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Are They Tough Enough? Penn State's Offensive Line Key to Success in 2010

As Summer turns to Fall we've come to expect certain things: classes will start again, week one opponent (Youngstown State this season) will be straight out of the Betty Crocker Cookbook, and Joe Paterno will not be happy with his offensive line:

"We're not very good right now with our offensive line," Paterno said. "We've got two or three guys that I think can play right now. The others - we're going to have to work hard with and they're going to have to work hard themselves. We've got to get them to come together and get them to feel good about themselves. Right now we're not tough enough and we've got to get tougher - and I think we will."

Naturally, reading that quote from Joe would have even the strongest Nittany Lion supporters worried about the season.  It's always interesting when JoePa says his line is not "tough" right now.  How is that possible?  Larry Johnson Sr. continues to churn out monsters on the defensive line, yet the five Mister Softee's, who face off against them every day in practice still can't toughen up?  What happens when Adrian Clayborn and Cameron Heyward is lined up across from them?

For years, Joe has used the media to get his players attention, rock the boat just enough for them to earn that nasty streak to prove him wrong.  Hopefully that streak shows up by Week Two in Alabama (or we can have Quinn Barham put cell phone pictures of rival players on his teammates' phones.)

Projected Starters
Expect the season to start with the configuration below.  Last season, Penn State used five different starting combinations in 13 games; not the model of consistency you would like to see out of the big boys up front.  This season, at some point, there will be a change on the line due to inconsistent play...odds makers have Pannell and Klopacz at 4-1.  Currently, only the LG position is still up for grabs.

LT # 67 Quinn Barham- Junior (6-3/ 298) - Barham is currently occupying the spot many Nittany Lion fans thought Eric Shrive would take hold of when he signed with the Lions back in 2008.  The Lions are hoping that what Barham  lacks in size, he will more than make up for with quickness and great technique.  Barham has the potential to become an All-Big Ten selection.

LG # 50 DeOn'tae Pannell - Junior (6-5/ 317) - Pannell has the size of a premier tackle, he just couldn't get it done for Penn State at that position.  Pannell's LG position is still up for grabs and he will need to hold off Troutman and Stankiwitch.  If he can keep the spot, Pannell will add experience to the left side of the line (zero career starts for Barham and Klopacz.)

C # 68 Doug Klopacz- Senior (6-3/ 286) - After waiting four years and surviving a torn ACL, Doug Klopacz looks to finally lock down a starting spot.  A two star (which means absolutely nothing) recruit in 2005, Klopacz looks to make the most of his opportunity.  Before this spring, Klopacz was better known for being the offensive lineman with the tattoos (third worst tattoos in Penn State history behind the barbed wire tattoo with the word "Morelli", in case he forgot it, and Andrew Quarless' misspelled "Gods Gift" tattoo.)  If Doug can't prove himself early, look for the coaches to make a move to either Wisniewski or Stankiewitch.

RG # 61 Stefen Wisniewski -  Senior (6-3/ 306) - The former First Time All-Big Ten selection is making the switch back to RG this season (he played their in 2007/2008) after spending 2009 as the starting Center. 

"I like guard, but I'm happy to do whatever the team needs me to do," the senior said. "That's what I did last year. The team needed me at center, but now if they need me to stay at guard I'll do that."

Translation: I prefer guard but was forced to play center last season.

Wisniewski is projected by many publications to become a First Team All-American.  Wisniewski should be the highest NFL draft pick on the O-line for Penn State since Levi Brown was selected in the first round of the 2008 draft.  If Klopacz falters at center, expect the coaches to slide Stefan back into the middle.

RT # 77 Lou Eliades- Senior (6-4/ 310) - In 2009, Eliades started every game at RG.  This season JoePa is asking Lou to slide out a few feet and man the RT position.  Fans have come to enjoy the nasty streak he has displayed on the field finishing his blocks with authority.  Lou came to Penn State as part of a huge recruiting class which included Pat Devlin, Maurice Evans, AJ Wallace, Evan Royster, Jared Odrick, Bani Gbadyu, Navorro Bowman, Aaron Maybin, and of course the very forgettable trio of Chris Bell, Phil Taylor, and Antonio Logan-El.

One or two of these guys will see some significant playing time at some point during the season.  Stankiwitch and Troutman are the likely candidates.

T # 78 Mike Farrell - Sophomore (6-6/ 303) - Farrell is a player to watch out for.  He could potentially get some work at either of the tackle spots this season if need be.  He has outstanding size and should compete for a full time starting spot next season.

LG # 75 Eric Shrive - Freshman (6-6/ 299) - Former all world recruit.  Eventually will finish his career at tackle, but this season he is providing depth at guard.  Shrive plays with a nasty streak much like former Michigan All-American Jake Long.  Now if he can become a Jake Long type player, even better.

G/C # 54 Matt Stankiewitch - Sophomore (6-3/ 293) - Penn State has a luxury in Stankiewitch.  The kid can play both guard positions (two starts last season) and center.  Stank filled in for the injured Klopacz and should continue to push for some playing time if the offensive line does not gel early on.  If Pannell struggles, Stankiewitch will get the nod to fill-in.

