Three days before the Rose Bowl, Rich Ohrnberger picked up a microphone in Hollywood.
Then a senior guard, Ohrnberger relished the opportunity to go up on stage at The Improv last December to polish up on his stand-up routine. His Penn State teammates would later say it was one of the highlights of their trip to California.
Some eight months later, it’s a reminder of something the Nittany Lions have lost.
It’s obvious enough that the offensive line lost plenty of experience with the graduations of Ohrnberger, A.Q. Shipley and Gerald Cadogan. But what helped make the Lions’ 2008 offensive line become one of the best in the country was chemistry and cohesion.
So as much as the Lions need to replace that talent on the O-line, they have to find a way to replace the personality as well.
“We’re all offensive linemen in general, so we’ve all got similar dispositions,” said junior Stefen Wisniewski, who moves from guard to center this season. “We’re pretty quiet for the most part, but we joke around and can get intense when we need to.
“Those new guys share that. We joke around a little bit, but we know how to get focused.”
Those new guys would be junior Lou Eliades, sophomore DeOn’tae Pannell and freshman Matt Stankiewitch.
When the offense first takes the field in Saturday’s opener against Akron, the Lions won’t have any of their five starters on the line from last season in the same spot.
From left to right, the unit is expected to be Dennis Landolt, Stankiewitch, Wisniewski, Eliades and Pannell. Landolt started the past two seasons at right tackle but swapped sides with Pannell so the more experienced player could protect quarterback Daryll Clark’s blindside.
What has stuck out most to Clark in the preseason has been Wisniewski taking more of a leadership role.
“The one thing with the offensive line that stands out is that Wisniewski last season wasn’t as talkative as he is now,” Clark said. “He has to be the way he is now. He’s made great strides in doing that. … The confidence I see in those guys is where it needs to be at this point.”
Wisniewski saw time as a true freshman in 2007 and started for most of 2008 but was still learning from his upperclassmen linemates.
Now that he’s the upperclassman, he made it a goal this offseason to become more vocal, as he and Landolt have both been spending extra time with teammates correcting mistakes in practice.
“Yeah, I have been (speaking up more). I think I kinda had to, with the three new guys especially,” Wisniewski said. “It’s definitely different this year, but I think it’s still a group of guys that are going to get in there and be ready to go at it.”
This first week, however, hasn’t been a simple one. Aside from preparing for their first game together, the linemen have had to prepare for Akron’s unorthodox defensive scheme. Last season, the Zips used a 3-3-5 base that featured two linebacker/safety positions called “Bandit” and “Rover,” respectively.
The results, however, weren’t all that flattering. The defense surrendered 375 points in 2008. So Penn State coaches aren’t ruling out the possibility of Akron coming out in a more traditional 4-3.
Regardless, Joe Paterno said he thinks his line will be able to adapt.
“I think the offensive line’s made great strides,” the coach said. “But until they get in the football game, until they have to make some adjustments, (you don’t know). The tough thing about an opening game is you’re not quite sure what you’re going to see. … So I think it will be a challenge for the offensive line to make whatever adjustments we’re going to have to make, because you can’t cover all of it (in practice).
“If you try to cover everything that they possibly could do, you’ll have a bunch of kids that can’t make any progress. They get stymied. But I think we’ve made good progress on fundamentals. I think they’ve got a lot more confidence in themselves.”