In his three years at Penn State, including a redshirt season, offensive tackle Adam Gress barely has been noticed. He figures he has seen action in "12 or 13 games," mostly as a blocker on special teams.

However, thanks to a new strength program instituted since the hiring of Bill O'Brien as head coach, Gress has stood out, grabbing the starting position at left tackle while increasing his weight to 310 pounds and reducing his body fat.

Gress' profile grew at the start of spring practice, when O'Brien cited Gress as having had "a heckuva winter . . . already changing his body." Strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald said Gress had the body of an NFL lineman.

"I guess it was kind of flattering," Gress, of West Mifflin, Pa., said Wednesday. "It was pretty cool to hear. It was encouraging to hear someone say something like that. It showed something positive to give me in terms of the gains I've made."

The 6-foot-6 Gress has flourished under Fitzgerald, the man who created Penn State's new weight-training regimen, and offensive line coach Mac McWhorter. But a lot of it had to do with Gress' mind-set.

"I think having not started before, and me coming into my last two seasons, the new staff gave me the opportunity to set a new pace and improve myself," he said. "I have two years left and I wanted to make sure that I was going to get the best out of the two years, so I guess I turned it up a little bit."

Gress has benefited from the changes on the field, plus the weight training. He said the new program helped him with his explosion off the line while making him stronger overall, changes that he said have been "absolutely essential in helping me get to where I am right now."

He also has thrived with new techniques taught to him by McWhorter, a veteran of 32 years of college coaching.

"Coach Mac has shown me a lot of good stuff, some different techniques that seem to work," Gress said.

Gress is one of four new starters on the offensive line. He said the coaches have done quite a bit of mixing of the lines, with second- and third-teamers learning the new offensive system installed by O'Brien, a system Gress said is "going to be explosive . . . and fast."

Gress understands the need to keep working once Saturday's Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium has concluded. He knows a summer of training and working on his footwork and his punch off the line will put him in good shape to hold the No. 1 job throughout preseason camp.

"These are the things that are essential to every football player," he said. "There are guys that have been in the pros for 10 years and still every day are working on these types of things. It's never bad to continue improving in those areas."

And he doesn't want to get too far ahead of himself, even if he does dream of running on to the lush green grass with the starting offensive unit to run the first play of the 2012 season on Sept. 1.

"I think about that a lot," he admitted. "It's going to cross my mind. But I have to remember that it's a day-to-day process, and right now we're in the spring."

Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @joejulesinq.