Bill O'Brien says everyone connected with the Penn State football program gets to start with a clean slate.
Good thing, I say.
Because last year -- the second half of the year especially -- the slate was ugliness personified. It was a football team in disarray. It wasn't lacking talent, but it looked like it was. Picture what "helter-skelter" might look like on a football field, and that's what I'm talking about.
Not that there weren't good reasons for that, given the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal that hung over Happy Valley and the Penn State football program for six months like a dense London fog. It sucked the life right out of a decent -- not great, but OK -- football team.
Anyway, from top to bottom, it was not a season built on performances that anyone wants to be remembered for.
Hence, the clean slate. Everyone gets a chance to impress the new head coach from scratch. And that started in January, when O'Brien, the former New England Patriots' offensive coordinator, was hired to replace Joe Paterno.
It started in the weight room. It started with the offseason conditioning sessions. It started with an offensive playbook about six inches thick. It started with a whole bunch of attitude adjustments. It started with recruiting. It started with a reminder that academics were the first order of business, and everything else was second.
The message was sent -- there's a new sheriff in town. And he's watching every move you make.
Keep in mind that no college coach in America will operate next season while shouldering a heavier burden to be successful than O'Brien. The pressure is on, and I'd be surprised if he doesn't already feel it, whether he admits it or not.
This is a man who, for the last five seasons, became used to having a certain amount of success. He coached one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL -- Tom Brady -- for the best part of the last three seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at New England. He was also the Patriots wide receivers' coach for one season.
He's a coach who is fiercely competitive. His mind is finely tuned to offense, which will be something new and different for Penn State players, coaches and fans. It's a football program that's always been known more for its defense than its offense. That could change this season.
Again, a clean slate.
That's especially important for guys such as last year's starting quarterback for the last three games of the regular season -- Matt McGloin -- who had a freakish ending to the season when he suffered a concussion during a locker-room scuffle with another player. He didn't start or play in the TicketCity Bowl game against Houston.
And it's important, too, for Rob Bolden, the junior quarterback who started the first seven games last year, looked shaky most of the time and was finally replaced by McGloin in the eighth game of the season.
If anyone needs a clean slate it's those two guys.
Don't forget Paul Jones, the third-year sophomore quarterback that's had one academic problem after another. He's spent more time off the field than on it. Clean slate needed here, as well.
Same goes for the offensive line. And the defensive secondary. Returning kicks and kicking field goals were problems, too.
A clean slate all around.
Well, almost. The running backs look solid as long as Silas Redd stays healthy. The linebackers will be an improvement over last year if they can avoid the injury bug. And the punter, Anthony Fera, will keep opponents pinned inside the 20-yard line, if he keeps his nose clean.
It's a place to start.
Bill O'Brien knows that.
The Blue-White spring game is scheduled for Saturday, April 21. A little more than three weeks away.
Maybe we'll know more about this team by then.
But we won't know everything.
Because O'Brien will be checking his slate for at least the next five months or so. Every player will have his chance to impress.
Then choices will have to be made.
That's how it works in the world of sports.
Sports columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch colum nist, run Thursdays. E- mail: lhicks@yorkdis patch.com.