Upon Further Review…

Nelson and Penn State’s other offensive linemen learning plenty from watching video of the 2014 season — even the bad stuff.


The video, which appeared to show Penn State offensive linemen Brian Gaia and Andrew Nelson blocking one another in a loss to Northwestern last Sept. 27, was viral for about 15 minutes. And if Nelson thought the fuss surrounding it was somewhat overblown, at least he and his linemates can laugh about it now.

Less amusing is what some other video -- that of the games -- showed from last season, when the Lions finished 7-6. The coaches have encouraged everyone to give it a look, just to see what can be learned.

It's not always the most comfortable viewing.

As he watches himself, Nelson said, “I'd say almost every play of my first few games I'm realizing, 'Why did I do this here? Why didn't I make this call?' ”

That's because the rising redshirt sophomore tackle knows better now, after starting all 13 games last season -- 12 on the right side, and one on the left side.

It's also because he is his own worst critic.

“I'm the type of guy,” he said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning, “that I look at what I'm doing and I always think, 'Listen, I could have done much better than that.' ”

He believes he did as the season wore on, and that his linemates did, too; there was a “night-and-day difference,” as he put it. He also believes that the unit will perform much more efficiently this season than last, since reinforcements arrived in the most recent recruiting class -- the Lions, unlike last season, now have a two-deep of scholarship players up front -- and because the holdovers now have a year's experience under their belts.

“I think getting all those snaps that we got last year was huge,” he said, “because you're just out there, and you're able to get used to the speed of things and making calls out there when there's pressure.”

He believes the line made strides, even though Christian Hackenberg was sacked a school-record 44 times. Even though the Lions had respective rankings of 108th in passing efficiency (109.41 rating), 110th in scoring (20.6 ppg), 111th in total yardage per game (335.3) and 117th in rushing yardage per game (101.9), out of 125 major-college teams.

And even though that seemingly incriminating footage emerged of Nelson and Gaia, a guard, colliding as tailback Bill Belton was tackled for a two-yard loss on a fourth-and-one play early in the fourth quarter of that 29-6 loss to the Wildcats.

“No. 1, I think people made way too big of a deal out of that,” Nelson said.

As he explained it, the idea on such a straight-ahead running play is for a lineman to “swab the hole” -- i.e., root out any defender that might have attempted to plug the gap. That's what Gaia was trying to do when he ran into Nelson, who happened to be in the hole.

“I think people kind of took that snapshot image of that and kind of blew up that entire thing, that Brian came through and so he was blocking me,” Nelson said. “That's not what it was like.”

“I think people kind of took that snapshot image of that and kind of blew up that entire thing, that Brian came through and so he was blocking me. That's not what it was like.”

He's over it now. Everyone is.

“We all laugh about that,” he said, “but I definitely think that that was kind of a misinterpreted thing that happened there.”

Besides Gaia and the 6-5, 310-pound Nelson, guards Derek Dowrey and Brendan Mahon and center Angelo Mangiro all have starting experience. Gone, however, are the two most experienced linemen, left tackle Donovan Smith and left guard Miles Dieffenbach.

With spring practice in full swing, Nelson said it's not clear who is going to wind up where, and that he is willing to line up at either tackle spot. But the most likely scenario is that he will remain on the right side, while Paris Palmer, the mountainous junior-college transfer (as in, 6-7 and 278 pounds), mans the left side.

“I'm very impressed with Paris' athleticism,” Nelson said. “Obviously it's a big jump from junior college to D1 football now, so I've definitely been very impressed with his attitude and his outlook on how eager he is to come in here. He has to earn a spot. He's been working hard every single day to keep it.”

Nelson is no less optimistic about the offense as a whole. Hackenberg, he said, has “really taken a different outlook, a different kind of role this spring.”

How so?

“I think he's definitely being a lot more positive,” Nelson said. “He's definitely leading the offense better than I thought he did last year. He's trying to be very encouraging and positive to the offense this year, which I think is really great.”

Last year, Nelson said, frustrations ran high on that side of the ball.

“Obviously I was even very frustrated for the offense back then,” he said. “But I think now we've realized we need to encourage each other, as an offense and as a team, to be able to get better. I think that's something that Hack himself has definitely taken to heart.”

Others have followed the quarterback's lead.

“All of us,” Nelson said, “have come out this season saying, 'You know what? We're all going to be much-improved this year. Let's get after it. Let's be positive. Let's try to make the best out of every single practice.' ”

As always, though, it all starts up front.

“Last year there was a lot of scrutiny of the offensive line, and that's something that, obviously, is still going on right now,” Nelson said. “That's something that we all just kind of had to live with. At times, life's not going to be all about sunshine and rainbows.”

Maybe they can chase the clouds away now, though. Because even at this early date, Andrew Nelson sees a glimmer of hope.


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