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Study time: After class, PSU hits the playbook

FILE--In this file photo from March 26, 2012, Penn State football coach Bill O' Brien, center, gives instruction to the quarterbacks including Paul Jones, left, and Rob Bolden, right, during the first day of spring football practice in State College, Pa.
FILE--In this file photo from March 26, 2012, Penn State football coach Bill O' Brien, center, gives instruction to the quarterbacks including Paul Jones, left, and Rob Bolden, right, during the first day of spring football practice in State College, Pa. All the focus at Penn State this spring has been on the changes new coach Bill O'Brien is implementing on offense. But Linebacker U. is getting some tweaks on defense, too.
Gene J. Puskar, File, Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — When he's finished studying for class, Silas Redd starts digging into another thick book.

It's going to take time for Penn State's top tailback and his teammates to master the new offense installed by coach Bill O'Brien.

The Nittany Lions are learning new schemes based on the playbook O'Brien ran at his previous job as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. The system led by star quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Wes Welker also helped turn Rob Gronkowski into one of the best tight ends in the NFL.

But at Penn State, it's the junior running back Redd who is arguably O'Brien's most indispensable player on offense.

"It's pretty tough, a complex offense," Redd said before practice Friday. "The key is to learn all your formations, because once you do that, then it gets easy. But the formations themselves, there are a lot of them.

"There is a lot of memorization."

Redd keeps the playbook in his backpack so he can read up at the student union if he has free time between classes. Tight end Garry Gilliam is using flash cards, while receiver Justin Brown keeps going over plays in his head and repeating play calls out loud to get used to new routes.

Even linebacker Michael Mauti can't escape the offensive study sessions. He rooms with tailbacks Redd, Derek Day and fullback Michael Zordich.

"That's all they talk about. It's kind of been everywhere. They always have it," Mauti said, referring to his roommates cramming over the playbook. And no, he's not going anywhere near the offensive plays — Mauti has enough to worry about getting used to Penn State's new defensive wrinkles.

"I don't mess with that," Mauti cracked when asked if he quizzed his teammates about the offense. "I don't understand any of it."

Even O'Brien understands it's going to take time.

"Offensively I wish it was coming along a little faster," he said. "We've thrown a lot at these guys and to be fair to them, they've got to go to class too.

"What we've tried to do is put everything in so when they get to training camp, they haven't heard it the first time."

Redd appears to be doing all he can to get acclimated since he figures to get more involved with the passing game. Redd estimates he might get six to eight passes thrown his way each game. He's getting used to having to line up split wide on occasion.

That's unfamiliar territory for the 1,200-yard rusher, who caught just nine passes for 40 yards all last season.

"Silas in space 1-on-1? He's going to make a guy miss," Brown said.

But don't think O'Brien is going to turn the Nittany Lions into Air Penn State.

"People think it's going to be a pass-heavy team. It really hasn't been like that this spring," Redd said. "We're pretty balanced between run and pass."

Redd appears to be a bit thicker in his upper body, perhaps the result of the team's new strength and conditioning program that focuses on Olympic-style lifting and free weights. It might help him withstand more pounding in the trenches — Redd had 244 carries last year in 13 games. He wouldn't mind carrying the ball 20 to 24 times this season.

Redd was slowed down a little last season by shoulder stingers. He then hyperextended his right knee in the 30-14 loss to Houston in January in the TicketCity Bowl. Redd said Friday that he tweaked the knee a few practices ago, but plans to play in the Blue-White game to end spring practice on April 21.

LB Khairi Fortt is "coming along" after what appears to be a minor knee injury last week, and coaches will evaluate his progress to determine if Fortt will play in the Blue-White game. ... The three candidates in the starting quarterback derby — Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones — are expected to get equal reps in the spring game, O'Brien said.