B-W GAME: FOS Notebook

Spring scrimmage brings even more woes for Penn State's already depleted offensive line.

The situation remains fluid along Penn State's offensive line.

Fluid -- as in, when it rains, it pours.

Two more linemen left Saturday's Blue-White Game with injuries, after two were lost to knee injuries earlier in spring practice -- one of whom, guard Miles Dieffenbach, is a returning starter and reportedly suffered an injury that will keep him out for an extended period.

Another lineman, Anthony Alosi, has been suspended indefinitely after an arrest on simple assault charges.

“We've got to get some things resolved up front,” said first-year head coach James Franklin. “We're going to have to be creative with that.”

It is a situation, Franklin said, like no other he has faced in his coaching career. Only left tackle Donovan Smith, approaching his third year as a starter, has played much. The Lions had three scholarship tackles on their roster this spring, and one of them is freshman Chasz Wright. PSU cannot so much as fill a two-deep along the offensive line with scholarship players.

Creative? Franklin & Co. are going to have to do something worthy of Renoir.

To recap, Dieffenbach and Andrew Nelson -- a two-year starter at left guard and the presumptive starter at right tackle, respectively -- injured their left knees this spring. Nelson's injury is not believed to be as serious the one suffered by Dieffenbach. No one knows for sure, though, since Franklin flat out ignores such matters. Just won't even address them.

That means the Blue team, composed of the first- and second-stringers, opened Saturday's scrimmage (a 37-0 Blue victory, by the way) with Smith in his usual spot, converted defensive tackles Derek Dowery and Brian Gaia at guard, redshirt sophomore Wendy Laurent at center and redshirt freshman Brendan Mahon at right tackle.

Then Laurent left with an apparent leg injury, and Gaia departed as well, with an undetermined malady. Redshirt junior Angelo Mangiro stepped in at center, and redshirt freshman Tom Devenney, who opened the game as the starting center on the White team (meaning he was no better than a third-teamer) became the Blue team's right guard.

Just the way things are these days.

“The next-best guy has to step up and mature a little faster than you would have thought,” Mahon said.

Or step elsewhere. That's been the case with Mahon, who made the move from left guard to right tackle.

“I just did what was best for the team,” he said. “I want to better myself every day -- come out, get better. No one's perfect.”

Devenney said he has practiced at guard, that indeed new line coach Herb Hand has encouraged versatility, given the team's numbers crunch. But mostly Devenney has been a center since arriving in Happy Valley, first under Bill O'Brien last year and now under Franklin.

That was one adjustment, since he played tackle at Warwick High School, near Lancaster -- the biggest of which, he said, was perfecting his shotgun snaps, and learning to step and punch immediately afterward.

Adjustment No. 2 was to a new offense. The center still makes the line calls, but Devenney said there is more communication involved.

“We don't have as many protections,” he said, “but we have more adjustments to blitzes and things from our protections than we did with Coach O'Brien.”

He said the biggest adjustment might have been getting bigger - going from 270 pounds as a high school player to nearly 300 now.

“You have to get used to moving your body even faster, (carrying) more weight,” he said. “It takes a lot of athletic work.”

Now, there is the constant reshuffling of the deck up front. He said it's “sort of the way football works,” and recalled how the Warriors had to close rank when they lost their starting quarterback his sophomore year.

“You get used to what happens: People get hurt here and there,” he said. “There's a reason you take second teams reps. … It's really out of our control. We're just focused on every day, and (the) individual.”

Some bullet points from Franklin's postgame news conference:

On the attendance: “I think it was announced at 72,000. I had somebody count personally, and they had 82,000 there. We asked for 80,000 and got 82,000, so I'm appreciative of that.”

On whether the defense is ahead of the offense: “It was either that, or we really wanted to work on our punting game. … The (offensive) playbook was obviously limited. I don't know if it was necessarily limited because that's our philosophy. I'm not one of those paranoid college football coaches. (Opponents) have three years of really good film on us. It's not like we're hiding a whole lot. The playbook's limited just because of where we're at in some of our situations, dividing the team up, being thin personnel-wise. But it is what it is. You guys don't want to hear about it. Nobody wants to hear about it. … We just have to find a way to overcome it and embrace the challenge that we have.”

