Redshirting No Day at the Beach

Three young Nittany Lions talk about going from high school stars to sitting out as rookies at Penn State.

TAMPA -- Redshirt year is a season-long masquerade party for Penn State's freshmen, and let the record show that the party never stops.

Paul Jones? The fledgling quarterback has been assuming the role of Florida QB/tight end Jordan Reed on the scout team in PSU's practices leading up to Saturday's Outback Bowl against the Gators.

Dakota Royer? An outside linebacker for the Lions, he has become a doppelganger for Gators wide receiver Carl Moore during drills.

Miles Dieffenbach? The Nittany Lions' center is serving as stand-in for Mike Pouncey, who plays the same position for Florida.

All in the interests of giving the starters a good look. And all while trying to establish their own identities within the program.

To a man the three redshirts say this has been a useful year, that it has helped them greatly in making the transition from high school to college. (And recall that two of the three, Jones and Royer, had enrolled in school last January, in hopes of hastening the process.)

Instead, they have been forced to pay their dues, as is often the case.

“It's all about starting low and working your way up,” Royer said Thursday afternoon, at a bowl-sponsored beach gathering in Clearwater Beach. “Everybody goes through it.”

“It's a hard adjustment,” Dieffenbach added, “but you get used to it. You just have to make sure you practice to get better, and aren't practicing to get through.”

It amounts to a long, hard year out of the spotlight, a place to which none of these guys is accustomed.

“Sometimes I wanted everything too much and I'm not patient enough,” Jones said. “Now I've got some patience, so I'm all good.”

He had been the star of April's Blue-White Game, throwing a pair of touchdown passes to Shawney Kersey, and there was some expectation that he would become a serious competitor for the job left vacant when Daryll Clark departed.

Instead, the announcement came in August that Jones would redshirt. Joe Paterno said at the time there were some academic concerns, which by all indications have been alleviated.

So Jones gamely took on the role of whatever quarterback the Lions were facing a particular week. He also added 20 pounds; he now goes 6-3, 245. But his prospects would not appear to be better than they were last spring. Classmate Rob Bolden started the first half of the regular season, sophomore Matt McGloin the second half.

The other guy in the mix, Kevin Newsome, has not accompanied the Lions on the bowl trip and is expected to transfer. Jones told reporters earlier this week he has no such plans, but it would appear he will have to be even more patient than he was this season.

He said he is “just taking it day by day.” In fact, he said that repeatedly Thursday.

Royer and Dieffenbach have been doing the same, while finding that some days are better than others.

In Royer's case, his welcome-to-college-football moment came late in spring practice, when he found himself alone in the open field with running back Silas Redd, a fellow freshman, who had taken a handoff and burst through the line.

Very alone, as it turned out.

Redd, Royer said, “went one way, and another way, and another way. I went two ways with him, and didn't go the last way with him.”

With predictable consequences -- Redd busted off a long one.

“Everybody went 'Ohhhh,' ” Royer said. “It was a different experience for me.”

All of it is, for all these guys. Dieffenbach recalled rolling out for practice the first day of preseason drills with the other freshmen, and promptly getting dressed down by line coach Dick Anderson.

“He was just going off,” Dieffenbach said. “We're like 'Whoa, this is way different from high school.' He's just going off, and we have no idea what we're doing, or what we're supposed to do. So that was crazy.”

But not unusual for freshmen -- at every position.

“In high school it's a lot different,” Royer said. “You don't get criticized as much. Because we're young here and working around everything with the speed and everything, there's a lot more chance to make mistakes as a young guy.”

And just about a 100-percent chance they will hear about it. With that in mind, the older players have told Royer not to get discouraged, that nothing personal is intended by the coaches' critiques. He has taken that to heart, and believes he has gotten better. He has also taken care of business in the classroom; he said his GPA is hovering in the 2.7 range.

As for Dieffenbach, he has raised his weight from 280 pounds to 295, while carving his body fat by four percent. He can only hope to be in the mix at center this coming spring, since Doug Klopacz will exhaust his eligibility Saturday.

Royer, meanwhile, will be one of many candidates for playing time at outside 'backer.

But for now, the masquerade continues, for them and Jones.

Reed, one of three quarterbacks the Gators use -- sometimes all of them are on the field at the same time -- has completed 18 of 33 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns, run 53 times for 260 yards and five TDs, and caught six passes for 79 and another score.

“He did everything, I guess,” Jones said. “It was weird (playing that role) at first, but I got used to it pretty fast.”

Even the catching part.

“I only got thrown to once, but I made a nice catch, I guess,” he said.

Pouncey, whose twin brother Maurkice made the Pro Bowl as a rookie with the Steelers this year, is “a mauler,” according to Dieffenbach.

“He gets inside on people and really drives well,” he said. “He's got good quickness. He's a great player. He and Wiz (i.e., PSU teammate Stefen Wisniewski) are two of the best guard-centers in the country.”

Royer, unlike Jones, has experience as a receiver, having played the slot in high school. Returning there in the guise of Moore -- the Gators' second-leading receiver, with 27 catches -- is no big deal; Royer said he is “just having fun with it, taking everything in, one day at a time.”

All while waiting to establish his own identity. As are his classmates.


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