THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
STATE COLLEGE —
On an offensive line riddled with question marks, right guard Stefen Wisniewski provides an emphatic exclamation point at Penn State.
Even though the 6-foot-3, 298-pound senior has shifted one gap right from the center position, where he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors a year ago, Wisniewski feels right at home.
He took second-team conference honors at guard his sophomore year.
“I like guard, but like what happened last year, the team needed me at center, so I moved to center,” he said. “I’m kind of happy to do whatever the team needs.”
That willingness to put team first, and the talent to pull off the switch seamlessly, stems directly from his family background, said offensive line coach Dick Anderson.
Stefen’s father, Leo Wisniewski, earned three letters on the defensive line for the Nittany Lions from 1979-81 and played four years in the NFL for the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts. Stefen’s uncle, Steve Wisniewski was a two-time, first-team All-America guard for Penn State and was named an NFL All-Pro eight times during his 13 years with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders.
“It starts with his family, what they do ... Dad was a lot like that, is like that,” Anderson said. “As a result, when Stefen was being brought up, I think he saw all of that and emulated that to some degree.”
The third-year starter will shoulder more of a leadership role, too.
“All summer that meant leading some drills a couple times a week, trying to get everyone better on their technique,” Wisniewski said. “Now that we’re here practicing, it’s kind of doing some of the same things, trying to help everyone improve on what they do but also kind of guide the attitude of the O-line.”
And help shepherd an offense transitioning to a new starting quarterback with two-year starter Daryll Clark gone.
Sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin, and freshmen Robert Bolden and Paul Jones are vying to take over.
To Wisniewski’s right on the line will be another returning starter, senior Lou Eliades. Like Wisniewski, Eliades started every game last year and is shifting from right guard to right tackle.
“But it wasn’t that much of a jump for me, because I played tackle two years ago,” during Penn State’s 2008 run to the Rose Bowl, Eliades said. “It’s nothing new to me, but it does feel good to have a veteran next to you.”
Wisniewski and Eliades are being leaned on to provide a calming influence on a line that may not return one starter in a position he played a season ago. The position changes were made possible by the insertion of senior Doug Klopacz at center.
Coach Joe Paterno has said Klopacz holds the key. Otherwise, Wisniewski could be moved back to center if Klopacz isn’t the right fit, which may lead to more reshuffling.
“Well, he’s got ability,” Paterno said of Klopacz. “So obviously we think Klopacz is pretty good, otherwise we wouldn’t move Wisniewski over to guard.”
Paterno describes Klopacz as “all business, keeps his mouth shut, works hard, been around. ... But there’s three or four kids on that offensive line that are pretty good, and he’s one of them. Right now, I think we could play with him and do all right.”
Junior Quinn Barham has spent most of the offseason at left tackle, replacing the solid Dennis Landolt, who graduated.
Left guard is up in the air so far in camp. Sophomore Matt Stankiewitch spent the first week of preseason practice running with the first team, though he could be displaced by either of two juniors, DeOn’tae Pannell or Johnnie Troutman, both of whom have starting experience.
Until that position is settled, all eyes will be on Klopacz, whose progress will determine the composition of the right side of the line.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to do everything I have to do to be a starter and keep it that way,” Klopacz said. “I want to be the starter, so I’m going to make that happen.”