Penn State 2012 Position Preview: Offensive Line

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More 2012 Position Previews…
Running Backs (Cari) - 8.13.12
Linebackers (Mike) - 8.14.12
Defensive Tackles (Jared) - 8.15.12
Special Teams (Tim) - 8.16.12
Offensive Line (bscaff) - 8.17.12
Tight Ends (Devon) - 8.20.12
Defensive Ends (Jared) - 8.21.12
Wide Receivers (Dan) - 8.22.12
Quarterbacks (Jeff) - 8.23.12
Defensive Backs (Cari) - 8.24.12

These are large, unusually smelly men who sweat a lot and push people around on Saturday afternoons. They do not boast aesthetically pleasing figures. Generally speaking, they won't wow an average spectator with feats of sheer athleticism - they won't run someone down from behind, or body slam a QB, or leap over the line of scrimmage. They're typically only mentioned when they false start, or get flagged for holding. Wholly under-appreciated, they are the heart - backbone? soul? brain? some other connotation for vitally important component - of any offense. All the 'skill' (read: little fast guys) position players matter little without a strong offensive line. And they're the smart ones, too. Try finding GPA's like this in any other position group on a football team.

Last year's line was, in the BSD tradition, often criticized. But they were actually very, very good. They allowed just 14 total sacks in 13 games; they cleared running room without a fearsome passing attack; and they won the Iowa game in the 4th quarter through some serious drive blocking. They improved as the season wore on, averaging more yards rushing per game in the BigTen (178) than in the non-conference portion of the schedule (137), which included Indiana State and Eastern Michigan. They were one of two teams all year that rushed for more than 100 yards against Alabama - and they didn't allow a sack in that game.

This year's line has four new faces, just one returning senior starter, just 17 total combined starts, a (super cool) new offensive playbook, and will be increasing their focus on zone blocking. So, only a few things to deal with this season. It's not all bad, though; tackles do get to meet with Guards and Centers now, and Bill O'Brien is on record that this group of offensive lineman has been a very pleasant surprise. They also opened some pretty big gaps in the Blue-White scrimmage. So the expectations don't change: 1) lead the offense; 2) keep the QB clean; 3) clear running lanes; and 4) remain anonymous. Let's try to change that 4th one.

At the Tackles

#76 Donovan Smith - RS FR from Owings Mills, MD, home of the Baltimore Ravens facilities, where he likely watched a guy named Jonathan Ogden growing up. He was a high school All-American with lots of recruiting stars. As a true freshman last season, he redshirted but is rumored to have run with the second team in practice. He played Right Tackle in the Blue-White game this spring, and dang - he looked like a natural left tackle. He made his pass sets look effortless, and he showed a hint of nastiness in the run game. At the conclusion of spring practice, he'd earned his way to the top of the depth chart at left tackle. There haven't been very many freshman starting tackles at Penn State, usually for good reason. It's an incredibly challenging position, and I highly doubt that Bill O'Brien's playbook is read-option easy. So knowing the plays, staying consistent each week, and being able to learn from mistakes will be key for the young fella. But what a bright future.

#58 Adam Gress - JR from West Mifflin. Gress came from the back end of the depth chart in December to a starting right tackle position at the end of spring practice. He's been frequently cited by the coaching staff as one of the hardest workers and biggest gainers from the Fitzy off-season program. He played left tackle in the Blue-White game and dang - he looked like a prototypical right tackle. He has excellent size, is a solid athlete, and showed good awareness in the zone runs. If he continues working hard and improves his pass sets, he could leave Penn State as a two-year starter with a spot in an NFL training camp. He's scheduled to graduate this December.

#78 Mike Farrell - SR from Shady Side Academy. Farrell saw a lot of time last year subbing for RT Chima Okoli as Chima battled injuries. He's prototypical Penn State - a tough, smart, football-playing dude. He's also been President of Uplifting Athletes the past two seasons, holds a 3.41 GPA, and is scheduled to graduate this December. He's reliable, can play either tackle spot, and gets his job done. A great guy to have on your squad.

