By Mark BrumbaughUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.
- The Nittany Lions will do plenty
of drills within their position groups this month, but practicing the
fundamentals in a controlled environment has its limits. That is why competition
is a central tenet of the Penn State football program and not something simply
reserved for Saturdays in the fall.
The better the competition, the better prepared the Lions
will be for September 3 and beyond, so GoPSUsports.com will take a closer look
at the camp battles between position groups this summer.
One of the most unique battles is between the offensive
and defensive lines. The two groups lock horns on each full contact snap, and
the winner and loser on each play is decided as much by mental toughness as it
is physical strength and technique. Naturally, the battle in the trenches is
one of the most intense in preseason camp, so that is where we will start,
before things get, shall we say, a little too
"Especially as camp drags on, you don't hate the other guy,
but if he gets the best of you, you might be a little upset and give him
something after the play or something, but it goes either way," said guard/center
"Spring ball is intense alone, but camp is a whole other
level," said defensive end Garrett Sickels. "The tempers are going. If you get
beat, you have to keep it in check, but there is definitely a lot of
testosterone going around. You're living with these guys and some of them are
your best friends. [Offensive linemen] Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon are two
of my best friends, but we get into it in practice sometimes."
So yeah, let's take a closer look while they still agree
on things, like the importance of their August battles.
"It's everything," said guard/center Derek Dowrey. "We take
more reps against them than we will anyone else all season, so the better they
are, the better it makes us and vice versa."
"For three weeks we're not going against another team,
we're going against ourselves, so we need the offensive linemen to be the best
that they can be and give us their best look as possible to get our defensive
line ready for the season, and vice versa for us," said Sickels. "We have to
give the o-linemen our best look for all the d-lines they're going to play, so
it is very imperative that both sides perform their best the next three weeks
and we have to make sure we're very competitive and prepare each other for this
However, taking it easy on each other is simply not an
"We have to give each other good looks," said defensive
tackle Parker Cothren. "In the game, there are no friends out there, so that's
how we have to go out every day in practice and just remember [our opponents]
are not going to take it easy on us on Saturdays, so we can't take it easy on
"It's definitely a pretty intense rivalry," said Dowrey.
"At this point, we've played exclusively against these guys in the spring. We
haven't gone against anybody else since January. It's just been us and them
banging heads for months now, so we'll get into it and we'll go day after day
after day, just beating on each other. Guys get angry and there are some
tensions, but it's all for the betterment of the team."
The intensity ratchets up in preseason camp as the
battles take on more importance. A bad camp means your position on the opening
depth chart is jeopardized, and who knows when you will get a chance to prove
your abilities. For freshmen itching to play in their first year, they have to
go above and beyond to earn the trust of their coaches, especially on the line,
as there are limited roles for linemen to contribute in other areas, such as
special teams, if they falter as dependable options in the playing rotation.
"I love camp. Not really, but I do," said Sickels. "I
just love how competitive everyone gets and it's fun when we're in a live
period and the offensive line is on the goal line and we're just trying to keep
it out, and that's the most competitive period."
Each group has its goals. The offensive line has had
extra homework as it is under completely new direction with a new offensive
coordinator in Joe Moorhead and a new position coach in Matt Limegrover. They
will also be protecting a new quarterback.
"All summer we've been working on attention to detail and
all the small stuff, doing drills to make sure your first couple steps are
perfect," said Gaia. "Coach Limegrover is a great coach, we love him and we've
all bought into his system and how he wants us to play. Now it's just putting
it out on the field."
The offensive line has faced strong competition recently,
with three of last year's defensive line starters getting drafted into the NFL.
"It's extremely important, going against them and getting
good live reps against them, just helps us for the game and it translates,
especially the great d-lines we've had the past couple of years," said Gaia.
Sickels was also complimentary of his counterparts and
the tests they provide on the practice fields.
"They are big dudes that love to hit and they get your
hands on you, so it's a long day," he said.
Despite their talented losses, the Wild Dogs are not
expecting to miss a beat, opting to dispel any notion of "rebuilding" with their
expectation of "reloading." Cothren will be among the contenders looking to
step up this season. He and his teammates will be using camp as an opportunity
to sharpen their fundamentals under duress.
"We will be just fine tuning our tools: getting our hands
right, getting our strike down, keeping our hand placement down, coming off the
ball, exploding," said Cothren. "Attacking the offensive line, don't let them
attack us. That's what we really try to be great at."
The defensive line also has a camp specific goal.
"I don't think Gaia showers in camp, so you just try to
keep your distance from him because he just smells awful," said Sickels.
Let the rivalry begin.