Penn State has Loads of NFL Talent on the Line

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By Paul M. Banks

It’s the most unheralded position on the field, some would say the most boring. But they, the Penn State offensive linemen, are just as critical as the quarterback (they have a really good one in Darryl Clark) into getting accomplished the things offensive coordinator Jay Paterno is trying to do. O Linemen don’t even have a statistic to reference if they wish to hang their numerical productivity hat. But in Happy Valley they have a really solid group, and a few of them will play on Sundays next fall.

It’s ironic, because during the preseason the O Line was considered one of the biggest question marks. “We knew it was going to be a question mark, cuz when you lose three players of the quality that we did, people are going to wonder if you’re going to have players step up and contribute that kind of quality,” said Tackle Dennis Landolt, one of those names you’ll see in NFL Mock Drafts. Another guy you’ll see on draft day is Center Steve Wisniewski. I recently spoke with him, asking what he thinks he needs to work on to reach the next level.

“I got to be a little better blocking 2nd level, I did alright, but I’d like to be a little bit more dominant- as opposed to just staying on guys, as I work out the intricacies of playing center well,” he responded. A major reason the OL is so strong (and we can’t forget the Tight Ends, Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler:  NFL scouts say positive things about them as well) is the fact they practice against a defense filled with athletes that will likely join them in the NFL.

“That helps tremendously. What happens in the game ends up being easier than practice is, cuz you block guys like Jared Odrick, Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee. If you can block those guys, even for a little bit that makes everything so much easier,” Wisniewski stated.

Playing offensive line may be a thankless job that everyone overlooks, but at least these guys get to do it at Penn State, under the most legendary coach in history, Joe Paterno. And they also get to have a few laughs along the way, because JoePa is like the Jerry Seinfeld of football press conferences.Joe_Paterno_Sideline_PSU-Illinois_2006

“He’s a lot funnier than people give him credit for. It’s pretty awesome that one day I’m going to be able to tell my kids that one day I played for the winningest coach in college football history.”

Who knows, maybe now Hollywood is focusing on OTs (there’s a Sandra Bullock film, “The Blind Side,” based on Michael Lewis’ best-selling book about a Left Tackle being released Friday) perhaps the popularity of offensive linemen will soon grow as large as the physical stature most of them possess?

Ok, probably not.

The Immortally Quotable Joe Paterno

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By Paul M. Banks

If the Big Ten Football Media Day were Christmas, then talking to Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno is like visiting Santa Claus at the local mall. Not only does JoePa have the most illustrious resume, {NCAA record holder in wins (383), bowl appearances (35) and bowl wins (23)} he’s also the most interesting and candid interview subject. The 82 year old College Football Hall of Famer and 5-time Coach of the Year has been at Penn State since 1966.

During his tenure at PSU, there have been 838 coaching changes in NCAA Division I. A big part of JoePa’s enduring appeal comes from his always quotable and entertaining interviews and press conferences. And Big Ten Media Day 2009 was no exception. Here are some of the highlights:

On using social media and Twitter…

“hey, you guys have got to talk about something. The fans have got to put something on those — what do you guys call those things, Twittle-do, Twittle-dee? I haven’t got the slightest idea what you’re looking at, either.”

On the overall assessment of this year’s team…

“Who knows? That phone rings on Sunday morning and I shake.”

Regarding scheduling…

“I try to stay out of the scheduling because we schedule so far ahead, and obviously I can’t be looking who we’re going to be playing in the year 2020. I’m dumb, but I ain’t that dumb. (Laughter). And I’m optimistic but I ain’t that optimistic. (Laughter). I think it would be”

I asked him about Preseason All-Conference QB Darryl Clark, what his strengths are, and also what skill sets of Clark’s need improvement?joepa_1986_si_manoftheyear

“Daryll had a fine year last year, but he’s got to grow on that. I think people will know a little bit more about him. He hadn’t played a lot of football before last year, and that probably was my fault. Jay Paterno, who coached the quarterbacks two years ago, wanted to play Clark more, and I thought it would discourage the kid that we were using, and I thought the kid we were using had the potential to be a good quarterback, and I blew that one.

But Daryll, when we played him, he made some plays and he’s started to get better and better. He’s really got a fine arm, a good release, he’s got a good feel for the pass game, and he’s one of those kids, he’s big enough, he’s tough enough, he can run with the football.

He loves to play, and he carries people with him. He’s a dynamite guy in the huddle. In your winter program he’s a guy out there pushing everybody, one of the guys that we have.”

 

The highlight of his opening statement to the media…

“…So why don’t I just get into some questions you guys may have. I don’t want to make this too long if I can help it.”

 

Does this year’s team have more or less question marks than usual?

“Gee. That’s a tough question to answer, I wouldn’t think it’s any more than we’ve had. We need a couple linemen and we probably need another corner, a guy that’s had some experience who can play.”

On what makes him come back year after year…joepa

“Oh, I’d miss you guys. (Laughter). What would I do on a nice beautiful day in July? (Laughter). I just enjoy it. I’ve enjoyed coaching, I’ve enjoyed the competition, I enjoy the challenges that go on with coaching at the level we’re at. I enjoy being around young people. I don’t know what else I’d rather do. There’s going to come a time when I’m going to have to look in that mirror and say, hey, you’re not doing a job and you have more of an obligation to the University than just going out there and going through the motions. I don’t think I’ve reached that yet. But that day will come, and then I’ll decide to get out of it.”

On the great coaching rivalry against Bobbie Bowden for the all-time wins in college football. And the NCAA is considering vacating some of Bobby’s wins. Thoughts on vacating wins that have already been earned on the field?

“I don’t particularly like the word rivalry you use with Bobby Bowden. Bobby is a good friend of mine. I think it’s ridiculous that the NCAA would take wins away from him personally. But I think that Bobby played with what he had and he won games with what he had, and I don’t think there’s any reason for anybody to say, hey, you’re not entitled to have that win on your record.

It’s no problem for me, I’m not interested in who wins the most games, I’m just interested in what I’ve got to get done from my end of it. Bobby is, as I said, a good friend, and I think has been a great credit to the game and has done a marvelous job. If it turns out he’s got more wins when he retires than I have when I retire, so be it. Why the big fuss about it?

It bothers me a little bit that the NCAA would use him almost as a scapegoat for some things that went on at Florida State, and I really don’t know all the things that went on that caused their problems. But I hope they let him keep his wins.”