brady while with the Patriots.
McGloin said he's more comfortable now with the offense three weeks into camp than at the same point in each of the last two seasons.
"I'm definitely light years ahead from where I was, not only as a quarterback but as a leader as well," McGloin said. "Just teaching us the right way to play football and the right way to play quarterback ... we've never had something like that before here, and we're eager to show everybody how far we've come.
Notes: Penn State football players will have a blue ribbon on the back of their helmets to show support for child abuse victims. Acting athletic director Dave Joyner made the announcement on a Penn State football radio show Thursday night. The team noted the addition of the ribbon earlier, but it wasn't clear exactly where on the uniform it would be placed.