For all of the flashy plays and memorable moments of the past two years for Penn State football, much of it happened with an offensive line still rebuilding from the sanction era.
It was never overly deep, a single injury to Ryan Bates against Ohio State may have been the difference in the game. Early season bumps and bruises kept players shuffling around.
And yet, at the end of the day, it improved.
But imagine a world where there is a player behind Bates ready to go in, or where multiple players can play multiple positions. A world where Penn State simply has options up front. A good offensive line is the difference between a good season and a great one, a national championship and a lot of missed opportunities.
Coaches says that the farther out from the ball you get the quicker you can play. Offensive linemen take years to really develop, where a good receiver can play almost from Day 1. That's what Penn State fans have seen over the past few years, and a surplus of skill players that have made up for an otherwise still developing offensive line.
Now that's changing.
"I think really that's where it starts, up front," James Franklin said earlier in the week. "You know, the best teams in the country consistently win up front and when you consistently win up front, it's going to give you a chance to have the most consistent program."
"Obviously to be able to win at the very highest level, you've got to be really good across the board. You've got to be great in coaching. You've got to be great recruiting. You've got to be great in scheming. You've got to be great in developing. You've got to be great in every position. That's the reality of it."
That focus up front has been clear on the recruiting trail. The 2018 class includes two Top 10 offensive tackles to go with an already growing room of linemen in the program. The Nittany Lions have the skill, now their getting the all important depth up front. Franklin and Joe Moorhead were able to mask some issues, but Penn State's increasingly tenured head coach knows they can't live that way forever, especially as they eye bigger and better goals.
"I think, you know, you can still have a very good year by overcoming some deficiencies that you have in a certain area, but you can't over -- you can't ever overcome deficiencies up front. It's just too challenging. You're going to have to be really strong up front to win at the highest level. So we're committed to doing that. I think you guys have heard me saying it before; I think the thing that makes it so challenging up front is because when you do have problems, you can't solve them quickly."
"Those guys need time to develop. A wide receiver, a corner, a safety, a running back, could probably play for you as a true freshman; it's hard to get those other positions because of the size and strength and maturity aspects that come with those positions."
The good news for Penn State, the Nittany Lions are starting to pile up that all important strength and size.