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Penn State Football: For Trautwein, Step One Was Buy-In

by on April 28, 2020 2:17 PM

It is not an easy line of work Penn State offensive line coach Phil Trautwein finds himself in. The business of protection is already difficult to begin with. Defenders are running towards a player, linemen scuttling backwards as fast and as balanced as their massive frames allow.

There’s nothing simple about it, no quick fix, no shortcut from just okay to great. And yet, on the heels of an 11-2 season and a span of high profile success, Trautwein comes to Penn State looking to improve, not sustain.

The real challenge Trautwein faces during his first year at Penn State: fans, players and fellow coaches have heard the speech before. That things are going to be different, that the offensive line will take that final step forward from being good to being dominant.

Every year the line is set to be the strength of the team and every year it seems to fall short of that promise. In 2019-20 Penn State finished 91st in tackles-for-a-loss allowed, after finishing a far more respectable 38th the year prior. While the change was likely the product of many things, and that stat the byproduct of more than just the line, it was a shortcoming that did now former offensive line coach Matt Limegrover no favors.

All of this, both the solution and step one in a long journey toward a more consistent line, comes down to relationships.

So Trautwein has worked at that as much as he has worked on stances and technique. That begins by winning over the veterans Michal Menet and Will Fries.

“The first thing I did was build a relationship with them and made sure that those older guys believed in me,” Trautwein said. “So when we're talking about technique, they’re bought in and know that what I've done before and what I'm showing them works. That's what coaching is all about. It’s getting the buy-in. A lot of coaches out there have different techniques and different things, but at the end of the day if you get your offense aligned to believe in what you do and how you do it, you'll be successful.”

Like every other coach in America there is a helplessness that comes with the times. There was no spring practice, no in-person film sessions or conversations. There was no bonding and no hands-on learning.

So there is, in a sense, only so much Trautwein can really do. In turn Menet has taken to leading extra video sessions with his teammates, working on the little things as they install a new offense. A coach will tell you that the closer you get to the ball, the harder the game of football becomes. Because, yes, the business of being an offensive lineman is physical, but it’s also mental.

“[Menet] and Fries are two leaders in the line room,” Trautwein said on Tuesday. “Because they have the experience and guys look to them. From day one [Menet] has been talking with me about technique. He's been trying to ask me things and what can I do and how can I get better.

“[Menet] is taking all the notes and I think guys are looking at that and it's helping guys buy into what I'm preaching. For him to be that guy it's huge. If he didn't believe in me then I know that it would be hard."

It will be a long road to travel before Penn State hits the field again in any capacity and longer still until fans believe the latest pitch that this offensive line will be the one. There’s no doubting Trautwein’s enthusiasm though, nor his resume from Boston College or the success he has had before ever coming to Penn State.

So maybe this time it’s for real.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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