Brian Gaia is a center now, having spent all of spring practice working at the position, after starting at guard the last two years for Penn State.
Makes sense, given that he is the Nittany Lions’ most experienced lineman, as well as the steadiest; he was the only one to start every game up front last season.
He is also a quick study, having made the Big Ten’s All-Academic team the last three years. He has already earned a degree in management, and has a year of eligibility remaining.
So when he says “center’s the future for me,” as he did during a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning, it’s not hard to see why.
The 6-3, 286-pound Gaia has never played the position on any level before, but when coach James Franklin mentioned the switch to him in January, he was fully on board with it, saying that he was willing to do whatever was best for the team.
“I’m not a selfish person,” Gaia said.
And he has taken to the move.
“I like playing center better, probably, because I’m kind of in control of how we block up front,” he said. “I like putting everybody on the same page. Last year communication was one of my stronger suits. Playing center allows me to have more control.”
He often collaborated last fall with Angelo Mangiro, then the center, on line calls.
“Now,” Gaia said, “I can just pretty much tell people what to do, and they can tell me if they see something different. The communication process is a lot easier.”
This move is also a lot easier than the one he was asked to make earlier in his career, from defensive tackle to guard. He’s already well-grounded in the principles of offensive-line play, and has been able to confer with Mangiro as well as former Lions center Stefen Wisniewski, a five-year NFL veteran who has been on campus while preparing for his first season with the Philadelphia Eagles, who recently signed him as a free agent. (Wisniewski previously played for Oakland and Jacksonville.)
Now it’s a matter of Gaia getting used to snapping, and adjusting to the fast-paced offense installed by Joe Moorhead, the new coordinator.
Gaia said it is “a center-friendly” attack, though. He can communicate to the other linemen as to whether he can handle the guy over him or not, and adjust the blocking scheme accordingly. And the go-go pace, he believes, works to the advantage of the offense as a whole.
“It’s a lot simpler,” he said. “Because of no-huddle, the defense has to be in a simpler look. We’re not looking at so many possible situations the defense can give us. It’s usually just one or two things, and then we’re ready to snap the ball.”
They spent all winter getting their bodies ready for the rigors of such an approach.
“That way when the defense was worn down,” he said, “we could look at each other and say, ‘All right, we’ve got them on their heels now. Let’s finish them.’ ”
He sees very little difference in Herb Hand, the previous line coach, and Matt Limegrover, the new one. He also said Limegrover and the holdover linemen each have something to offer the other.
“He’s new to the system, too, as we are,” Gaia said. “Right now in spring ball, it’s all of us just figuring out what works best — like, what techniques he has from his previous coaching (stops) that works best, and what technique maybe we have learned. It’s really just us bringing what we’ve learned and what he’s learned, and making the best meld between the two.”
All of these changes — the new offense, the new members of the staff, Gaia’s new position — will make Saturday’s Blue-White Game more interesting than it usually is.
“I think it gives us a chance to show the fans and you (media) guys what we’ve been working on, how much improvement we’ve made,” Gaia said, “and gives us a chance to get a real game-like situation with the new offense and see how the tempo’s really going to go, because in practice you can only see the tempo so much.”