UNIVERSITY PARK -- Judging by strength and quickness to agility and flexibility, the offensive line stands to benefit and improve perhaps more than any other unit from Penn State's new strength and conditioning program.
"I can tell that I got stronger. I can definitely tell that," center Matt Stankiewitch said after only a few months of using the new system.
Pure strength is key, but it's just one of several benefits the linemen say they're already experiencing.
Improved explosiveness off the ball ultimately could be the biggest difference going forward for what generally has been a much-maligned offensive line.
"We're not in the weight room to become bodybuilders," Stankiewitch said. "We're in the weight room to become better football players."
To help in that regard, new coach Bill O'Brien drastically changed PSU's strength program when he decided not to retain longtime strength and conditioning coach John Thomas, who utilized a high-intensity training method that was based heavily on weightlifting machines.
Line it up
Penn State has to replace four starters on the offensive line. This is how the first team has looked this spring:
New strength coach Craig Fitzgerald ditched the machines, brought in free weights and focuses on lifts new to the program, such as power cleans and squats.
"It's basically 100 percent different," Stankiewitch said.
How does the new system help offensive linemen specifically?
"We've worked a lot on quickness and movement over the winter and not just our strength," right tackle Mike Farrell said.
The combination of added quickness and agility, Farrell noted, helps with lateral movement for short distances. An offensive lineman doesn't necessarily need to be able to go all out until he's drained on one play, but instead must be explosive off the ball and maintain a strength or leverage advantage usually for a very short time.
Under the former strength program, Stankiewitch said the linemen would do one set of lifts until "failure." In the new system, they do multiple sets and don't go all the way until they're maxed out in each one.
The new program helps offensive linemen from a flexibility standpoint, Stankiewitch added, by concentrating on the hamstrings, quads and groin. That flexibility allows them to explode off the ball quicker, then the added strength helps them maintain their blocks longer.
That's a win-win situation for a linemen.
Another advantage the linemen now have is that they all do everything together under one coach, Mac McWhorter. The previous setup had them separated in meetings and some drills, with Dick Anderson coaching the guards and centers and Bill Kenney coaching the tackles.
"From a coaching standpoint, there's plenty of advantages to having everybody in the same room and everybody on the same page," Farrell said.
One of the advantages, he noted, is it "has allowed us to come together as a group even stronger."
The line has to replace four starters, with Stankiewitch the lone returner. All the linemen get along well, Farrell noted, which is important from a cohesion standpoint.
They're also all learning the new offense together, so they have each other to lean on for support and for help.
"The guys coming up, stepping up now are doing a great job incorporating the offense and learning the playbook," Stankiewitch said.
Like all other units still trying to learn everything new that's coming their way, PSU's offensive line is a work in progress. But given the potential upside from the strength program and coaching changes, the line may not be as big of a question mark in the future as it has been for much of the recent past.
"Our offensive line has been doing really well," Stankiewitch said.