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March 18, 2009Note: This article appears in the latest issue of Blue White Illustrated, which you can read FREE now at BlueWhiteOnline.com!
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Stefen Wisniewski knew a change was coming.
But some 10 days after Penn State's setback to USC in the Rose Bowl it finally hit him.
Wisniewski, the junior from Pittsburgh, will slide over to the center spot and become the rock for a Nittany Lions offensive line that must replace three critical parts.
Not just physically replace them, but find leaders to step into the voids left by the graduated A.Q. Shipley, Gerald Cadogan and Rich Ohrnberger.
If there is some solidarity returning in 2009, Wisniewski is at the top of that list.
"I think for me it means taking over a leadership role for the offensive line," Wisniewski said. "Center in our offense, he's the one making all the calls, setting the blocking scheme, which I'm looking forward to doing.
"But not just that, it's going to be kind of guiding some of these young guys. We're going to have two young guards. Probably have a young guy at tackle as well and it's going to involve me getting those guys ready. We've got a lot of talented young guys so I think we're going to be all right."
The move was something that was discussed during last season. Both Wisniewski and head coach Joe Paterno made mention on several occasions that Wisniewski took reps in practice as the No. 2 center behind Shipley.
But even before that, the previous season, when Wisniewski became the first true freshman since the 1999 season to make a start, Kenney and the Nittany Lions coaches knew they had something special under their tutelage
"It certainly won't be foreign to him," offensive line coach Bill Kenney said. "We're excited in terms of putting the components of the offensive line back together. We have obviously three spots that need to be replaced. We have some good young talent that's progressed in the off season so far and there will be some fights and challenges in the preseason during our spring practice period but that's really the exciting thing about this time of year."
Kenney and fellow assistant Dick Anderson have perhaps the toughest task of the offseason.
Where Penn State excelled last year with a veteran offensive line, this season despite the return of Dennis Landolt and Wisniewski, the two coaches must find the right combination to play along side of them.
Kenney said at the moment Landolt will stay at right tackle, leaving the left tackle spot open as well as the two guard positions.
Sophomore DeOn'tae Pannell is expected to compete for the left tackle spot. Lou Eliades could also be in the mix at tackle and Penn State will welcome 6-7 freshman Eric Shrive as well.
Johnnie Troutman and J.B. Walton could be in the mix for either guard spot. Other options include Quinn Barham, James Terry and Matt Stankiewitch. Other freshmen such as Ty Howle and Mike Farrell could factor in, too.
"Right now there's a whole pool of guys competing daily for their opportunity. You're really not certain until we put on the shoulder pads and start getting after it during the course of spring practice," Kenney said.
"Coach Paterno certainly will have our practice schedule set that we'll be challenging the offensive line and making sure that guys will be tested under fire, for lack of a better way to describe it. We know that Stef probably played 800-900 plays last year, Dennis Landolt and Gerald Cadogan had the highest number of plays on the football team, so there's a couple of guys there that we know a lot about, we've seen them under fire, they've been tested. But the other group is guys that are going to have to demonstrate their ability as we move through this practice period."
"With Stefen and obviously Dennis Landolt returning as starters we have two very experienced guys. Our center position has some really unique requirements. Not only does that individual, as A.Q. Shipley did for us and he had an outstanding career, the Rimington Award winner, that position has really unique characteristics in terms of leadership, really setting the tone for the offensive line. We're anxious to get Stefen moving in that direction. He's had experience at center."
Despite seeing significant time as a freshman and starting last season, Wisniewski was forced to grow up in a hurry post-Rose Bowl.
The finality of losing a Shipley, Cadogan and Ohrnberger didn't quite set in until Wisniewski and his teammates returned to campus in January.
"It was pretty interesting, actually," Wisniewski said. "It happened in a matter of 10 days. At the Rose Bowl I was still the young guy, letting A.Q., Rich and those guys take the leadership and as soon as I got back from break and started winter (workouts) I was one of the leaders of the O-line.
"Me and Dennis, it happened pretty quick. I've enjoyed it. I like working with the young guys. A lot of them are really willing to learn. It's exciting to be a part of that. It's a lot different but it's a lot of fun."
What cannot be measured in heights or weight, 40 times or stats is the experience that both Landolt and Wisniewski have coming back.
To hear the junior talk you sense a desire to stay atop of the Big Ten and for the time being that Penn State's offensive line concerns going into '09 aren't as serious as it looks on paper.
"I think one of the big things we take from last year coming into this year is we've got a lot of guys that played in a lot of big games last year. And a lot of guys that are kind of used to being at the top of the Big Ten and I think because of that in big games this year I think we should have a pretty high comfort level, especially having a quarterback that is going to be big.
"We've got some experience back on defense and I think that's going to help us play well in big games and have that high motivation level again."
"We think we've got a core of guys in the offensive line that will give us the quality we need but surely the experience level right now for a few of them concerns us. But we've got 15 practices and you include the Blue-White game in there and hopefully we'll learn some things about them and get them a little bit harder, tougher, tenacious, whatever it takes," Kenney added.
Kenney said he and the coaches thought last year's squad played only two sub-par quarters the entire season, the fourth quarter against Iowa and the disastrous second quarter in the Rose Bowl against USC.
"The second half of that game is a good event in terms of moving forward," Kenney said. "Our players have come into the winter with a real serious attitude. Our winter program so far has been really successful, all of our guys have improved in a lot of different areas in terms of speed and quickness, so we're very anxious to get started with spring practice."
Kenney added that over the 15-practice spring, which concludes with the April 25 Blue-White Game, the coaches hope to firmly have the offensive line starters in place and wish to not flip flop spots once that's done.
With Wisniewski in the middle now there's reason to be confident, and Kenney said he and his fellow offensive coaches are just that.
"Very. Dick Anderson and myself and coach Paterno we know the quality that Stef has and we're very, very excited to have him in a position where he can impact things," Kenney said. "That's a real building opportunity to get this thing back on track."
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Here's a look at this issue's table of contents:
4 - Mailbag
5--6 - Phil's corner
8-10 - Up Close and Personal: Justin Brown, Eric Shrive, Malcolm Willis
11-12 - Special Wisniewski feature
16-18 - Men's basketball Big Ten Tournament coverage
19 - Women's basketball coverage
20-22 - Wrestling
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