UNIVERSITY PARK — Eric Shrive and Paul Jones exulted for multiple reasons after Penn State’s 34-7 victory over Navy this past weekend.
Let’s start with the obvious.
Their team avoided a rare 0-3 start with a tidy performance. Throw in a rout at Wisconsin and TickeyCity Bowl whitewash via Houston to end 2011, and the Nittany Lions waited 291 days between wins.
“It meant everything for us,” Shrive said. “We have been working for this for nine months. Losing is never going to be accepted around here.”
Shrive and Jones also achieved major personal feats. The duo received first-team action, with Shrive appearing at right tackle and Jones playing “F” tight end.
Hailing from opposite corners of the state, the pair matriculated to Penn State as heralded recruits.
Shrive’s credentials: 6-foot-6. Offensive tackle. West Scranton High School. Ranked the nation’s No. 11 offensive tackle by Rivals.com.
Jones’ credentials: 6-foot-3. Quarterback. Sto-Rox High School. Ranked the nation’s No. 8 pro-style quarterback.
The pair arrived in separate recruiting classes, with Shrive enrolling in 2009 and Jones in January of 2010. Together, they offered a hulking tackle and a quarterback capable of making nearly any throw.
Instead of quickly ascending the depth chart, they entered a waiting mode.
Older linemen played ahead of Shrive. Jones spent two years wading through academic problems.
They watched coaches who scored major recruiting victories by obtaining their signatures leave the program. They started over this past spring, learning a retooled offense constructed by six new coaches.
Both players entered summer conditioning as backups, with Shrive listed behind John Urschel at right guard and Jones operating behind fifth-year senior quarterback Matt McGloin.
The duo remained committed to the program when teammates fled after the late-July announcement of major NCAA sanctions the school. Neither player unseated a projected starter in training camp.
Following the Nittany Lions’ 17-16 Week 2 loss at Virginia, plans to expand their roles started emerging.
Left tackle Donovan Smith suffered an ankle injury against the Cavaliers. The injury forced Mike Farrell to move from right to left tackle.
Shrive said he started working at right tackle, where Adam Gress is the top backup, last Monday. He welcomed the shift.
“I can play tackle, I can play guard,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. I just want to get on the field.”
His opportunity arrived late in Saturday’s first quarter, when coach Bill O’Brien and offensive line coach Mac McWhorter inserted him at right tackle. His first play didn’t follow the script. Shrive received a 15-yard personal foul penalty for flattening Navy linebacker Jordan Drake after Curtis Dukes’ 3-yard run.
The penalty, which Shrive called a “boneheaded mistake,” peeved O’Brien. Shrive was scolded and temporarily removed before settling and helping the offense average 7.0 yards per play.
“It was the most reps I have ever gotten and it was really something special to get out there,” he said. “Unfortunately, I got a personal on the first play. I got overexcited. I didn’t hear the whistle, so I didn’t stop. I settled down after that and got after it.”
Jones also had to manage his emotions. He didn’t play in season-opening losses to Ohio University and Virginia. When McGloin left the Virginia game with an elbow injury, O’Brien turned to true freshman Steven Bench, a sign that Jones had dropped on the quarterback depth chart.
As he received less work at quarterback, Jones quietly started catching passes. The “F” tight end, considered an additional receiving threat, fits Jones’ talent, according to teammates and coaches.
Jones entered Saturday’s game to cheers in the second quarter. He caught a 7-yard pass, touching a football in a real game for the first time since Sto-Rox’s loss to Beaver Falls in the 2009 WPIAL Class AA playoffs.
On his first offensive snap, Jones had another major responsibility: He needed to block.
“That first play felt good even though it was blocking, something I never thought I would be doing,” he said. “It just felt good to be out there. I feel comfortable at this position.”
O’Brien has hinted that Jones will occupy a larger role as the season progresses.
“He’s a great kid,” O’Brien said. “I was glad to see him catch that ball. That was good and a good start for him. He also had a couple of blocks in there which was good to see. We got to keep building that package with him.”
Jones said Saturday marked the first time since his freshman year of high school that he played a position other than quarterback in a game. He played safety as a freshman at Sto-Rox.
Coping with the possibility he might never become the Nittany Lions’ full-time quarterback isn’t always easy.
“Do I miss it? I would be lying if I said I didn’t,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m settling into this new position and I like it a lot. I feel comfortable with it.”
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy