Big Ten: A.Q. Shipley

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State left tackle Donovan Smith already knows what this article is going to say.

Clips and columns about Penn State’s offensive line have revolved around a central theme the last five months: This unit likely isn’t going to be any good. Smith can’t escape all that chatter. With every compliment thrown Christian Hackenberg ’s way, there’s another question mark tossed at the offensive line.

Hackenberg can be great … but will he have enough time to pass? Penn State returns two experienced tailbacks … but does that matter if this line can’t generate any push? A lot of the criticism seems deserved, or at least understandable. Only Smith returns as a starter on the line, and two converted defensive tackles might very well start at guard in time for the opener. That’s not exactly cause for a confidence boost.

[+] EnlargeDonovan Smith
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarDonovan Smith is the only returning starter on the Penn State offensive line, and he's motivated by that.
“A lot of people hear it, but we use it as motivation,” Smith said, adding some of his teammates keep the negative articles taped to their lockers or saved to their phones. “They read them daily or at night, or stuff like that. We’re just going to use it as motivation and push on from there.”

That doesn’t mean players here are scouring ESPN or the local news sites for bulletin-board material. Far from it. But they don’t have to go very far to hear those doubts. It’s on Facebook and Twitter; it’s talked about on campus and in classrooms. It’s been an unwanted storyline that’s hovered since news broke in March that Miles Dieffenbach, the Nittany Lions’ most experienced lineman, suffered what could be a season-ending injury.

Depth is obviously an ongoing issue during these years under scholarship limits because of NCAA sanctions. It's created a huge concern on an offensive line that returns just three scholarship athletes with OL game experience. And no unit is reminded of it more often.

“It’s hard to ignore,” said redshirt junior Angelo Mangiro, who played in every game last season but never started. “It’s sticking in. I don’t go digging my nose in it and looking for it. But it’s hard to avoid, so you definitely remember it.

“It’s sticking with me, and it’s sticking with the rest of the guys. So we have something to come out and prove.”

Offensive line coach Herb Hand stood near his thinned-out unit last week and wore a permanent smile. He didn’t look like a man whose line features just two healthy upperclassmen, four sophomores and 13 freshmen (including redshirts and walk-ons). He insisted he felt no pressure and quoted NFL coaching great Chuck Noll: “Pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Hand, who was a candidate to become Vanderbilt’s head coach, does know – and has been a beacon of positivity for these Lions. Often in the spring, he pulled aside the converted defensive tackles -- Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia – and offered encouragement and advice on pass protection. Gaia still remembers those first few days, of confusion and sometimes blocking no one during an inevitable sack play. But Gaia caught on in about a week and a half; he was then holding his own against pass-rush specialist Anthony Zettel. Gaia won an award in the spring as the offense’s most improved player.

Players have thrown a lot of praise Hand’s way. But, then again, if there’s one answer to all these question marks, it might come from Hand, since he faced an identical situation in the past. Back in 2007, before his hair shifted to gray, during his first year at Tulsa, Hand’s offensive line had just one regular returning starter. He even moved a defensive tackle over to offense. The result?

“We led the nation in offense that year, in 2007,” he said. “It’s a whole different animal in the Big Ten, obviously, but this is not something new. I’ve done it before. There’s a lot of growth that needs to take place and a lot of learning. But if you have guys that will work hard, that have great attitudes and bring a tremendous work ethic … you can accomplish great things.”

The situation at offensive line was never quite this dire before at Penn State, but there is still some precedent at the school as well. The 2006 squad also returned just one starter, left tackle Levi Brown, but still fared OK and helped the team finish 9-4 with an Outback Bowl victory. Four of the linemen on that team – Brown, Gerald Cadogan, Rich Ohrnberger and A.Q. Shipley – went on to earn All-B1G honors during their careers, and three were drafted into the NFL.

But this is a different line, and the future of this unit remains unknown. There are question marks – big question marks -- and, precedents or not, there will undoubtedly be more columns and stories wondering aloud just how this unit will fare. But Smith, Mangiro and the rest of the current linemen already know what the clips are going to say. And they’re hoping to prove them all wrong starting Aug. 30.

