Gress Tackles Starting Job on OL

Gress working the weights.

Penn State's redshirt junior has transformed his game and his body, and has moved up the depth chart because of it.

Penn State's new left tackle comes out of West Mifflin High, near Pittsburgh, and he comes out of nowhere.

Redshirted for a year and buried on the depth chart for two, Adam Gress was first mentioned as a potential difference-maker by the irrepressible Craig Fitzgerald, the team's new strength coach. He was the one who declared at the beginning of spring practice that Gress “looks like an NFL lineman right now.”

Now it's a matter of whether he can play like one.

Gress, who slapped another seven or eight pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame through his offseason work with Fitzgerald, leaving him at 310, looms as one of four new starters along the offensive front. Senior Mike Farrell and redshirt freshman Donovan Smith have been alternating at right tackle during spring drills, with senior John Urschel and redshirt sophomore Miles Dieffenbach the likely starters at right and left guard, respectively, around holdover center Matt Stankiewitch.

“I guess things look pretty good for me right now, but it's a day-to-day process,” Gress said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning.

After three years in the program and scant playing time -- and most of that on special teams -- Gress said he adopted a whole new approach in the offseason.

“Having not started before and me coming into my last two seasons, and having a new staff come in, gave me the opportunity to set a new pace and I guess prove myself,” he said. “I have two years left. I wanted to get the most out of those two years. I guess I've turned it up a little bit, yes.”

New head coach Bill O'Brien took notice, as did Fitzgerald. Gress alternately said it was “flattering” and “encouraging” to hear Fitzgerald say what he said, adding that he immediately took to the Olympic-style lifting program implemented by the new strength coach, with its emphasis on explosive movements.

“It's an understatement that it's helped me,” he said. “It just helped me become more powerful and stronger overall, in all regions of my body. … It's transferred over greatly (to the field), especially in areas like my punch and explosion.”

He also said that he sees “eye to eye on a lot of things” with Mac McWhorter, the new offensive line coach, that the techniques McWhorter favor “really work” for him. But Gress believes the adjustment from the old offense to the new one is more dramatic for the skill players than it is for the linemen.

“When you run one zone play,” he said, “it's the same as another zone play.”

He looks forward to having everything (or at least some things) unveiled during Saturday's Blue-White Game -- a game, he added, that will be “held to a little bit of a higher level than previous ones.”

“I'm expecting a lot,” he said.

That goes for the long term, too.

“I've had a good spring,” he said. “I have to keep working hard and improve myself more in the summer, so at the end of training camp I'm an even better player than I am now.”

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