Line Dancing

A game of reverse musical chairs is in progress along Penn State's offensive line. Now it's just a matter of where everybody winds up, though not when the music stops. More like when it starts -- specifically, when those in the Beaver Stadium student section start doing that oh-oh-oh-oh-ohhhh-oh thing, early in the Sept. 4 season opener against Youngstown State.

Four days into spring practice, the first-string line was reshuffled. Stefen Wisniewski moved from center, where he started last year, to right guard, where he started the year before. Lou Eliades moved from right guard to right tackle. And Doug Klopacz and Quinn Barham, reserves to this point in their careers, were installed at center and left tackle, respectively.

DeOn'tae Pannell (right No. 50) remained at left guard, where he started at the end of last year.

So, left to right, it's Barham, Pannell, Klopacz, Wisniewski and Eliades. At least for now, heading into Saturday's Blue-White Game.

"I don't think anything's set in stone for the fall," Barham said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning.

"I think they're just trying to find our best five," Wisniewski said, referring to the coaches.

The expectation is that Johnnie Troutman, who started eight games at guard last year, will be in the mix at some point. But he has been running with the second team all spring -- largely the result, Wisniewski said, "of being in Joe (Paterno)'s doghouse a little bit" for missing classes and team breakfasts, and carrying a few too many pounds.

So that bears watching, as does the overall chemistry of a group that is trying to replace last year's starting tackles, Dennis Landolt and Ako Poti.

"Certainly you'd like to have it figured out -- who's going to be starting, and where they're going to be -- as soon as you can,'' Wisniewski said. "Having said that, it does take time. It might take through (preseason) camp. It might take into the season a little ways."

What's ominous about that is that the Lions visit defending national champion Alabama the second week of the season, on Sept. 11. And last year PSU never really settled on a cohesive group up front, because of injury and spotty play, a shortcoming notably exploited by Iowa and Ohio State in their victories in Beaver Stadium.

It can be different this year, said Barham, a native of Durham, N.C. who calls himself "TheDurhamBull67" on his Twitter page. He further describes himself as a "BeatMaker/Difference Maker" on that page, and said during Wednesday's call he can be "a very silly guy" off the field.

"I'm a big music guy," he said. "I can't play an instrument, but I love making music. I can sing a little bit."

Certainly he understands the importance of rhythm on the field as well.

"Once we really jell and get together, we can be unstoppable," he said of the line. "We're all good friends. That can be very important, because the team is on our shoulders, and going into the fall the team's going to be on our backs."

Wisniewski (right, No. 61) does not disagree with that. He sees an offense brimming with talent at receiver and running back, but also with uncertainty at quarterback, where Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin continue to battle it out.

"You give (the new guy) lots of time to sort things out," Wisniewski said, "he's going to look like a veteran."

So a lot is on the line, as it always is. Wisniewski welcomed the return to guard, which he considers "a very natural position" for him. But he also understands he might be asked to go back to center, where he was an all-Big 10 first-teamer last year, if things don't work out for Klopacz.

"And," he said, "I'm happy to do that."

But Wisniewski believes his former backup is adapting well, that Klopacz knows the offense and is comfortable making the line calls. He is also becoming more physical, something Paterno has stressed to him.

Wisniewski believes his time in the middle might have helped him from a mental standpoint. But he was quick to settle back in at guard; he just had to relearn some of the footwork. It is a position his uncle, Steve, played with distinction at Penn State, and later for 13 years in the NFL -- eight of which ended with him being named to the Pro Bowl.

Stefen said Steve (whose brother Leo -- Stefen's father -- was a defensive lineman at PSU and in the NFL) has emphasized the importance of working hard and being attentive to detail.

"That's really what offensive line is all about," Stefen said.

He added that Steve also stressed "the concept of always striving to work on things and the idea that you're never perfect. You're never done getting better."

As for Barham, he was actually recruited to play tackle, but moved to guard early in his career and served as the backup center to A.Q. Shipley in 2008, when Klopacz (right, gray shirt) was lost for the season to a knee injury in September. Last year he returned to guard, but shortly after the Citrus Bowl victory over LSU was asked by line coach Bill Kenney to begin working at tackle.

"At first I thought it was a joke," Barham said.

Wisniewski believes Barham has a good frame for the position, that his long arms and quick feet will serve him well. Moreover, he said Barham has worked hard to perfect his footwork and punching, to the point, Wisniewski said, that he's "become one of our best at that."

But there's a long way to go, for everyone. Paterno said last week that the team as a whole is "very, very average" at present.

"We're not tough," he said. "We're just not doing some things real well."

Barham admitted that practice had not been going well to that point.

"We had to go back and figure things out," he said.

Especially up front. Especially with the game of reverse musical chairs in full swing.

"The first couple days were a little shaky," Barham said. "But we got better and better and better. I think the sky's the limit for this group." is your exclusive source for the BEST content and community covering Penn State football.


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