On the things that impressed him most: “I think the defensive line. I think we have depth and talent on the defensive line. … I think (Michael) O'Connor was able to get some reps, which was helpful. … I think our special teams -- (Chris) Gulla did some nice things today. (Sam) Ficken did some nice things.”

On the quarterbacks: “I think (Christian) Hackenberg, we're going to be going into camp feeling pretty confident. I think he's comfortable with what's going on. He has a good understanding of concepts. He's getting more comfortable with the terminology. … He's extremely accurate. He has a really good feel for the game. He has great arm strength and I think we're going to do some things to help him as well. I think for a freshman, O'Connor is doing some really nice things. I think he has a pretty good mind when it comes to the game. It comes natural to him. … He's not a guy who panics. He's very, very comfortable. He has a good feel of where to go with the ball, and why. He has a good understanding of protections. I think the improvement that you're going to see from him now and the first game will be dramatic.”

On the Wildcat -- what he might call it, and how often he might use it: “I think we're going to go with 'Wildcat.” … I'm more worried about the execution and things like that than I am about coming up with a new catchphrase. That will be a part of our offense. How much? I'm not sure. It depends on how camp goes. We'll probably limit how much we run Hackenberg, obviously, so a way to get that package into your offense is to do it out of the Wildcat. You're able to do true 11-on-11, offense vs. defense. Every other offense you run, the defense has an advantage of plus-one on you.”

On watching the offense from behind the formation during the Blue-White Game: “The reason to be on the field is to control the quarterback. I wanted the officials to call the game, blow the whistle, do those types of things. But I was going to protect the quarterback. … I was going to stand back there and blow the whistle when it was considered a sack. I typically do that in practice every single day, but in a scrimmage I definitely want to be back there.”

On building trust with the players: “This is as resilient a group as you guys can all imagine. They've been through a lot of adversity during their careers here. I think because of that, they have become really, really close as players. When we first got here there was a little bit of a wall up. … We're starting to break that wall down, for sure. … I think we're going to do a lot of things in camp and during the summer, team-building things, whether it's paintball, bowling or a dodge ball tournament. We're going to do a lot of things to have fun, so it's not just football and coaching them, and being demanding all the time, that they see the other side of us. I think the other part that's going to be important is this summer all our families are going to get here. … I think that's another important part of it -- that the players get to see us as more than just coaches, (that) they see us as fathers and husbands. They come to our homes. … We're going to have a parent picnic after this, because I haven't met 90 percent of the parents yet. We're going to break bread with them and get a chance to meet all the parents and that's going to help.”

On what he and his staff will do the next couple weeks: “What we'll do is on Monday, we will come in as a staff. We will grade the tape in detail. We'll watch it as a staff as well, so we will grade as position coaches and then we will watch it, offense and defense, and then I will get a chance to watch it with the coordinators. Then the coaches will go through and they will do an evaluation of each player, and that evaluation is them on the field. The academic counselors have evaluated what they have done academically. The staff, everyone has input. Then I will sit down and go through each area of responsibility, areas that they need to improve, and I'm going to give them my feedback as well -- things that I want them to work on, where we're going and goals for the offseason. So I'll meet with every single player on the team. It might take two weeks. It might take three weeks. But we will schedule them from 6 in the morning until 11 at night -- about a 20-minute meeting with each kid. And then obviously the coaches will be on the road. … Obviously we are going to hit the state really hard, because as you guys know, we are going to dominate the state. … And then after that we are going to work on dominating the states, with an 's.' ”

On walk-on running back Cole Chiappialle: “He's had a great spring. … He's got great vision. He's got great toughness and balance. I think there there's a role for him in the football program. He needs to be a huge contributor on special teams. I think he's got a similar style to Zach Zwinak in the way he runs. … Everyone in the organization has tremendous respect for how he has carried himself and how he works.”

More on Chiappialle: “Guys that are in our program, I don't care how they got here. They are all ours. We don't treat scholarship (kids) different than how we treat walk-ons. We don't treat in-state kids any differently than out-of-state kids. Everybody is going to be given a fair shot here. If you're the best player, you will play. I don't care if you're senior or a freshman. We're going to play the best guys.”

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