Today, we begin our series of Lions Pride Position Previews that will take you right up to the tailgate and kickoff on September 5th.
What better way to start than to address the elephant in the room head-on, the Offensive Line.
I preface this piece by stating, unequivocally, that I will never again underestimate the value and importance of a well-tuned O-Line. Nor should you. The beating that Christian Hackenberg took, at times last year, was downright brutal.
The ugliness of it all has been well documented and rehashed a thousand times. Fortunately, we are not here to dwell on the past. A new day has dawned in Happy Valley. For Coach Herb Hand and the rest of the "Big Uglies" the time has come to move forward!
ON TO GREENER PASTURES
Gone from a year ago are three-year starters, Donovan Smith and Miles Dieffenbach(although Miles spent most of last season rehabbing an ACL tear). Both have found homes in the NFL, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, respectively, and we here at Lions Pride wish them the very best and much success at the next level.
HUNGRY FOR MORE
Returning from last season are four starters, including 5th year senior and team captain, Angelo Mangiro. Although tabbed as the starting center, Mangiro's versatility allowed him to play multiple positions along the O-Line and fill in where needed. That versatility should prove vital to an O-Line that is a year wiser, yet still a young group in general. Last year's backup, junior Wendy Laurent, will be expected to fill in if Mangiro is needed elsewhere.
Sophomores Andrew Nelson, Derek Dowrey, Brian Gaia, and Brendan Mahon all return with a year experience in the trenches under their belts. Nelson appears to have the Right Tackle spot under lock and key for the foreseeable future. The two Guard positions will be a battle all camp to see who emerges as the starters on September 5th.
THE NEW GUYS
In February, the top-ranked lineman in junior college, Paris Palmer, decommitted from South Carolina and made Penn State his destination. Standing over 6' 7" tall, Palmer was immediately inserted into the left tackle spot vacated by Smith. Although his weight (or lack of it) has been a minor issue (as of last week he was reported to be at 297lbs.) his athleticism is certainly not.
Another addition with plenty of game experience is that of Graduate-transfer Kevin Reinher, by way of Stanford. Reinher, whose father and uncle both played under Joe Paterno in the 70's, comes to Happy Valley as a center with one year of eligibility left on the table. He is expected to make an immediate impact.
Noah Beh, Chance Sorrell, and Brendan Brosnan all redshirted in 2014 and should be able to push for playing time after a year spent in the weight room with strength coach Dwight Galt.
In addition to those three, Penn State also welcomed the addition of three highly touted commitments in the class of 2015. Sterling Jenkins, Ryan Bates, and Steven Gonzalez, ideally, would be headed for redshirts. But, under the circumstances, we may see one or more work their way into this year’s rotation.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Make no mistake about it, the issues that hounded the offensive line last season are in no way an overnight fix. The severe lack of depth was a direct result of two year’s worth of sanctions and clearly affected the O-Line more than any other unit. That being said, through no fault of its own, this unit has nowhere to go but up.
James Franklin, Herb Hand and the rest of the Nittany Lion coaching staff went to work plugging holes and molding the future of the 2015 O-Line no sooner than they returned from New York City and a Pinstripe Bowl victory. This year's version may not quite be up to par with what we've all been accustomed to, but the wheels of improvement have certainly been put in motion.