Over the years, members of the scout team at Penn State rarely saw the field, but as payment for the thrashing they took at the hands of All-Americans and other starters in practice each day, they took a certain amount of pride in knowing that they'd helped prepare those starters for that week's game.
Center Matt Stankiewitch (54) has gotten tough tests from Jordan Hill and Penn State's athletic defensive line during camp.
The members of the 2012 Penn State scout team, at least for the majority of preseason camp, didn't take quite the pounding. But they had good seats for some epic battles between the offensive and defensive starters.
"This training camp is more like an NFL training camp," tight end Kyle Carter said. "It's more ones on ones. Last year we'd have a scout team, we'd go against the threes and the fours. This year it's you're going against the ones or twos the whole time. And of course, because everybody's good on both sides, you just really get after it."
Because Bill O'Brien has given the Nittany Lions more of a pro-style feel, because transfers and injuries have cut the roster down and maybe just because it raises the level of everyone's play, starter on starter has been a major theme of camp and an aspect the players believe will pay dividends when they open the season against a tough Ohio squad next week.
"It just helps with the speed of the game," veteran fullback Mike Zordich said. "You get used to tacking and hitting and blocking guys that are moving at your pace, at your skill level. It just helps with the overall intensity of practice."
There's also the element of surprise at practices this season. As they've worked hard to master O'Brien's complex offensive playbook, which they hope will keep opposing defenses off-balance, Penn State's offensive players have also had to deal with a variety of looks from Ted Roof's new defense.
"At first, it was real hard going against the ones because they would have these exotic defenses, blitzes, all that," Carter said. "But over time, once we started putting in more plays and getting our stuff more complex, we were actually getting after them."
Those exotic defenses might have posed a challenge for the offensive players if true freshmen or walk-ons were lining up across from them. But when seasoned stars like Jordan Hill, Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti are the ones carrying out those schemes, it's a whole different challenge.
"It's one of the best front sevens I'm going to face this whole year," center Matt Stankiewitch said. "Going against them is really going to prepare me no matter what they do. They throw a lot of stuff at you -- you have to be ready for it. They're going to keep you on their heels, so we have to try to keep them on their heels. We'll mix up the snap count, get up to the line faster."
Pitting starters against starters in practice carries some amount of risk -- one big hit, for example, could mean injuries for two key players -- but Nittany Lions who have had to fill in for injured first-teamers, such as Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Deion Barnes, have gained valuable, game-like reps alongside starters and against starters. The confidence that comes from any success they have could extend well beyond the practice fields.
And maybe give them a little something to talk about at training table, too.
"The best players on the team are going after each other," Carter said. "You want bragging rights. Everybody's always talking after practice about who won, who did this. That's the best thing about it."