Dieffenbach return to Penn State lineup uncertain
He'd like it a lot more if didn't happen mainly against teammate Anthony Zettel on the Nittany Lion practice field.
Dieffenbach started 23 games the previous two seasons and was expected to provide much-needed leadership and experience on a young offensive line this year along with Donovan Smith.
But a knee injury in spring drills resulted in surgery. His rehab has been picking up speed and is expected to fully recover sometime in November.
Until Dieffenbach's doctors are comfortable clearing him, the fifth-year, 305-pound senior is strong enough to mix it up with Zettel, whom Dieffenbach calls ''probably one of the best defensive linemen in the country, tops in the Big Ten.''
When practice ends, he seeks out Zettel. ''We do some one-on-ones and I tell him, `This is a game rep, go as hard as you possibly can because when I get in a game no one is going to take it easy on me.'''
Dieffenbach is a two-time conference academic standout and received a degree in May in advertising and public relations. He did not suit up against Ohio State; his next potential opportunity to play is Saturday when Penn State (4-3, 1-3 Big Ten) faces Maryland (5-3, 2-2) at Beaver Stadium.
''It's not just the physical aspects of it, it's the muscle memory of technique and footwork he hasn't done in six months and it's also the confidence,'' Penn State coach James Franklin said.
''He's practicing to a degree the last couple of weeks and hopefully he'll have a bigger role this week and that will allow us to play him in the game a little bit.''
Despite his frustrations, Dieffenbach is sticking to his rehab schedule.
''I feel pretty far along,'' he said. ''There's no really finite line where I'm ready. It's kind of just a thing where you get a feel for it. It will be a family decision, a team decision, doctors.''
There's little question the team needs him. The Lions are last in the Big Ten in rushing offense, and 123rd in the country, with just 46 yards per game.
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been sacked 25 times in seven games. Smith is the only veteran on the line. Tackle Andrew Nelson is the only scholarship player among the other three offensive line starters.
Dieffenbach said it's not the wins and losses that drives him, it's the desire to again feel like he's a part of the team.
''Obviously, I'm dying to be out there,'' he said. ''Knowing these are the last couple of games I'll be able to put on a Penn State uniform . that really puts it in perspective the five years that I've been here and what an amazing experience I've had.''
Dieffenbach says he won't play unless he and doctors are confident he's 100 percent ready.
''I can't wait to be out there with my guys and play in the games,'' he said.