UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. --When spring practice opens Wednesday, Penn State will have a different Pittsburgh guy at center.
Stefen Wisniewski, a junior from Central Catholic High School, moves over from guard, replacing A.Q. Shipley from Moon.
Shipley was a three-year starter, a first-team All-American as a senior and the winner of Rimington Trophy, which is awarded to the nation's top center.
It will be a tough act to follow.
• What: Traditional intrasquad scrimmage that ends Penn State's spring practice.
• When: 2 p.m., April 25.
• Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa.
• Admission: Free.
• Spring practice begins: Wednesday.
"A.Q. is a really good player," Wisniewski said. "I have some big shoes to fill. He has been very helpful. I am working on all the little details that made him a great center."
Shipley, expected to be a mid-round pick in next month's NFL draft after beginning his career with the Nittany Lions as a defensive tackle, believes Wisniewski will be a good fit in the middle of the line after spending the previous two years at guard.
"Wiz is going to be an excellent center," Shipley said. "We've been talking a little bit already and I'm sure he'll be calling me a lot. He's a heck of a football player.
"He's as smart as can be. Half the time last year, he was helping me out. That kid's got a gift and he's going to make the most of it."
Wisniewski, 6 feet 3, 302 pounds, started 11 games at right guard last year and another on the left side while also serving as Shipley's backup at center. Wisniewski earned second-team All-Big Ten Conference honors and had a hand in helping pave the way for tailback Evan Royster to become Penn State's fourth consecutive 1,000-yard rusher.
"Stefen is smart," said veteran offensive line coach Dick Anderson, who handles the guards and centers. "He's very sound fundamentally. He works hard at the game. He has some very good qualities.
"He's played center before, so it won't be strange. I know he can do it."
Wisniewski said there are some major differences between playing center and guard.
"There is less space between you and the defensive linemen," he said. "At guard, you usually have two full steps before you have full contact. At center, that guy is right there right now. So the footwork is a little different and using the hand is a little different because everything happens a little bit quicker.
"The center also has to call out our protection duties and run-blocking schemes. I was the backup center last year, so I was working on making those calls at practice a lot. And in games, I was thinking of them as A.Q. was calling them, or even before."
Wisniewski's shift to center will be part of a major reshuffling on the offensive line. Right tackle Dennis Landolt, a fifth-year senior, is the only other starter returning. Three first-team All-Big Ten performers -- Shipley, left tackle Gerald Cadogan and left guard Rich Ohrnberger -- have used up their eligibility.
Senior Nerraw McCormack and sophomore DeOn'tae Pannell will be competing for the tackle spot opposite Landolt this spring. There are several players battling for the two guard positions -- redshirt sophomores Johnnie Troutman and Quinn Barham, senior Ako Poti, redshirt junior Lou Eliades and redshirt freshman Matt Stankiewitch. Barham and Stankiewitch are the top candidates to serve as Wisniewski's backup at center.
Spring practice concludes April 25 with the Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium.
"It will be a challenge for us all spring because we lost three very good players in Shipley, Cadogan and Ohrnberger," Anderson said. "We have to replace a lot of good players and that's never easy because you just don't jump in there and begin to play. To be a good offensive lineman, it generally takes a lot of experience."
Ron Musselman can be reached at email@example.com .