“It is what it is,” Smith said. “They talk about you good, bad – and we’re up for the challenge.”
The Big Ten produced only one major national award winner in 2011, as Michigan's David Molk took home the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center.

Given that the Big Ten has produced two of the past four Rimington Trophy winners -- Molk and Penn State's A.Q. Shipley in 2008 -- you should pay extra attention to the preseason fall list for the award revealed Tuesday.

Six Big Ten centers appear on the list. The Big Ten has the second most candidates behind the SEC (10).

Here's the Big Ten contingent:
It's a pretty good group despite the league losing it's top two centers from 2011 (Molk and Wisconsin's Peter Konz).

Ferentz and Pocic look like the Big Ten's top candidates, but Frederick is a very intriguing name. The 6-foot-4, 328-pound Badgers junior started 11 games at left guard and two at center last season. He started two other games at center in 2009, becoming the first true freshman in team history to start a season opener on the offensive line. Frederick clearly has the ability and talent to play the position, and if he handles the transition well, he'll be right in the mix for the award.

Vitabile is one of eight sophomores on the preseason watch list.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Joe Paterno didn't hide his concern about Penn State's offensive line when addressing reporters last week.

"We don't have any depth there," the coach said. "We don't have a good, solid first-string offensive line yet. That's our first job."

It's hardly a revelation that the Big Ten's best teams are strong along the offensive line. Wisconsin and Iowa have elevated their programs largely because of their line play. Michigan State will become a perennial league title contender when it churns out great lines year after year.

[+] EnlargeStefen Wisniewski
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarThe Lions have to replace Stefen Wisniewski, who started all 13 games at guard or center the past two seasons.
Not surprisingly, Penn State's best teams in recent years have been superb on the offensive front, but last year's line endured inconsistent play. Although the Lions allowed only 12 sacks -- tied with Michigan for 10th fewest nationally -- they couldn't get the run game going until the second half of the season. Penn State finished ninth in the league and 74th nationally in rushing, its lowest finish since 2004 (81st nationally).

"For all the [talk about] the offensive line being such a big question mark, we didn't give up that many sacks, we were able to get [Evan] Royster the rushing record, so there were definitely some bright spots," right tackle Chima Okoli said. "Myself included, there's a good amount we also have to work on. By no means are we done."

Penn State should be fine at the tackle spots as starters Okoli and Quinn Barham both return. Senior DeOn'tae Pannell has nine career starts and Johnnie Troutman started the final 11 games last season at left guard.

The Lions must replace standout Stefen Wisniewski, who started at both guard and center during his career. But overall depth, as Paterno noted, could be a problem.

"We've got four seniors," Okoli said, "and as you get older, you've kind of earned your right in the hierarchy to say what you'd like to get done with the younger guys."

Penn State's line play has become a testy topic for fans the past two seasons.

The Lions' last elite offensive line led the team to a Big Ten title in 2008. It included Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley and three first-team All-Big Ten players (Shipley and tackles Rich Ohrnberger and Gerald Cadogan).

"They definitely set the bar," Okoli said. "If we can be anywhere close to those guys' level, we'll definitely compete for things I believe we're due for."
In the past, offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski never had to bring a compass to Penn State practice.

Veteran leaders like Daryll Clark, Sean Lee, A.Q. Shipley and Josh Gaines drove the bus, and everyone knew the direction in which the Nittany Lions were headed. Wisniewski merely had to hop on board.

It's not that simple in Happy Valley this season.

Penn State knows where it wants to go and what it wants to be, but there are fewer certainties. Starting quarterback Rob Bolden has been a college player for less than two months. The offensive line is still settling in after an offseason shuffle. Several of the key contributors on defense are new.

[+] EnlargeRoyster
Rob Christy/US PresswireEvan Royster has struggled to get on track in the early part of the season.
Where is Penn State headed this fall? It's still to be determined.

"It's a little different," Wisniewski said. "It takes a little bit a longer to see what you got when you have some younger guys. We know they're very talented, but it takes getting into a season to see how well they're going to develop."

