Tuesdays with O'Brien: 'It's a free country'

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien's face didn't grow red, nor did his mood shift to anger, when asked about two outspoken players -- one of whom publicly complained about his playing time.

Penn State tailback Curtis Dukes told his hometown paper, the Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times, on Friday that he deserved "more of a shot." Dukes' high school coach told ESPN that his former player was thinking of leaving after the season as a result.

O'Brien just shrugged when Dukes' name was brought up at Tuesday's weekly news conference. He talked about the redshirt junior with a steady demeanor, as if he were asked about Bill Belton or Zach Zwinak -- and he dismissed any notion of disciplinary action.

"Nah, it's a free country," O'Brien said matter-of-factly, drawing laughs from the crowd. "I mean, nah, Curtis is working hard and he's a member of the football team, and he'll continue to work hard. And that's all I have to say about that."

A tweet from cornerback Stephon Morris was also broached later in the news conference. On Monday night, the senior wrote, "Pls stop looking ahead to next week. This is a huge game, we hate them they hate us. Were focused on Iowa that's it. One game at a time."

Apparently, the term "hate" offended some. O'Brien turned to a Penn State spokesman, rolled his eyes and then addressed the media about the tweet.

"You know what I hate? I hate Twitter," O'Brien said. "I think these guys are young guys and I think tweet this and spacebook that, whatever, we got to play the game. We don't have any hatred for Iowa, we respect Iowa. ... I think it's just young guys tweeting this, tweeting that. That's how it works, I guess."

Award list controversy: Linebacker Michael Mauti wasn't named to the Lombardi Award watch list last week, and O'Brien spoke up again Tuesday about the snub.

"I'm sure they would tell you we just want to win, but I do think that there's a certain amount of ridiculousness that guys like Michael Mauti or Gerald Hodges or Jordan Hill aren't on the -- I don't even know the awards. ...

"These award lists come out halfway through the season. I'm trying to figure it out. Shouldn't the award lists come out at the end of the season when we have a 12-game season?"

Running backs: Little changed on the depth chart, but leading rusher Zwinak was finally moved to No. 2 on the depth chart in what basically amounted to a formality.

Belton was still listed as the top tailback, and O'Brien said the bye week was invaluable to the sophomore. He deflected a question on whether Belton was yet at 100 percent, but the coach said the tailback, who' still recovering from an ankle sprain, looked good in practice.

"He caught the ball well, he ran well, he stretched well," O'Brien said. "He did some good things, and hopefully he'll play well on Saturday."

Injury report: True freshman linebacker Nyeem Wartman remains out with a knee injury, and O'Brien said he's not certain yet whether he'll return this season. Wartman might earn a medical redshirt.

The only other injury listed on the report was offensive lineman Mark Arcidiacono, who remains out with a foot injury. Defensive end Pete Massaro and left tackle Donovan Smith were not listed on the report.

No break on the bye week: O'Brien smiled when asked about his "bye" week. He spent Monday-Wednesday last week preparing practices, and he was in Fork Union, Va., on Friday to recruit. And that's not too mention constructing midseason evaluations or analyzing Iowa film.

As a result, O'Brien said, he didn't take much time off.

"A lot of people ask me about, how was your bye week and having days off?" O'Brien said. "Well, you never have a day off during football season. It's either getting the team ready to play or recruiting or whatever it may be. But I was able to take my wife out to dinner Saturday night, but that was about it."