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Football vs. Harvard Credit: Ilana Wurman , Ilana Wurman, Ilana Wurman

Penn football operates under a microscope.

This is true just about any year, but this year especially. The team features a new coach with a new set of coordinators, and, entering 2015, the Quakers' margin of error seems precipitously low. In this state of flux, there is no escaping the scrutiny that the Red and Blue will face.

With that said, it seems curious that the biggest guys on Franklin Field have consistently been the most overlooked. 

"The big boys. ... A lot of the dirty work gets done up front," senior defensive lineman Dan Connaughton said. "Not a lot of praise, but we don't really look for that."

However, in a year largely defined by uncertainty and turnover, Penn football will need to look to its men up front on both sides of the ball to supply some much-needed stability.

Much has been made of junior quarterback Alek Torgersen’s development within the Red and Blue system. And while his sophomore campaign was marred by inconsistency, he may have the support he needs up front this year to mature as Penn’s leader on the offensive side of the ball.

To protect Torgersen, the Red and Blue return all five starters from last year’s offensive line, a group that helped make Penn the second-most prolific passing team in the Ivies.

"The connection that we have going on between the O-line right now [is pretty special]," senior Tanner Thexton said. "The communication that we have is pretty valuable I'd say."

Of particular importance is Thexton, who missed the final two games of 2014 to injury and will be tasked with protecting Torgersen’s blind side throughout the upcoming season.

The Quakers also return several key members of their 2014 defensive line, most notably seniors Connaughton and Austin Taps and junior Corey Power.

Last year, both Connaughton and Power consistently showcased their abilities, Connaughton by playing in all 10 games and Power by showing flashes of brilliance, including an 11-tackle performance against Dartmouth. And while Taps was hampered by injury last year, he will look to regain his 2013 honorable mention All-Ivy form this year, rounding out the all-important front of the Quakers’ 3-4 defense.

However, despite all the experience that they bring to the table, Penn’s offensive and defensive linemen also bring their fair share of question marks to the table entering the new season.

The O-line, for instance, did not consistently show the ability to create room to run for Penn’s running backs in 2014, a group that admittedly was beat up, but ultimately was not given enough opportunities to get to the opposing defense’s second level.

Similarly, the D-line was not particularly effective in the Quakers’ 2014 efforts to put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks and ultimately cause turnovers. There also remain questions of depth on the defensive front entering the new season.

"First of all, you've gotta find a one-deep," new defensive coordinator Bob Benson said. "Then you take it to a 1.5. And then you try to see if you can get two-deep." 

It remains to be seen if the Quakers can go two-deep on the defensive line, and how the rest of these questions resolve themselves in 2015 on both sides of the ball. However, the potential success of Penn’s linemen depends on something much more substantial.

In the weeks leading up to the team’s opener, the Red and Blue's coaching staff seems to have zeroed in on a philosophy of “grit and grind.” To hear Priore tell it, it’s an attitude that needs to be embodied by everybody for the team to succeed, but common sense dictates that it is a philosophy best backed by experience and consistency.

"I think [the linemen] are a group of blue-collar, hard-working guys," new offensive coordinator John Reagan said. "And you can build off that."

So in 2015, there’s no need to look under a microscope to find the embodiment of the team’s changing identity. Instead, just look to the big guys in the trenches.

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