UNIVERSITY PARK -- Penn State offensive linemen Miles Dieffenbach and John Urschel have begun an unusual way to prepare themselves for a game just prior to kickoff.
Dieffenbach calls up a brain teaser on his phone and has Urschel try to solve it. Urschel is a gifted graduate student studying mathematics after graduating with his undergraduate degree in just three years with a 4.0 GPA.
But ritual is not the only time Urschel and the rest of the Nittany Lion offensive line are challenged mentally leading up to a game.
Each week, offensive line coach Mac McWhorter gives his linemen a detailed packet of information containing the depth chart of that week's opponent, the formations and blitz packages the opponent likes to use, and the plays Penn State's offense is likely to run that week.
Dieffenbach said Wednesday that each of the linemen have to fill out the packet without use of their notes and turn it into the coaching staff. It serves as a test to help the linemen visualize their assignments for the coming game.
"The more you take it, the more you know our plays and what the defense is running," Dieffenbach said.
The redshirt sophomore is in his first season playing left guard after making the transition from center in the offseason.
In the first four games, the Lions have been rotating in Eric Shrive, Angelo Mangiro and Ty Howle along the offensive line to help spell the starters. Dieffenbach has started every game and admitted it is naturally difficult for a player to accept coming out of the game for a play or series.
"You want to stay in there, and you want to do the best for your team that you can," he said. "You've got to listen to what the coaches say because what they say is best for the team."
Penn State has shown it has some depth on the offensive line in the past two weeks, when starting left tackle Donovan Smith was sidelined with an ankle injury. Dieffenbach said Smith has been practicing this week and will play Saturday.
"You don't know what can happen with injuries, so you don't want to have only five guys that can play out there in games," Dieffenbach said. "It is like a blind dog going in there and not really knowing what they're doing."
SUBHD: QB stability
For the first time in recent memory, the Lions have a stable starting quarterback in Matt McGloin.
Dieffenbach said that in coach Bill O'Brien's pro-style offense, knowing McGloin will be the quarterback every week has been very helpful to the linemen. He said McGloin and the line have really gelled and developed a good bond and knowledge of each other.
"The quarterback this year, compared to last year, is making a lot of the line calls," Dieffenbach said. "So it is good to have one guy back there making the calls and all the signals for us. You kind of have to be one mind out there, an offense and a quarterback together."
O'Brien said Tuesday that he is not a believer in the rotating quarterback system and said he will not do that.
The coach said McGloin has continued to show improvement as the season goes on and is becoming comfortable with getting the right offensive play called prior to the snap at the line of scrimmage.
"One of the things in playing quarterback in a system like ours is we put a lot on your plate, so to speak," O'Brien said. "You have to have a good deal of brain power, and you have to be able to understand what you're watching on film and be able to take that to the practice field and then take it to the game field."
SUBHD: McGloin feisty
McGloin was asked on a teleconference Wednesday if this year's offense is better than last year's. He gave a little laugh and proceeded to half-heartedly get on the reporter.
"What kind of question is that, man?" he said. "You can't compare the two. It's different philosophies. All I'm saying is that I'm happy to be in the offense this year."
McGloin then asked which reporter asked the question, and when the reporter from ESPN.com said his name, McGloin replied, "Come on dude, asking stuff like that. All right, we're done here."
SUBHD: News and notes
RB Bill Belton (ankle injury) was practicing at full speed Wednesday, a sign he will indeed be able to play Saturday. ... CB Jesse Della Valle, a redshirt sophomore who came to PSU as a walk-on, has been given a scholarship.