A Week 2 trip to No. 1 Alabama showed Penn State how far it needs to go. The Lions responded last week against Kent State, blanking the Golden Flashes 24-0, though the win left some lingering doubts about the offense.

Penn State faces another huge test Oct. 2 at No. 18 Iowa in the Big Ten opener, but first it takes on an undefeated Temple team brimming with confidence and seeking a historic upset Saturday at Beaver Stadium (Big Ten Network, 3:30 p.m. ET).

Despite a mid-game offensive lull against Kent State, Wisniewski and his linemates gained confidence from the way they started and finished. The offensive line had been a question mark entering the season, but Penn State is the only FBS team yet to allow a quarterback sack through the first three games.

The Lions also received a second-half boost from backup running back Stephfon Green, who rushed for 59 yards on only 11 carries.

"Offensively, we saw signs that we can have a very balanced attack, and that can create problems for people," Wisniewski said. "We’re starting to do well picking up some of the more complex blitzes and things defenses are throwing at us. You can see it in that we haven't given up a sack here in three games, which is excellent, given how many different [position] changes we had."

Penn State's biggest question mark on offense remains one of the unit's few guarantees entering the season -- senior running back Evan Royster. The first-team All-Big Ten selection from 2009 has yet to eclipse 40 rushing yards in the first three games.

Royster reached the end zone for the first time against Kent State but also fumbled in the third quarter and saw his duties limited. The senior returned to Penn State in part to be a featured back this fall, but he has had to share carries with Green, a veteran reserve, and emerging freshman Silas Redd. Left tackle Quinn Barham told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that "we're worried" about Royster's struggles.

"I’m sure he'd like to get the ball a little bit more, but he’s handling it well," Wisniewski said. "He knows that the heart of our season is still to come."

Wisniewski shot down the notion that Royster might be pushed for his starting spot.

"He doesn't need to earn the job," Wisniewski said. "It’s his job. He's got 3,000 yards rushing. That's not something he needs to worry about."

Coach Joe Paterno doesn't sound as concerned as he did leading up to the season. There are the typical JoePa lines -- "I couldn't tell you there's one area where I'm completely satisfied," he said Tuesday -- but aside from being more competitive at Alabama, the team has developed on schedule.

Paterno identified consistency in the run game and forcing more turnovers as two things Penn State must achieve in the coming weeks.

"I've been optimistic that one of these days, we're going to be a pretty good football team," Paterno said. "We’re not there yet. We're a little better now than we were to start with. ... Hopefully, we'll have a good week and play a little better against Temple than we've played so far this year, and I think we'll have to, to win it.

"We've done about as well as I could expect."
The Big Ten preseason player rankings, based on past performance and 2010 potential, continue with ...

No. 8: Stefen Wisniewski, G/C, Penn State, Sr., 6-3, 297

2009 numbers: Earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors at center after making the transition from guard; started all 13 games for the Nittany Lions and helped Penn State to an 11-2 record and a Capital One Bowl championship; earned third-team All-America honors.

Most recent ranking: No. 24 in the 2009 postseason player rankings.

Making the case for Wisniewski: Is there a more versatile offensive lineman in the country than Wisniewski? After earning second-team All-Big Ten honors at guard, his natural position, in 2008, Wisniewski shifted to center because Penn State needed a replacement for Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley. Wisniewski didn't miss a beat, earning consensus first-team all-conference honors for a line that had its ups and downs throughout the fall. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. in February listed Wisniewski as the nation's No. 2 center for the 2011 NFL draft, but Wisniewski moved back to guard in spring practice and likely will stay there for the season. Named to the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, Wisniewski is one of the leading contenders for Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year. Safe to say he's upholding the family name in Happy Valley.

