Penn State Football: Five Observations From Spring Practice

With 17 days until Blue White Weekend, Penn State football spring practice is in full swing. Christian Hackenberg, Angelo Mangiro, Trevor Williams, Ben Kline, and Carl Nassib all spoke briefly to the media in the Lasch Building regarding improvements on both sides of the ball and the anticipation to get back on the field following the seventh practice of the year.

The Nittany Lions find themselves in a drastically different position than last spring, now under a full year of experience with James Franklin and his staff. Here are some observations from today’s availability:

Redefined Expectations

Christian Hackenberg ended last season with a 371-yard, four-touchdown performance in the Pinstripe Bowl, but struggled through a tough regular season behind an inexperienced offensive line and ineffective running game. On Wednesday, Hackenberg spoke of a clearer understanding of expectations within the offense, and a higher level of confidence within offensive coordinator John Donovan’s system.

“As a unit and offensively, we’ve all been working extremely hard at making sure that we’re all up to par with the expectations that this coaching staff has for us and more specifically coach Donovan,” Hackenberg said. “Being able to build on that to come in to spring and execute the way we have so far has been awesome.”

Hackenberg’s Newfound Focus 

Hackenberg admitted to losing focus at times last season throughout a four-game losing streak and with consistent criticism, but as the quarterback gears up for his junior year he said a rediscovered focus was his biggest lesson from last season.

“I think it’s just the ability to respond and focus on what you need to do and sort of tune out the noise and focus on everyone inside this building,” he explained. “You know it’s always been a focus for me of doing that but I think I lost that for a little bit. Being able to get that back and be put in tough situations, extremely tough situations and persevere.”

Offensive Line Progressions

Despite the offensive line’s struggles last season, which included allowing Hackenberg to be sacked a program-record 40 times, it showed gradual progress as the season continued, culminating in an impressive performance in Yankee Stadium.

Angelo Mangiro was thrust into a leadership role as more experienced players like Miles Dieffenbach and Donovan Smith struggled with injuries. This season, with a year under offensive line coach Herb Hand’s system, Mangiro, now a senior, is seeing some of the younger linemen mature as well.

“I think guys like Brandon Mahon and Brian Gaia and Andrew Nelson are veterans now and making calls before I even make them,” Mangiro said. “They have a completely better understanding of the offense. We’ve been facing Coach Shoop’s defense for a year now, so we’re starting to get a feel for those guys personnel-wise and what he does.”

With Dieffenbach and Smith gone, the Lions tried to make up for the supposed lack of depth with junior college transfer Paris Palmer and four-star freshman recruit Sterling Jenkins. The newcomers got a ringing endorsement from their quarterback.

“I think those guys have done a great job coming in here keeping their head down and working hard,” Hackenberg said. “I think that’s the biggest thing for some of these older guys on the team. Looking at it, that’s sort of an expectation here and seeing how hard that they’ve worked and now being able to go out and perform on the field has been good for them.”

Nassib Steps to the Forefront 

James Franklin sang high praises for defensive end Carl Nassib, a West Chester native who served mostly as a reserve but contributed 3.5 tackles for loss last season. Nassib, a redshirt senior, spoke about being a sponge and taking lessons from the different coaches he’s played under the past four years.

“I try to learn as much as I can from each coach,” Nassib said. “Larry Johnson’s a great coach, coach Spence is an awesome coach. To get both sides of it, I’m pretty lucky.”

Nassib also talked about his impressive physical growth throughout his college career. He came in at 6-foot-5, 218 pounds as a freshman, but now stands at 6-foot-7, 272 pounds.

Kline Returns 

Linebacker Ben Kline has spent the majority of his college career on the sidelines battling various injuries. Just weeks removed from the Blue White showdown, it looks like Kline will finally have the chance to contribute in his final year.

“It’s really fun to be back out there with the guys, that was the biggest thing I missed just not being out there for a while,” Kline said. “I’m feeling really good, I think, all things considered as far as I ask to be. It’s kind of a long process but it’s getting there and feeling good.”

Kline last took the field in 2013 before tearing his ACL prior to the 2014 season.

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