LG # 74 Johnnie Troutman- Junior (6-4/ 323) - A starter a year ago, Troutman looks to battle his way back into the starting five.  As of a week ago, Troutman was working with the four's, but don't expect that to last all season.  Penn State shuffled the deck a lot last year, so a precedent is set.

T # 52 Chimaeze Okoli - Junior (6-4/ 293) - As Joe would say "he's been around".  Okoli provides depth for the Lions.  His best chance to see significant playing time might come next season.  Previously he was one of Larry Johnson Sr's defensive linemen before making the switch over to offense.

The Future
Penn State is blessed with a lot of young talent.  The future success of the program will hinge on their ability to develop into quality linemen and their ability to keep the QB upright.  However, offensive line potential is harder to project from HS to college than quarterback.

T # 58 Adam Gress- Freshman (6-6/ 293) - Third string at this point, Gress will have to wait his turn. 

G # 55 Tom Ricketts  - Freshman (6-5/ 268) - Will use his redshirt this season to pack on the pounds.  Could be the next Wisniewski.

 G # 73 Mark Arcidiacono- Freshman (6-4/ 279) - Penn State loves linemen with difficult last names, and Arcidiacono fits the bill. Arcidiacono could afford to add a few more pounds to his 6-4 frame. 

G/C # 60 Ty Howle- Freshman (6-0/ 290) - Center prospect and coaches son (a talking point for all analysts during TV broadcasts), is in the mold of former PSU All-Big Ten lineman, A.Q. Shipley.

T # Khamrone Kolb- Freshman (6-5/ 335) - Redshirting in 2010.  Kolb is a HUGE OL prospect.  Has the ideal size for a big time college tackle.  Look for him to make an impact in 2012.

G # 64 John Urschel- Freshman (6-3/ 286) - Urschel, like his fellow freshmen will have to wait his turn.  He will provide depth for the next few seasons.

T # 76 Nate Cadogan- Freshman (6-5/ 297)  - The brother of former PSU Academic All-American and All Big Ten offensive lineman, Gerald Cadogan.

C/G # 65 Miles Dieffenbach - Freshman (6-3/ 290) - Miles did the smartest thing he could as an 18 year old senior in HS; he decided against going to Pitt and came to Penn State.  Dieffenbach was a big time recruit for Penn State, but will redshirt this season unless some sort of linemen Armageddon happens.  After that, he should be an excellent center for Penn State in the future (hello Rimington.)

G # 79 Luke Graham- Freshman (6-4/ 278) - Graham will benefit from a redshirt season. He will be part of a young group of OL for the next 4 years.

G/T # 63 Alex Mateas - Freshman (6-3/ 310) - Canadian prospect.  Might need more time to develop, but has outstanding size.

G # 62 Frank Figueroa - Freshman (6-3/ 285) - Figueroa will need to wait his turn, if it ever comes.  There is a ton of talent in from of him.  He will need to work hard to crack the two deep.

Scouts Forever

G # 70 Anthony Tortorelli - Junior (6-0/ 261) - Unlikely Anthony will ever get a chance to spread his wings...unless you count the Blue/White game.

As it stands today, Penn State currently has 12 true or redshirt freshman offensive lineman on the roster.  Start the clock for next season's "we have problems with our offensive line" columns.  Penn State will need to replace three starters (all seniors) from the 2010 unit.  Luckily we have Alabama, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, and potentially Nebraska at home in 2011.

NFL Nightmares

The NFL has not been kind to former Penn State players in recent years.  In terms of offensive linemen, Penn State does not consistently churn out NFL quality linemen like some of its BCS counterparts (yes, A.Q. Shipley won the Rimington Award, but he was a 7th RD draft pick, not exactly showing the translation from Best College Center to the NFL.)  Since 2000, Penn State has had one (Levi Brown) OL drafted in the 1st round.  Iowa (2), Wisconsin (2), and Michigan (3) have all produced more (Indiana and Ohio State both had 1.)  Oklahoma (4) produced the most during the same time frame with Virginia coming in 2nd (3). How many Penn State O-linemen consistently start in the NFL?  Only two (Kareem McKenzie and Levi Brown.)  The list below highlights former PSU offensive linemen currently in the NFL and their draft status:

  1. Kareem Mckenzie (3rd RD, 121 starts)
  2. Levi Brown (1st RD, 27 starts)
  3. A.Q. Shipley (7th RD, 0 starts)
  4. Dennis Landolt (undrafted, 0 starts)
  5. Rich Ohrnberger (4th RD, 0 starts)
  6. Tyler Reed (6th RD, 0 starts, out of NFL)
  7. Gerald Cadogan (undrafted, 0 starts, out of NFL)

This is not to say that a school should have to produce NFL offensive linemen in order to be a successful program...but it doesn't hurt.  Penn State recruits high profile HS recruits each season.  At some point during the time they arrive on campus to the time they leave with a degree, they fail to develop.  Does Penn State rely too much on the flawed star system from Scout and Rivals?  Or is it a matter of the coaching they receive?  Most of the time it is a combination of the two.