The rundown

  • No. 25: Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt
  • No. 24: Illinois RB Mikel LeShoure
  • No. 23: Iowa DT Karl Klug
  • No. 22: Northwestern LB Quentin Davie
  • No. 21: Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins
  • No. 20: Ohio State LB Brian Rolle
  • No. 19: Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien
  • No. 18: Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi
  • No. 17: Ohio State WR DeVier Posey
  • No. 16: Wisconsin LB Chris Borland
  • No. 15: Wisconsin G/C John Moffitt
  • No. 14: Indiana WR Tandon Doss
  • No. 13: Purdue WR Keith Smith
  • No. 12: Ohio State LB Ross Homan
  • No. 11: Wisconsin LT Gabe Carimi
  • No. 10: Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan
  • No. 9: Ohio State G Justin Boren

Big Ten lunch links

May, 21, 2010
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Yeah, I'm a doorman ... to the sky!

Stefen Wisniewski is back to where he started at Penn State, and this time, he thinks he'll stay there.

Wisniewski, a consensus first-team All-Big Ten center in 2009, is once again practicing at guard this spring in Happy Valley. He made the move after the Nittany Lions' fourth practice, as senior Doug Klopacz is working as the team's starting center.

Wisniewski started 12 games at guard in 2008 before shifting to center last year as Penn State had to replace Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley.

"I know the coaches like me at guard," Wisniewski told me. "They think I'm a better guard than I am a center, which I think I agree with. I've been playing exclusively guard, but I don't know for sure if that's a permanent move."

Wisniewski admits he's more comfortable at guard but would move back to center without objection if it was what the team needed. After some initial struggles with the switch to center, he settled in more as the season went on, despite being a "more natural" guard.

The switch back is one of several tweaks coaches have made to the line, as they hope to find the right combination to protect a young quarterback in 2009. Lou Eliades, the team's starting right guard last season, has shifted to right tackle. DeOn'tae Pannell, who started four games at right tackle last year, is working at left guard this spring but could be moved back to the edge of the line. Wisniewski recognized both Eliades and Pannell for their play this spring.

Sophomore Quinn Barham has been working as Penn State's top left tackle, and while he lacks experience, he brings "that left-tackle build," according to Wisniewksi, and good athleticism to the position.

Is Penn State's line shuffling complete? Probably not. Given the importance of building chemistry up front, Wisniewski and his line mates would like to see a resolution soon.

"I'd certainly like to see that as soon as possible," he said, "but however long it takes us to figure out who our best five are, we want to have our best five out there. I'd imagine those kinds of decisions will be made finally during camp in the fall.

"If it would happen earlier in camp, it would make things easier for us, definitely."
The Big Ten postseason player rankings continue with ...

No. 24

Stefen Wisniewski, C, Penn State, Jr., 6-3, 297

Preseason rank: 27

Why he's here: Like Iowa's Tyler Sash, Wisniewski is one of the Big Ten's premier underclassmen and a player who will appear much higher in the 2010 preseason rankings. He transitioned well from guard to center and earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors at his new position in 2009. Though Penn State's offensive line took time to jell, Wisniewski stood out during conference play. He'll contend for Big Ten Offensive Linemen of the Year honors next fall with Ohio State's Justin Boren and others.

These rankings also are about future potential, and Wisniewski projects well to the next level. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. lists him as the nation's No. 2 center for the 2011 NFL draft. Wisniewski is an extremely intelligent player and comes from excellent bloodlines, and he'll enter the fall as one of the favorites for the Rimington Trophy, won by his Penn State predecessor A.Q. Shipley in 2008. Penn State will lean on the O-line and the run game in 2010, and Wisniewski will be called upon to lead the way.

The rundown

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Daryll Clark saw this coming.

The Penn State senior quarterback obviously didn't want to see the team struggle in the run game, but he anticipated it. When you lose three first-team All-Big Ten players (A.Q. Shipley, Rich Ohrnberger and Gerald Cadogan) from the offensive line and return no players in the spots they played last season, a transition period is inevitable.

Clark, who has performed extremely well in the first two games, urges patience with a run game that ranks last in the Big Ten (107 ypg) and 94th nationally.

"We knew going in that this was going to give us somewhat of a problem," Clark said. "We’re young up front, we’re new up front. The offensive line is the unit that takes the longest to jell, and they’ve shown that. It’s only going to get better. I guarantee it.”

