The reality is that while he’s worried about everything going on around him, football is still his job. So even now, Brent Pry teaches football as best he can, safely away from his students like so many college coaches these days.
For Penn State’s defensive coordinator, it’s simply a different way of teaching. And there are so many things still to learn as preventing the spread of COVID-19 takes precedence.
“These days are like roller coasters,” Pry said during a video conference with reporters this week. “One minute, you hear the descriptive documentation of what’s going on out there; it’s terrible in some places, and heartbreaking. Other times, you’re trying to go about your business. You continue to grow your family and develop these players and help everybody get through this the right way and the best way.”
As head coach James Franklin noted last week, coaches are conducting daily staff and positional meetings over video conferencing, putting together the Nittany Lions’ summer plans without the benefit of the 15 spring practices the pandemic forced to be canceled.
For Pry, the job is largely the same as it would have been had it been a typical spring: installing new plans in the linebackers meeting room; studying why pass defense faltered as the 2019 season progressed; breaking down film; discussing the pros and cons of proposed changes and maintaining the status quo.
“I think it’s healthy ... that we’re connecting that way,” he said. “The meetings generally start with each other cutting up one another like normal. Then we get into some questions about what’s going on with everybody’s families. At the same time, we dive into the football piece and workouts and gauge where these guys are.”
Pry knows Penn State was in a bit of a defensive transition, and the direction it took was going to be determined by how position battles and leadership roles shook out during the spring.
The Nittany Lions had gaping holes to fill along the defensive line, with defensive tackle Robert Windsor and end Yetur Gross-Matos off to the NFL. There are two starting spots open at linebacker alongside standout junior Micah Parsons, and two — perhaps three — jobs up for grabs in a beleaguered secondary.
They lost seniors Jan Johnson, Garrett Taylor and Cam Brown, the unquestioned leaders of the 2019 defense that finished No. 34 in the nation in 2019. Pry said several returning starters — namely, safety Lamont Wade, end Shaka Toney and tackle Antonio Shelton — are capable of stepping to the forefront, but he knows they’ll need others who haven’t had major roles in the past to step up. He’s hoping that, even without being on the field, leaders will emerge.
“I hope the way we’ve developed these guys in the time they’ve been with us, it helps them,” he said. “I believe it does during times like this. ... Sports is about dealing with adversity so much of the time. “Last year, our mantra was, ‘The adversity we faced in our preseason camp will shape our season.’ We talk about adversity a lot in our program and how we handle it, like a lot of folks do. But I think that this is a lesson learned for everybody.”