Kline Shouldering Greater Load

The redshirt sophomore linebacker is playing through an injury to help the Penn State defense as best he can.

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Ben Kline has been asked to shoulder a greater load for the Penn State defense lately. This despite being hampered by what head coach Bill O'Brien has called a “bum” right shoulder.

Playing with a harness on the shoulder in question, Kline made his first career start in the Nittany Lions' overtime win against Illinois last weekend. He finished third on the team with a career-high eight tackles.

“I was excited to go out there and play with the guys and try to get a big win in front of our fans,” Kline said. “I was excited to do that and be out there with my teammates. It was a lot of fun for me.”

But this season has been as much about pain -- and pain management -- as it has been about fun for Kline. The shoulder began to bother him late last season, so in January he had surgery.

What exactly was wrong with the joint?

“Just a little nicked up,” is all Kline would say.

Rehab forced him to miss all contact in spring practice. And that set him back in the battle to try to replace departed 'backers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. He was, however, expected to be back at “100 percent when training camp commences,” according to the Penn State Media Guide.

But that never happened. As camp went on, the shoulder kept bothering him.

“They did a good job with me in the off-season, easing me back into things,” Kline said. “When camp rolled around, it was over time that it just got nicked up and kept getting annoying. It never came back around the whole way.”

He was held out of three of the first six games. And when he did play, it was primarily on special teams. At the midway point of the season, Kline had four tackles.

Then at Ohio State, he offered one of the few defensive highlights of the day for the Nittany Lions when he sacked Buckeye QB Braxton Miller in the second quarter. It was Kline's first career sack.

In the week leading up to the Illinois game, he practiced so well that O'Brien took notice. The coach did more than award him with his first start; he also praised Kline in front of the entire team during a pregame talk.

“I pointed him out as a kid I just really enjoy being around,” O'Brien said after the game. “He's a 4.0 student. He's a tough kid. He's a Penn State linebacker. He plays with a bum shoulder and he practiced well this week so he deserved to get the start. It looked like he made some plays out there today.”

On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Kline was asked again and again about his bad shoulder. And he repeatedly praised the trainers and coaches for handling the situation so well.

“The trainers did a really good job of easing me into it and the coaches were really accommodating in giving me time to adjust,” he said. “A combination of those two things have eased the transition.”

In true tough guy form, Kline downplayed the fact that he is playing in pain. He would not admit how bad it gets or whether there are certain types of things that happen on the field that are more painful than others.

Likewise, when asked whether the shoulder might need more attention after the season, he was vague.

“(I'm) just making sure I can get through the year right now,” he said. “We'll see what happens.”

In the meantime, he'll continue to shoulder however much of the defensive load he can.

“This season, with the injury, it's been a little more trying than other seasons,” Kline said. “It's definitely added something to the equation. But I'm trying to do what I can to help the team and be ready to go when they need me.”

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