George Zimmer couldn't have said it better, but Penn State needs to see improvement Saturday against Temple. A one-dimensional offense can survive against the below-average competition Penn State has faced to this point, but it won't cut it when Iowa visits Happy to begin Big Ten play next week.

Penn State boasts the Big Ten's top all-around back in Evan Royster and plenty of depth at the position, but the problems are up front. Starters Stefen Wisniewski and Dennis Landolt are back, but Wisniewski has shifted from guard to center and Landolt moves from right tackle over to the left side.

The Lions also might shuffle the offensive line for the Temple game in an effort to spark Royster and perform better in short-yardage situations.

"We've got to be more consistent in the running game, we've got to do a better job with our downfield blocking," head coach Joe Paterno said. "We're going to work hard on that this week."

The early returns have been promising in practice.

"Granted, we’re going against our scout team and everything like that, but it looks good," Clark said. "You practice the way you play, and it’s really, really looking good. And up front, Dennis, Stefen, they’re not worried about it because they see it getting better every single day. And they keep stressing how important it is.

"It’s very important going into the Big Ten season."

Opponents have loaded up the box against Penn State, forcing Clark to attempt 71 passes in the first two games. The senior has completed 69 percent of his throws with six touchdowns and two interceptions.

Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno usually tells Clark three or four days before the game to be ready to air out it if the situation demands it.

"We know in time that we’re going to get back to being balanced," Clark said. "That’s definitely what we want. But if we have to pass to win a game, we don’t have a problem with it, either.

"There's no frustration right now."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Can the Big Ten have a repeat winner for the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation's top center?

Five players hope to make it happen. 

Penn State's A.Q. Shipley took home the hardware last fall. Here are the five Big Ten centers named to the Rimington Trophy preseason watch list:

  • Ohio State sophomore Mike Brewster
  • Northwestern sophomore Ben Burkett
  • Wisconsin junior John Moffitt
  • Michigan sophomore David Molk
  • Michigan State senior Joel Nitchman

A very solid group overall, and what really stands out to me is the fact that the center spot in the Big Ten appears to be a strength for years to come. Only five sophomores made the watch list, and three are from the Big Ten.

Many will notice that Shipley's successor at Penn State, junior Stefen Wisniewski, does not appear on the watch list.  Wisniewski, a second-team All-Big Ten guard last season, moved to center during the offseason. According to Penn State, the Rimington folks were hesitant to include Wisniewski because he hasn't played center during his first two seasons, a decision Penn State respected. Wisniewski will be able to earn consideration for the award with a strong performance this season.

Brewster obviously has tremendous upside and should contend for the award each of the next three years. Burkett and Molk both will be part of much-improved offensive lines this fall, and Moffitt and Nitchman will be looked to as leaders for their respective teams.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Everything on offense starts with what happens up front, and line play will make or break the season for several Big Ten teams. The league loses a handful of standout linemen, including Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley, but several teams should reload nicely.

There's a lot to like about the top three, and I don't see any truly bad units in the league.

1. Iowa -- Shonn Greene was the nation's most dominant running back last year, but he had plenty of help. Iowa returns three starters and several key reserves from a line that propelled Greene to 13 consecutive 100-yard rushing performances. Junior Bryan Bulaga is the league's premier left tackle, while Kyle Calloway provides depth on the other side. The Hawkeyes boast more guard depth than any Big Ten team, a group that includes Dace Richardson, who has resurrected his career after a string of injuries.

2. Ohio State -- A major disappointment in 2008, Ohio State's line should be much improved thanks to experience, the addition of guard Justin Boren and some excellent recruiting. Boren brings a much-needed spark to the line and impressed just about everyone this spring. Center Mike Brewster is a year older, and senior Jim Cordle has shown impressive versatility in shifting to right tackle. The left tackle spot concerns me a bit, but Ohio State has recruited extremely well here.

