Lion Lines Tested in Spring

Penn State's offensive and defensive fronts have had their own challenges during workouts.

For a young Penn State team that struggled through much of last season, this spring is a time of rebirth. All of last season's frustrations have been thrown to the wind, and the sole focus is now on improving for the upcoming campaign.

And when it comes to the 2011 Nittany Lions, two of the team's biggest question marks -- aside from the obvious debate over who should quarterback the team -- are the offensive and defensive lines. While the boys on offense lack experience and veteran leadership, the front four on defense are fighting many injuries.

No matter the problem, though, center Matt Stankiewitch and defensive tackle Jordan Hill see both units improving on a daily basis.

“It's a motivational factor that no one believes in us and we strive to be the best unit we can be,” said Stankiewitch, who has been practicing with the first unit this spring. “Every practice is a day of progress for us. We push ourselves to get better and we like that Coach (Joe) Paterno is always on us.”

Stankiewitch's 2010 season took a serious hit when he contracted the mono virus following the Illinois game. The center from Orwigsburg, Pa., said he lost 10 pounds during one practice on the day he found out he was ill. In total, Stankiewitch missed over two months of practice and working out, something he said “forced him to become a man” in college.

“Last year was a struggle but this season I'm hoping to make an impact people will notice,” Stankiewitch said. “Every day of practice is a day of progress for (the offensive line), and by next fall we're going to have improved a lot.”

On the other side of the ball Hill said the team is coping as well as they can with the injuries to defensive ends Pete Massaro, Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore.

"There's gonna be injuries in football; we know that,” said Hill, who has also been practicing with the first team. “Nothing's changed. We want to go out there and dominate every single play, every snap. Everybody's intentions are pretty much like that."

Hill has been impressed with how quickly and efficiently all of the new faces on the defensive line have meshed. And when you couple that with how great the linebacking corps has looked in spring practice, Hill seems very optimistic about the defense's prospects for the 2011 season.

“All of them are playing lights out right now, especially Mike Mauti and Gerald Hodges,” Hill said of the linebackers. “They're definitely standing out to me. Everybody's just flying around the field, making plays left and right. It's going to be a great unit next fall.”

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