STATE COLLEGE – First-year Penn State offensive line coach Phil Trautwein last week shared just how crucial it is to have the assistance and buy-in from veteran offensive linemen Michal Menet and Will Fries.
Trautwein arrived in January, which gave him just under three months of face-to-face time with his new unit before the group dispersed to their various hometowns throughout the country.
Trautwein, Menet and Fries have still bonded and connected, albeit, from a distance.
“Me and Coach Traut talk pretty regularly on the phone – me asking him questions, all that kind of stuff,” Menet said on Wednesday. “We also have these Zoom meetings which have been extremely valuable for us, especially transitioning into a new offense and a new O-line coach. It’s been really vital for us.”
Menet said while the initial stages of acclimating to a new coach are always important, the fact has been further highlighted due to the practice-less situations brought forth from the coronavirus pandemic. Penn State, like all programs across the country, did not have any spring practices.
“Having that little time in the winter before spring break was extremely valuable, a lot more valuable than everybody kind of expected it to be because you got introduced to all these new techniques and all that kind of stuff so you can see it and run through it live a few times.”
Of all the insights Menet and Fries gleaned have from Trautwein and the rest of Penn State’s coaching staff during their time together, accountability and leadership have been hoisted to the forefront this spring.
The duo said the offensive line unit has shown cohesion and unity during its time apart.
“I think one of the biggest values that our team has right now is the amount of accountability there is team-wide from the top to the bottom,” Menet said. “I think that’s kind of been the main driving force. As far as individual units and certain rooms, I think all the leaders in those rooms have been really looking after their guys.”
Harnessing that leadership comes through different means. For Fries, a simple yet effective tool consists of a phone call to check on the emotional well-being of a teammate.
“Just checking in on a couple of guys every day,” he said. “Seeing how they’re doing, seeing how their family’s doing. These are crazy times, so the most important thing is just to make sure everyone’s mentally straight. I think our group has done a great job, even the younger guys are calling me and holding me accountable, as well.”
Like Penn State’s other units, Nittany Lions’ offensive linemen have engaged in team meetings and have remained connected with Trautwein through Zoom video chats. While players would have preferred to learn their new line schemes and protection packages on an actual practice field, Menet said the video medium has been informative.
“It’s really not that bad because most of what you do, besides obviously walking through it and being able to run it live, is kind of studying the film and watching clips from past offenses doing it and that type of stuff,” he said. “So it’s really not that bad as long you’re taking really good notes and being able to go back through them and watch them. Obviously, you’re missing a component of being able to walk through a line with a defense, but some of the things I’ve been doing, I’ve just been kind of visualizing plays a lot.”
Penn State’s spring semester concluded last week, which allows players a brief respite from balancing their coursework with their football-learning obligations. While the spring has brought forth a new normal for Nittany Lions’ football players, each has adapted in their way.
One of the positives, Fries said, was the added time for family.
“The most surprising thing about coming back is seeing how big my brother has gotten,” Fries said. “He’s a sophomore in high school now, and it’s funny to see how big he’s gotten since the last time I’ve seen him… It’s a blessing being home, as well, because it’s not really more than a week at a time I get to see my parents, and being able to spend time with them – watch a movie with them at night – it’s been really nice throughout all this craziness.”