The story lines for the Penn State football program heading into the 2014 season are fairly straightforward in terms of conventional thinking.
With at least combined 11 returning starters on both sides of the ball, and at least a fair amount of backup experience expected to step into starting roles, the Nittany Lions have some solid components to work with in head coach James Franklin's first season in Happy Valley. Certainly, an influx of talented true freshmen and redshirts from a season ago provide reasons to be anticipatory for the future, even if relying on immediate contributions is somewhat optimistic thinking.
With so many unknowns littered throughout the depth chart, specifically in positions immediately backing up projected starters, the story of 2014 sounds much like that of 2013. Namely, health continues to be an incredibly important factor in which much of the program's odds for success increase or decrease proportionally to overall team health.
Penn State's Director of Performance Enhancement, Dwight Galt, knows as much and has worked extensively this summer to transform bodies into the most durable versions of themselves.
"We all know what our scholarship situation is now, so I want to make sure that the guys we have that have to go out there - we don't have as many as a lot of other programs - so we gotta keep them on the field," he said.
Part of that strategy, as Galt explained Saturday afternoon following Penn State's 12th annual Lift for Life event, comes through the strenuous workout regimen implemented on Penn State's players during June, July and August.
For as glowing as Galt appeared to be regarding Penn State's class of incoming freshmen that has been on campus for the past couple of weeks, on top of the overall team gains in the weight room that have come since his arrival in late January, he noted some of the additional responsibilities that Penn State's unique situation have thrust on his department.
"Obviously, the two things you really want to do is make your joint integrity as strong as possible. So they can take different speeds, different ranges of movement, different blows, whatever. So get strong," he said. "The second thing is flexibility, and I've never done more flexibility with a group of guys. So I'm doing a lot of flexibility to make sure that decreases injury. And we already talked about core a little bit as well, which can also help a lot with a lot of their injuries as well in your lower and upper leg."
Of course, among a group of extremely important players needed to stay on the field, one remains particularly important.
Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg, checking in at a robust 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, has made serious strides in the weight room, according to Galt. "He's moving and running better than he ever has before… The one thing I'm really pleased with is how much he's improved his movement and strength," said Galt, adding the quarterback's recent mark of 290 pounds in the clean.
Those strides, it seems all lead to one place.
"I want him to be able to take a hit," Galt said. "Not that it's going to happen, but I'm trying to make him as durable as possible in the shoulder region, elbow region, wrist region. So we do a lot of stuff with shoulder strength and then with rotator cuff and things like that to make sure he stays as bulletproof as possible."