Competition teaches drive-progress in the trenches
Going up against the same guy practice after practice, year-round, can be tiring if you’re occupying a spot along either the offensive or defensive line for the Nittany Lions.
It can also be motivating, helpful and possibly even lead to some spirited competition.
Take Penn State football’s spring practice on April 11, for example.
Following practice, head coach James Franklin mentioned that offensive lineman C.J. Thorpe might be the Nittany Lions’ best blocker in the run game, adding that Thorpe “plays with an attitude, he plays with a chip, he tries to finish people, he’s got a nasty streak—he’s everything you want in the run game.”
Franklin also said the Nittany Lion defenders will sometimes become frustrated with Thorpe because he plays with an edge, and Thorpe will also add some chirpiness. Defensive tackle Ryan Buchholz, who recently retired due to health reasons, acknowledged as much after practice, adding that the team handles that fast-paced level of competition well.
“I want a guy to do that, especially when we're playing someone else,” Buchholz said. “Thankfully, he hasn't taken it over the edge against us, which is good, because you don't want to hurt your own teammates. But, that's definitely what we're looking for on Saturdays. If he can just maintain that and go a little harder against someone else, that'd be awesome."
The battling can also be mutually beneficial, as defensive end Shareef Miller explained during fall practice in August. If an offensive tackle beats him, Miller will ask him what he did wrong. And if Miller’s able to maneuver around the offensive lineman, his counterpart will ask him how Miller did it.
That partnership extends to the line coaches, where Matt Limegrover (offensive) and Sean Spencer (defensive) work in tandem, with Spencer pointing out that Franklin wants that type of collaboration.
As Spencer explained this summer, it’s not about nitpicking teammates or making anyone look bad. Instead, they want to ensure they’re not giving away even the slightest competitive advantage to future opponents. So, if an offensive lineman is inadvertently tipping off what type of block they’re preparing for, or if one of Spencer’s guys is inadvertently showing how they’ll attack, there’s a clear line of communication that’s constantly open between the Nittany Lions.
“The end result is that Penn State wins,” Spencer said. “So, if there is something that Mike Menet is doing that I think is a giveaway, I’ll talk to Coach Limegrover, or I’ll talk to Mike, and say, ‘Hey man, your foot is slightly to the right. I see it every time. I know you're stepping that way,’ or ‘I know every time that you peek inside, I know that you’re going to block down.’ We work with each other, hand-in-hand, and actually, Coach Franklin encourages that.”