#70 Nate Cadogan - JR from Portsmouth, OH. Nate is the younger brother of Gerald. Nate's flipped back and forth between OT and TE, catching a touchdown pass against Northwestern in 2010 (he didn't spike the football or do a dance). Because of the position switching, we haven't seen much of Nate at OT. But standing 6'5" and weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 lbs, and having played TE, and with an older brother who was a 2-year starter at left tackle...anecdotal evidence would point to positive reviews. He was listed behind Smith at left tackle on the 2-deep heading into training camp, and will be working to earn the starting spot. Nate's scheduled to graduate in May.

At the Guards

#64 John Urschel - JR from Williamsville, NY. John got his first start in 2010 against Indiana at FedEx field. Last season he split time with Pannell at right guard, and this season he's taken ownership of the spot heading into training camp. Though he's a junior-eligible, he already graduated (in 3 years) with a 4.0 in Mathematics. Urschel is the Alex Gibbs prototype for a zone-scheme guard. He's on the smaller side at 'just' 280 - 290 lbs, but moves well laterally and to the second level. Bill O'Brien is a pretty big fan of his work, too; he selected Urschel to represent Penn State at BigTen media days, and has dropped his name as a certified NFL-level guard on a few occasions. Maybe John will get a few more starts at FedEx Field, blocking for Evan Royster in a couple of years.

#65 Miles Dieffenbach - SO from Fox Chapel. Miles was a highly recruited lineman out of high school. He's listed at 6'3", 300lbs, but that might be cheating the stat sheet just a little bit. For his first two years on campus he worked as a center, and may take the pivot after Stank graduates. But entering fall camp, he's positioned himself as one of the best five, and will be looking to lock down the left guard spot.

#73 Mark Arcidiacono - JR from St. Joseph's. Mark is competing for the left guard spot with Dieffenbach, and was listed as a co-starter exiting spring, despite missing most of spring practice and all of the Blue-White game with a foot injury. Will left guard be Pittsburgh (Miles) or Philly (Mark)? We'll likely get to see both this season.

#75 Eric Shrive - JR from West Scranton. Eric was another player cited early by the staff as having made huge gains in the Fitzgerald weight room. A highly recruited high school teammate of starting QB Matt McGloin, Eric will be working to earn time primarily at right guard. He's on schedule to graduate in May. He also serves as the current Vice President of Uplifting Athletes, and has been the top fund raiser each of the past two seasons.

At Center

#54 Matt Stankiewitch - SR from Blue Mountain. Stank is the sole returning full-time starter on this season's offensive line, bringing 15 of the squads' 17 total career starts. He saw time early in his career at guard before staking his claim to the pivot. Tough? Yes - he missed exactly zero offensive snaps last year. Dependable? Yes - he had exactly zero bad snaps last year. Smart? Of course - he graduates this December, and currently holds a 3.42 GPA. A Penn Stater? All the way.

#60 Ty Howle - SR from Wake Forest, NC and #62 Frank Figueroa - JR from San Antonio, TX will likely be backing up Stank this season. Howle played in every game each of the last two seasons, handling the long-snapping duties for field goals and extra points. He graduated this past May (3.5 years) with a 3.59 GPA. He also served as Head of Operations for Uplifting Athletes this season. Frank will also see time this season, and - not to be outdone - is also scheduled to graduate this December (in 3.5 years).

Next Men Up

  • #50 Anthony Stanko FR from Warren (Howland), OH
  • #55 Wendy Laurent FR from The Hun School
  • #56 Anthony Alosi FR from The Hun School
  • #66 Angelo Mangiro FR from Roxbury, NJ
  • #68 Bryan Davie SO from Greenbelt, MD
  • #77 Patrick Christie SO from Boiling Springs
  • #79 Kevin Blanchard FR from Katy, TX

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