3. Wisconsin -- The Badgers lose starting guards Andy Kemp and Kraig Urbik, but they always find a way to control the line of scrimmage and return several key pieces. Center John Moffitt and left tackle Gabe Carimi will contend for All-Big Ten honors, and Bill Nagy looks solid at one of the guard spots. If right tackle Josh Oglesby takes a step forward and lives up to his potential, Wisconsin will once again have one of the league's top lines.

4. Northwestern -- The team hopes its skill-position losses will be offset by a much better offensive line, which returns four starters. Northwestern did a good job of limiting sacks last year but should be much better at staying on blocks and buying time for athletic quarterback Mike Kafka. Left tackle Al Netter and center Ben Burkett are both All-Big Ten candidates, and the Wildcats boast plenty of depth after recruiting extremely well to this position.

5. Michigan -- No group will make a bigger jump in Year 2 of the spread offense than the line, which returns four starters. Michigan should be very solid up the middle with center David Molk and guards Stephen Schilling and David Moosman. If the Marks (Ortmann and Huyge) hold up at the tackle spots, a run game led by Brandon Minor will surge. Despite several player departures, Michigan has recruited several standout linemen who will provide depth this fall.

6. Michigan State -- I like the Joels (Foreman and Nitchman), and left tackle Rocco Cironi returns from a shoulder injury, but this group still needs to prove itself. Despite Javon Ringer's success last fall, the line was just average and must fill several gaps. Hopes are high for J'Michael Deane and Jared McGaha after spring ball, and if those players make progress Michigan State will move up the list.

7. Penn State -- The line rivals the secondary as Penn State's biggest concern entering the fall. In addition to Shipley, the Lions lose tackle Gerald Cadogan and guard Rich Ohrnberger. Only one starter (right tackle Dennis Landolt) returns to the same position he occupied in 2008. Stefen Wisniewski will be fine at center, but Penn State needs tackle DeOn'tae Pannell and others to make a lot of progress during camp.

8. Illinois -- With so much talent at the skill positions, expectations will be high for the Illini line, which drew mixed reviews in 2008. Right guard Jon Asamoah will contend for All-Big Ten honors, and Illinois really likes young right tackle Jeff Allen. The team must fill a big hole at left tackle, though veteran Eric Block slides over from guard to center. This could end up being a very respectable group.

9. Minnesota -- Perhaps no offensive line in the Big Ten intrigues me more than Minnesota's, which is going through a major transition in both scheme and technique with assistant Tim Davis. The Gophers are returning to their roots as a power-run offense, but they'll have to adjust quickly to all the changes. Left tackle Matt Stommes could be a pro prospect if things fall right, and the mammoth Jeff Wills lines up on the other side of the line. Notre Dame transfer Matt Carufel joins the mix as a starting guard.

10. Purdue -- Injuries decimated the two-deep last year, and Purdue used seven different starting lineups up front. The Boilers are much healthier entering the fall and should be much better. Young players like right guard Ken Plue gained valuable experience last fall, and he rejoins veterans Jared Zwilling, Zach Reckman and Zach Jones. The big question is how quickly the group jells as Purdue wants to stress the run game more this fall.

11. Indiana -- Much like Purdue, injuries hit Indiana's line especially hard last fall. The Hoosiers have two proven veterans in left tackle Rodger Saffold and center Pete Saxon, both of whom have started for three seasons. If those two can lead the way and young players like Justin Pagan and Will Matte continue to develop, Indiana will be much improved here.

Big Ten mailblog

June, 9, 2009
6/09/09
2:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'm officially changing this from a mailbag to a mailblog because, well, it sounds cooler and everyone else is doing it. Yeah, yeah, I'm a conformist.

Adam from East Lansing, Mich., writes: As a big college football fan, all I hear about is how facilities are a major factor in bringing in the recruits, especially lately as many say Michigan State (my university) rivals Ohio State for the best facilities in the Big Ten and that we have passed little sister. But as a college student I don't get the chance to tour the Big Ten. So I was thinking that a cool idea would be to rank the big ten facilities (preferably with two separate rankings, Stadium rankings and all other facilities such as practice fields or the Skandalaris building at Michigan State for example) This way we could all gauge where we are in recruiting. Love the blog, keep up the good work, and remember. GO GREEN!!!

