Line is Key to Penn State’s 2016 Season

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (EYT) – Probably the biggest factor in whether Penn State football takes a step forward in the Big Ten this year or not will be the play of the offensive line.

(Photo of Brian Gaia by Paul Burdick. Check out more of Burdick’s work here)

A year ago, the line was a point of contention with many Nittany Lions fans, especially after a rocky start in the season-opening loss to Temple when Penn State gave up 10 sacks.

But a lot of Penn State’s line problems in 2015 can be traced back to the sanctions the school faced in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the scholarship limitations that came with it.

Now that those sanctions have been lifted, Penn State enters spring practice with a full contingent of linemen to chose from, 18 in total on the spring roster.

But while the numbers are back, their is still a lot of youth and inexperience within the line with 12 of them either freshmen or sophomores with a mix of true and red-shirts among that group.

There is also a new offensive line coach with Matt Limegrover coming over from Big Ten foe Minnesota not to mention a new offensive coordinator, Joe Moorhead.

With all of the new players and coaches that could put extra emphasis on spring practice, which starts Friday.

“I think it’s really important,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said during his pre-spring media conference Monday when asked how big of a spring it is for the first – and second-year linemen. “They have done all the things necessary in the offseason.”

Penn State returns four starters from the end of the regular season last year on the line in senior tackle Paris Palmer, senior center Wendy Laurent, senior guard Brian Gaia and junior tackle Andrew Nelson.

And those players will be pushed by some of the younger guys including redshirt freshmen Ryan Bates, Steven Gonzalez and Sterling Jenkins , true freshman Connor McGovern, redshirt sophomores Noah Beh, Chasz Wright,

“There is a group of guys that have been sitting and waiting their time,” Franklin said. “They’ve been waiting their turn to be able to prove that they are ready. Some are more ready than others, but these 15 days will give us a really good opportunity to see how much progress they’ve made.

“It’s a huge spring for those guys to show they are ready to step into the role of being either legitimate guys competing for starting jobs or probably, just as important, to be legitimate two-deep guys so we don’t have as many moving parts on the offensive line than we’ve had for the last couple of years.”

Franklin immediately mentioned Bates when talking about his young linemen.

The 6-foot-4, 301-pound guard/center from Archbishop Wood High School has but on 20-plus pounds since coming into Penn State last year.

“He’s put on 20-something pounds,” Franklin said. “He’s got a full beard. His beard game is strong right now. He just looks a like a different guy.

“He was a guy we struggled with as a freshman. Should we play him or not? Because his talent and his maturity allowed him to be part of that conversation. This issue was he was in the high 270s, lows 280s and it’s hard to be able to do that in the Big Ten at 18 years old. Now the fact I think he’s around 305 pounds, there’s a lot of excitement about him and what he’s going to bring to the table.”

McGovern, who is 6-foot-5, 305 pounds from Lake-Lehman High School, may not need the redshirt year like Bates did.

“He’s a guy that from a maturity and from a discipline and from a mentality standpoint, he’s a lot like Bates,” Franklin said. “The difference is, he’s 305 pounds right now. We haven’t done anything on the field yet, but he’s a little different than most freshmen because he’s going to have a chance to legitimately compete at that position because of demeanor, because of his work ethic and because of his size. He’s a grown man right now. We’ll see if that translates on to the field with the speed of the game, which is always the difference for these guys.”

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