Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien
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CHICAGO -- Bill O'Brien thinks he can do a better job of managing the clock. He wants to improve his communication with his coaches in the press box. Then there are the adjustments for recruiting, practice and team meetings. Now, the Penn State head coach is focused on putting everything he learned in Year 1 to good use.

"When you've never done it as a head coach, you're definitely learning on the job, and I learned a lot in my first year," O'Brien said Thursday at Big Ten media days.

"I think we've learned a lot in a year. I believe we've improved."

Penn State had an 8-4 record last season, and O'Brien received several awards. The Nittany Lions dropped their first two games, then won five in a row. The offense developed into one of the most potent units in the conference.

But listen to the 43-year-old O'Brien for a while, and it's clear the Boston native expects more -- from himself, and his players.

"We want to be a tough, smart football team. We want good kids. We want to be able to play in all kinds of weather and all those different things," O'Brien said. "I talk about that a lot, whether it's recruiting or Xs and Os."

That public emphasis on improvement is consistent with the coach the Nittany Lions see in practice and meetings.

"He's the same guy but with any competitor and Coach O'Brien is a competitor, he always feels like he needs to improve something," safety Malcolm Willis said. "Just certain things like just different techniques that he'll learn or things that he'll watch on film that he picks up, you know he'll inform the team and he's always 100 percent honest with us."

While there is an ongoing competition at quarterback and concerns at linebacker, there is still plenty for O'Brien to work with in his second season. Whoever wins the QB job gets to throw it to dynamic receiver Allen Robinson, who had a school-record 77 receptions for 1,013 yards last season. There are 16 returning starters in all, and a total of 38 letterwinners coming back.