Adam Rittenberg: Like the idea, Adam, and I might do a modified version of it in the near future. I haven't gone on extensive tours of every team's practice/weight room facility, so it'd be a bit unfair to rank all of them without doing so first. I will say that the Skandalaris Football Center at Michigan State is very impressive and a major, major upgrade from what the school had before. The new facility undoubtedly has helped Michigan State become a bigger player in recruiting, especially in the Midwest.


Billy H. from Boston writes: Hey Adam -- congrats on the recent marriage and keep on doing an excellent job on the blog!! My question revolves around rating how good college offensive linemen are. Preseason or postseason, stats are never mentioned. It's a feeling of, "Ok, he's there so he must have been good." As a result, they end up being rated by reputation, experience, and physique. However, this is hardly accurate. A great example is former Buckeye Alex Boone. I love the guy, but the three-year starter underachieved his senior season BIG TIME. What do you think can be done to correct this inaccurate science of rating the most abundant position on the field?

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Billy. I agree that it's tough to effectively rate offensive linemen without breaking down a ton of film on their footwork, blocking techniques, etc. But one way I gauge a lineman is by how he leads the unit. No position group demands chemistry more than the offensive line, and the truly great linemen are also tremendous leaders. Penn State center A.Q. Shipley was an excellent example last year, a guy who led one of the nation's top lines on the field and also did his own job extremely well. As for Alex Boone, he probably took more heat than he deserved for his own performance last year. But the fact that the entire Ohio State line struggled so much does fall in his lap as the unit's most experienced and decorated member. Leadership didn't seem to be Boone's strong suit, and Ohio State suffered because of it.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State dominated the recent Big Ten player rankings, boasting six players in the top 30, two more than any other team in the league. The Nittany Lions had four players in the top seven and five in the top 12, while no other Big Ten team had more than one.

But when it comes to preseason predictions, Penn State gives way to another team. Ohio State has been ranked ahead of the Lions in almost every preseason poll and publication, including my latest power rankings. Colleague Mark Schlabach had Ohio State three spots ahead of Penn State in his way-too-early Top 25.

What gives? How could a team so stocked with star power not get the nod as the league's preseason favorite?

After all, Penn State and Ohio State shared the league title last year -- the Lions won the head-to-head meeting Oct. 25 in Columbus -- and both teams lost sizable senior classes that included national award winners (A.Q. Shipley, Malcolm Jenkins). The fact Penn State returns more proven stars but sits behind Ohio State in the 2009 forecast seems a bit incongruous, as many of you have pointed out.

Edwin from Dayton, Ohio, writes: I find it interesting that you have (as do most experts) Ohio State a better team and the chosen team to win whe Big Ten even with an away game at Happy Valley. But when I look at your player rankings you have 6 Penn State players you your top 30, and 4 in the top 12. This would lead me to believe that Penn State is the better team. (Although I know this is not the case) how do you justify them having the perenial players in the big ten and them not being the best? Are you just playing devils adovocate to the lion share of people that think The Ohio State is the best Big Ten team?

This points to the fundamental matchup of the 2009 Big Ten season -- Penn State's star power vs. Ohio State's depth.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

When most players make a position change, they usually consult a coach for guidance or a teammate who has gone through a similar transition.

Stefen Wisniewski simply called his uncle.

Steve Wisniewski twice earned first-team All-America honors as a guard at Penn State. He went on to become an eight-time Pro Bowler in the NFL, primarily playing guard but also serving as a backup center for the Oakland Raiders.  

 
  Paul Spinelli/Getty Images
  Penn State guard/center Stefen Wisniewski has plenty of family advice to draw on to aid his position transition.
Not a bad resource for Stefen, who this spring made the shift from right guard to center at Penn State.

"It's one thing to have some family with some football experience," Stefen Wisniewski said, "but to have guys that played your same position, it's unbelievable because they know exactly what you're going through and they can give you tips based on what they did."

It's one of the perks of being a Wisniewski, especially at Penn State. Though the Paternos will always be the royal family in Happy Valley, the Wisniewskis are certainly part of the nobility. 

