Spring Practice Central
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - You won't find a group more motivated to be successful than the Nittany Lion offensive line.
The past is ancient history, and the unit is looking ahead with great confidence following a strong start to 2016 that began in the weight room over the winter.
"The winter conditioning period was very productive for our group," senior Brian Gaia said. "Each guy had a specific goal, whether it was getting bigger, maintaining weight or getting more flexible. And I think we all grew significantly both physically and mentally."
It has been a period of change for the men in the trenches. In addition to learning a new offensive scheme, the Lions are working through their first spring practice period under the direction of coach Matt Limegrover. The first taste of things this spring has left the unit wanting more.
"Across the board, this offense just fits our offensive line very well, and I've seen a lot of guys take a big step forward this spring," said junior Andrew Nelson. "I love this offense in general. I think you can talk to anyone and they will tell you that they are enjoying it. We've had good success this spring."
It has been a period marked by installation on the field. The Nittany Lions have taken the new scheme in stride, and it has resulted in a high number of explosive plays this spring. Sure, there is an adjustment to learning new terminology, but the Lions have been locked in on the task at hand.
"There are a lot of new wrinkles going in, so obviously there is going to be an adjustment," said Nelson. "But offensively, I think guys are doing a really good job being focused and locked in with all of the new stuff going in."
Gaia and Nelson are two of the offensive line's biggest leaders. Gaia has more game experience than anyone on the roster (37 appearances), and Nelson has evolved into a consistent voice for the unit.
Gaia is in the process of adapting to a new home on the line. The Pasadena, Md., product started his career as a defensive tackle. He moved to guard before the 2014 season, and now he is meshing with the rest of the unit at the center position. Being the voice during pre-snap situations, Gaia knows the importance of leadership for the unit.
"At my position now, I feel that way," said Gaia. "I dictate when we get set and when the play starts. Being a senior and in the spot that I'm playing, I feel like leadership is something that is on my shoulders."
The most striking difference for the offense this spring is the tempo at which the group practices. The Lions are moving to the line at a swift pace and without going into a huddle. The speed lets the offensive players set the tone.
"I think the tempo of how the offense is operating really helps us," said Gaia. "We will be used to working at that pace, and the defense will face a challenge. We can dictate how quickly things move."
The players love operating at a faster pace. It can put a defense on its heels, and the strength and conditioning gains from the winter period are paying huge dividends for the line already this spring. With five practices left in spring drills, intensity is high as the unit continues to learn the intricacies of a new offense and grow as a collective group.
"The competition between the group makes everyone better," said Gaia. "We've had a number of different combinations on the offensive line, so all of us have played together at some point. That helps with the chemistry building."
With the groundwork being laid for 2016, confidence is a huge factor in the offensive line's evolution. There are four starters from the TaxSlayer Bowl back and a host of groomed, young talent ready to take the next step into the rotation. Optimism is very high for a group that is ready to take a step forward.
"The offense has come out this spring with a different mindset," said Nelson. "We have an extremely positive attitude of what we can accomplish, and I think that starts with Coach (Joe) Moorhead."
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