Shipley: Center of Attention

A.Q. Shipley has a message for fans wondering how Penn State's rebuilt offensive line will perform in 2006: "We have a great quarterback, a great running back and great receivers around us. Just give us a little time through the spring and summer, and it should be interesting to watch."

Much has been made of the fact that the Nittany Lions lose four of five starters on the O-line, with the lone returnee being All-American tackle Levi Brown. Of the players looking to fill the other spots, Shipley, a key reserve at guard and center for the first half of the 2005 season before being moved to defense for the stretch run, is the only one with significant game experience.

Only a redshirt sophomore, in his first two years in the program Shipley began on defense then moved to offense then moved back to defense. So after PSU's Orange Bowl win over Florida State, he not so subtly let the coaching staff know he preferred to find a permanent home.

A natural leader, he targeted the vacant center spot. He told head coach Joe Paterno about his wishes. And whenever he'd bump into offensive line coach Dick Anderson in the Lasch Building, Shipley would say how anxious he was to get back with the unit.

Two weeks after the bowl, Shipley was summoned to Paterno's office. The news was positive.

"When Joe finally told me I was going to move back to center, I was pretty excited," Shipley said.

How come?

"I really enjoy the position. I feel comfortable there. It's the position I want to be in."

Shipley has the perfect build for a center. He carries 297 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame. And while he'll never contend for the Mr. Universe title, he did cut his body fat by four percent in the off-season. He's strong, too, estimating his maximum bench press to be in the neighborhood of 475 pounds.

All of those attributes would serve him well on defense, as well. But besides preferring to play offense, he also believes he is more needed at center.

"I grew up being a leader, so I love playing center," he said. "… I like to be able to raise other people's play. Just seeing the inexperience on the line, Levi and I are trying to get it moving in the right direction. A lot of people are questioning this offensive line. We're doing the best we can to make this a great offensive line."

Having played defensive tackle, Shipley knows every trick his opponent will try to use against him. He also said he is benefiting from facing State's veteran DTs this spring.

"Just getting the opportunity to play against [Jason Alford] and Ed Johnson and the other guys, it's a blessing," he explained. "It prepares you for battle."

Also easing his transition to center is the fact that he is very familiar with new starting quarterback Anthony Morelli. They are both western Pennsylvania products who were members of the same recruiting class. When Shipley was running second-team at center early in 2005, Morelli was the No. 2 QB.

"He's going to be a great quarterback," Shipley said. "He's young … As an offensive line, we're just trying to give him some confidence so he can go back there and do his thing and we'll keep him protected."

Can they pull it off? That seems to be the prevailing concern of the Nittany Nation this spring. Shipley understands those worries, even if he thinks they are a bit unfounded.

"All in all," Shipley said, "we've been coming along pretty well."


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