In addition to Steve, who played on Penn State's last national championship team in 1986, Stefen's dad Leo was a standout defensive tackle for the Nittany Lions from 1979-81. Stefen is next in line, and he moves into a greater leadership role along a new-look offensive line as he replaces Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley at center.

Having such a storied lineage at one program can heighten pressure on a player, but Wisniewski, a 6-3, 302-pound junior, doesn't see it that way. 

"It definitely motivates me to want to keep the name up and even try to one-up those guys," he said. "It's not real easy. They were both top-30 draft picks. My uncle was a two-time All-American, so it's going to take a lot, but I'm certainly going to try to and if not, at least keep the respect that the Wisniewski name has up here."

(Read full post)

Penn State spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
9:10
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State Nittany Lions
2008 overall record: 11-2

2008 conference record: 7-1

Returning starters

Offense: 5; Defense: 4; Special teams: 1

Top returners

QB Daryll Clark, RB Evan Royster, C Stefen Wisniewski, DT Jared Odrick, LB Sean Lee, LB Navorro Bowman, S Drew Astorino

Key losses

WR Derrick Williams, WR Deon Butler, WR Jordan Norwood C A.Q. Shipley, LT Gerald Cadogan, DE Aaron Maybin, DE Josh Gaines, S Anthony Scirrotto, CB Lydell Sargeant

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Evan Royster* (1,236 yds)
Passing
: Daryll Clark* (2,592 yds)
Receiving: Deon Butler (810 yds)
Tackles
: Navorro Bowman* (106)
Sacks
: Aaron Maybin (12)
Interceptions
: Lydell Sargeant (4)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Akron
Sept. 12 Syracuse
Sept. 19 Temple
Sept. 26 Iowa
Oct. 3 at Illinois
Oct. 10 Eastern Illinois
Oct. 17 Minnesota
Oct. 24 at Michigan
Oct. 31 at Northwestern
Nov. 7 Ohio State
Nov. 14 Indiana
Nov. 21 at Michigan State
Spring answers

1. Line is fine -- Despite losing three major contributors at defensive end, Penn State's reloading line appears to be fine for 2009. Sophomore end Jack Crawford looks like the team's next dominant pass-rusher. There's good depth at defensive tackle around All-America candidate Jared Odrick, and if Penn State can get a bit healthier at the end positions, it should be solid up front.

2. Daryll does it -- Daryll Clark was the Big Ten's top quarterback by a fairly wide margin in 2008, and the senior built on his first season as a starter with a strong offseason. Clark has put the coaches at ease about the direction of the offense. He's the undisputed leader of the unit, and more importantly, he wants to lead. There might not be a more valuable player in the Big Ten this fall.

3. Wideouts emerge -- Penn State loses three multiyear starters at receiver, but several players showed this spring that they're ready to step up. Both Graham Zug and Brett Brackett caught touchdowns in the spring game and look to build off of their experience from last year. Derek Moye and Chaz Powell provide variety in the wide receiving corps, and the tight end position should be featured more after Andrew Quarless performed well this spring.

Fall questions

1. Secondary -- The wide receivers' performance in the spring game came with a caveat, as they faced a secondary that needs a ton of work before Sept. 5. Penn State loses all four starters from a unit that wasn't all that good to begin with, and head coach Joe Paterno expressed major concerns about the defensive backs this spring. The Lions need A.J. Wallace to get healthy and Drew Astorino to set the tone in the back four.

2. Offensive line -- Right tackle Dennis Landolt is Penn State's only returning starter playing the position he played in 2008. There are a lot of new faces up front, and it will take time for the group to jell. Three spots are up for grabs this summer, and talented junior Stefen Wisniewski still needs time to adjust to the center spot.

3. Quarterback depth -- Despite Kevin Newsome's encouraging performance in the spring game, Penn State likely can't afford a major injury to Clark to keep its Big Ten title hopes alive. The Lions need continued development from both Newsome and Matt McGloin this summer so the coaches can feel comfortable turning things over if Clark goes down.

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