John Urschel, taking a break from football practice and teaching math at Penn State, had a different lesson to give to reporters.
The most recognizable member of the Nittany Lions offensive line wanted to shed some light on his teammates. Returning starters like Donovan Smith and Miles Dieffenbach. Seniors stepping into starting roles like Ty Howle and Adam Gress. And more candidates like Eric Shrive and Angelo Mangiro.
“There’s a difference between being on the inside of the football team as one of the players and being on the outside covering it,” Urschel said in his usual polite and deliberate tone. “There’s a big information gap. I’d say this is one of the things.”
What others might see as an issue — having to replace center Matt Stankiewitch and right tackle Mike Farrell — Urschel sees as a strength of the team headed into Saturday’s Blue-White Game.
Barring any lingering injuries, the Lions’ first-team line will feature, from left to right, Smith, Dieffenbach, Howle, Urschel and Gress.
Urschel spoke at length about his admiration for Howle, a fifth-year senior stepping in for an experienced and effective player like Stankiewitch.
Howle was sidelined for the first half of the 2012 season with a torn pectoral but returned to split time with Dieffenbach at left guard. Urschel said Howle’s limited time in the public eye doesn’t hint at what he’s capable of.
“For lack of a better way to put it, you guys have missed on this guy,” said Urschel, who came to Penn State along with Howle in the 2009 recruiting class. “He’s a good football player, and I’ve thought this since we got here. Honestly, when I got here, I thought Ty was the best offensive lineman in our year of the seven of us.
“He’s a strong, tough football player with good fundamentals and plays on his feet. This is a guy who isn’t exactly blessed with great intangibles, maybe, like Donovan. He’s not a really tall guy, but he gets the job done. He’s a consistent player. You don’t see him missing a lot of days with injuries. He’s a tough, hard-working football player. I’m blessed to have him next to me.”
Very strong praise, especially from an All-Big Ten selection like Urschel, who also called Howle “one of the most underrated players on the team.”
Though he saw time at guard last season, Howle has played center for most of his life. So there shouldn’t be any issues there.
“I played center in high school and the first four years I was here,” Howle said. “And while I was injured, I still went to all the meetings, watched practice and helped out as much as I could.
“I was in a sling for about a month and then I gradually started with push-ups. Then the incline and a little bit of weight. It’s been a gradual process.”
Howle will be pushed by Mangiro, who has worked at both center and guard. Shrive has worked predominately at tackle this spring but has also spent plenty of time at guard in the past few seasons.
Shrive, a celebrated recruit out of West Scranton who arrived along with Urschel, Howle and Gress, is hoping to push for a starting job in his fifth and final season for the Lions.
“I’m much stronger than I’ve ever been, and that’s a credit to (strength coach Craig Fitzgerald),” Shrive said. “Speaking for myself, I feel a lot stronger out there right now, and I think as you feel stronger, you feel more confident.
“I’ve just got to keep working on technique and have a really good summer. Try to contribute any way possible.”