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August 8, 2014

Smith holds brighter outlook for Lions' line

The most optimistic prognostications for this season's Penn State offensive line are muted, at best.

Beyond the unit's one returning starter, redshirt junior Donovan Smith, the unknown quantities of redshirt freshmen Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon, converted defensive tackles Brian Gaia and Derek Dowrey, plus Angelo Mangiro and Wendy Laurent at center have led to one very simple conclusion from the outsiders:

Even assuming that core is athletically capable of holding its own against its Big Ten counterparts, the sheer lack of time for gelling will make for a season best described as an evolution for the group.

For the record, Smith does not agree.

"Me personally, it's offensive, because we know what we can do," he said Monday at the NIttany Lions' preseason media day. "But like I said, people are going to talk about you either good or bad, so it is what it is and we're taking it as motivation and going from there. But definitely come the season, we'll show the world."

Channeling his inner Jules Winnfield, allow Smith to retort.

To start, the hand-wringing regarding the transition of Gaia and Dowrey from the defensive line over to the offensive line is overblown, he said. Coming out of a full spring practice session in which they both became de facto starters with plenty of reps, plus a summer full of work knowing their importance to the line's success, the two have made a complete adjustment.

"They made that adjustment look easy," Smith said. "They got the playbook, they know the playbook, techniques and stuff like that, they have it down pat. They look like true guards now."

As for Nelson, returning from his own frustrating knee injury that forced him out of spring practice, the optimism that former head coach Bill O'Brien held for the Hershey, Pa., native remains the same for Smith.

"I'm going to pass the torch to him hopefully when I leave this university and have him take over," Smith said of Nelson. "He's definitely exciting to watch, technically sound and everything like that, and I'm just ready to see what he can do."

And, last but not least, of Mangiro's penciled-in spot at center and/or competition, depending on your perspective, Smith said the competition will be good for both players and ultimately the offensive line as a whole.

"Mangiro and Wendy are down there in the center spot, and it's always good to have depth in any position and that is what we have in that combo right there," he said.

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