For years, football coaches have motivated their players in practice by using images of upcoming opponents.
(Growing up in Berkeley, I remember sneaking onto Cal's practice field in the mid-1990s and seeing the face of Arizona quarterback Dan White -- that week's opponent -- taped onto blocking sleds.)
Penn State offensive tackle Quinn Barham is taking things to a new level this summer.
Every time Barham checks his cell phone, he sees Adrian Clayborn or Marcell Dareus. Barham put pictures of the star defensive ends from Iowa (Clayborn) and Alabama (Dareus) on his cell phone background.
As Penn State's new starting left tackle, Barham will be assigned to block some of the nation's elite pass-rushers. He'll face Dareus in Week 2 at Alabama and Clayborn three weeks later in Iowa City.
"I've had [the pictures] up all summer, just as motivation," Barham told me last week. "Clayborn’s a great player; the guy at Alabama, Dareus, he’s a great player. So all those guys, just seeing what makes them great and learning how to beat them can also help me become a better player as well.
"I know they’re going to be working just as hard as I am, if not harder. That’s going to push me to work harder and learn different tricks and things to do to beat them and become a better offensive tackle."
You wouldn't blame Penn State players if they never wanted to see Clayborn again. The Iowa star had the decisive punt block and return for a touchdown in last year's Hawkeyes victory at Beaver Stadium.
But Barham sees an opportunity Oct. 2 in Iowa City.
"He’s a great player," Barham said. "They say he’s going to be a top-10 draft pick, so I would love to go against him."
Clayborn and Dareus won't be the only defensive ends to have their pictures on Barham's phone.
"I’m going to put up different defensive ends as each game goes by," Barham said. "I’m going to have a Youngstown State defensive end up pretty soon."
The 6-foot-3, 298-pound Barham is expected to make his first career start Sept. 4 against Youngstown State after backing up Lou Eliades as right guard this spring.
The cell phone pics are only one way Barham is preparing for an enhanced role. He has worked in camp on expanding his vision.
While he recognizes the importance of handling his individual assignment, Barham knows that the elite offensive linemen have total awareness of what's happening around them.
"In the past, I never would see everything on the field," he said. "Now I’m learning to see everything and how everything clicks: recognizing blitzes, recognizing coverages and different lineups, and how to adjust to them on the fly. As a young offensive lineman, you don’t necessarily pay attention to all that at first. You’re just so focused on your assignment. But once you see the field and how everything works together, you understand how to work together and how the chemistry can build.
"We’re trying to be better than last year’s O-line. We’ve got big goals, and we’re trying to reach ‘em."