Defensive backups make move to OL

UNIVERSITY PARK – Spring practice for Penn State has forced the coaching staff to get creative with how to fill out its depth chart.

Prime examples of that are juniors Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia, who are listed as guard and tackle, respectively, and both found out they were moving on short notice.

“We put them in a tough position,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “Two days before spring ball starts I say ‘Hey, you’re offensive linemen, go at it.’ They’re tough guys and they’re smart guys. That’s a tough transition that they’ve handled extremely well.”

Dowrey and Gaia are competing for starting jobs on a unit that lost three starters, including guard John Urschel. Both players were defensive tackles for the Nittany Lions last year.

Franklin likes to avoid playing freshmen right out of the gate, but with the team’s current situation, he feels he may have no other choice.

“I typically would prefer not to do that,” he said. “Typically there are certain positions like offensive line that you would like to redshirt. We’re going to have to play all these guys as true freshmen and just grow with them.”

Organizing the team’s depth won’t be made much easier as the Lions will still have to play with a reduced number of scholarships in wake of the NCAA sanctions issued almost two-years ago.

Penn State was originally scheduled to play out the 2014 season with no more than 65 total scholarship players. That number rose to 75, where it was last season, after the sanctions were modified last year.

Franklin says the team’s attitude and effort has been there, but there is still a lot of work to do ahead.

“We got a long ways to go in a lot of different areas, but our attitude and our effort has been great, and that’s really kind of what I’m concerned about more than anything,” he said.

“We got a long ways to go in development, we got a long ways to go in understanding schemes and concepts, understanding what’s going to take to get this program were we want it to be.”

Kicker Sam Ficken and holder Ryan Keiser return on special teams for the Nittany Lions, but there will be a change in punter as Chris Gulla has been taking the snaps in practice, replacing graduate Alex Butterworth.

The Lions will wrap up spring drills with the annual Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium on April 12 at 1:30 p.m..