Bill O'Brien had a chance to watch NFL draft-eligible players live for the first time this week at the Reese's Senior Bowl practices.
All except two familiar faces: Penn State's Carl Nassib and Austin Johnson. O'Brien coached the two defensive players during his tenure (2012-13) as the Nittany Lions' head coach.
"Good Penn State guys, tough, good teammates," O'Brien said in an interview with Texans TV. "Austin was a guy that we recruited when we were there and really tough inside defensive tackle that can rush the passer a little bit. Carl Nassib is a guy that was a walk-on. We awarded a scholarship to him and he's really come into his own, Big Ten Player of the Year, so very excited for those guys."
Defensive end Nassib (6-7, 272) led the NCAA in sacks (15.5), setting a single season sack record for the Nittany Lions in 2015. With a breakout senior year performance, he was selected CBS Sports National Defensive Player of the Year and also received the 46th Rotary Lombardi Award among other honors.
"Coach O'Brien came to Penn State at a time that we really needed him," Nassib said. "He brought together a great team and is one of the most high-character guys I've ever met in my life. I don't think I'd be the player that I am without Bill O'Brien."
Johnson (6-4, 325) declared for the NFL Draft after earning All-Big Ten second-team honors from the media. The defensive end recorded the most tackles (78) for a Penn State defensive lineman since Jimmy Kennedy in 2002. He started all 12 games and scored his first career touchdown after a 71-yard fumble recovery on Sept. 26 against San Diego State. During his redshirt freshman year under O'Brien in 2013, Johnson appeared in all 12 games with two starts. In his first career start against Kent State, he recorded 27 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, one sack, and a fumble recovery.
"Having that NFL atmosphere in college, he did an amazing job when Penn State was down and we kind of needed that," Johnson said. "He did an amazing job coaching and at Penn State, we love him and still do. Just a great couple of years with that staff and I'll never forget those years."
Watch the complete interview with O'Brien and all the Senior Bowl coverage on "Texans 360," airing Saturday night 11 p.m. CT on ABC-13.
Check out some snapshots from Day 3 of Senior Bowl practice in Mobile, Alabama. Images courtesy of AP.