McWhorter building depth on line

It wasn't uncommon for Joe Paterno to swap out wide receivers for any given play. It hasn't been uncommon for Bill O'Brien -- and, more specifically, offensive line coach Mac McWhorter -- to swap out offensive linemen for any given play.

Mac McWhorter was mixing and matching offensive line combinations long before he came to Penn State.

Penn State continues to use an eight- or nine-man rotation up front, which has helped the line gain some traction and put up some big offensive numbers late in the game during the Nittany Lions' four-game winning streak.

"What I tell these guys is obviously i'd like to play as many as we possibly can," McWhorter said Wednesday morning. "They only get better when they play. But they have to earn the right to play."

McWhorter said the substitution patterns are based off his "feel for the game." But he likes mixing in linemen for a number of reasons: it keeps them fresh during the game and he feels it's the best way to develop depth from year to year.

"I've always had the philosophy that I'm going to play the best five players we have available at any given snap during the ball game," McWhorter said. "At times I've had it where I could just about roll two lines in and haven't had a lot of dropoff. I've had it where I've had six guys."

During his last stint as an offensive line coach, at the University of Texas, McWhorter had a lineman by the name of Chris Hull who started at least one game at all five positions, and once played four of them during the same game.

McWhorter isn't asking any of his Penn State players to handle that kind of workload, though some of them -- Mike Farrell, Eric Shrive, Ty Howle -- are playing multiple positions. He does make sure they're well-versed on what the opposition is doing, though, issuing a written test to his linemen each week.

"They're things that I want them to have in their mind while the game goes on," McWhorter said. "When is the highest tendency for them to twist or a certain blitz, highest tendency for things to happen, so they can anticipate things that happen during the ballgame. There are four pages of x's and o's that I ask them to draw up, usually things that I want to emphasize that we've had problem with in practice. The test is to prepare them a little bit more for the ballgame."

McWhorter, who will turn 63 in June, came out of retirement to coach alongside O'Brien. He said he doesn't know how many more seasons he'll coach and that he hasn't thought too much about it.

"We're just taking it a day, a season a game at a time right now and that's kind of the way I've always done things," he said. "In this profession, you never know what the next day holds."

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