The most maligned unit on the team during James Franklin's tenure looks to bounce back after another season of subpar play. The lone bright spot last year was the offensive line's ability to open lanes for the running game, although having Saquon Barkley as your primary runner didn't hurt at all. With a new offensive scheme friendlier towards linemen, a new coach who wants to focus on the line only, and finally having enough depth to stop playing musical chairs at each position, the line stands to make the biggest jump in any position by default.
As previously discussed, Joe Moorhead faced similar challenges at Fordham with its offensive line. Moorhead's line gave up 43 sacks last season, four more than Penn State's own line did. However, they also averaged 36.8 points a game, 6.7 yards per play, and over 400 yards of offense per game. Those numbers dwarf what the Lions were able to accomplish last season even when having a slightly better sacks allowed number. Moorhead's ability to run plays that don't take forever to develop should not only allow for better offensive output, but it should also help each linemen to quickly execute the simpler concepts, which are easier to execute and faster-developing than before.
And that's where Matt Limegrover comes in. At Minnesota, he was an assistant head coach, offensive coordinator, and offensive line coach. He had to split his time between a myriad of responsibilities, and he was still able to make Minnesota's line one of the best in the Big Ten. As was pointed out in an ESPN article recently:
Penn State signed five ESPN 300 offensive line prospects in just the past two seasons; the Gophers have managed just one since 2006.
The level of talent Limegrover will be working with in State College is, by and large, much higher than what he had to work with at Minnesota. If he's able to get out of these guys what he got out of the players in Minneapolis, the line stands to perform much better than it has in the past two seasons.
Combine all this with the fact that the line only lost one starter to graduation, and you have a unit with a chance to redeem itself for all the sins of its past.
James Franklin pointed out a few weeks ago that only one of the spots is locked up as of right now: Andrew Nelson's right tackle spot. Every other position is a competition as it stands today. Paris Palmer stands to have the inside track at left tackle, while Brian Gaia seems to have it at center. The guards spots are somewhat up in the air at the moment, with older guys such as Brendan Mahon and Derek Dowery getting most of the reps. Expect guys like Chasz Wright and Noah Beh, who are coming into their third year with the program, to push for playing time as well.
While Franklin has said multiple times that he prefers his linemen to be in the program for three years before putting them on the field, don't be surprised if guys like Ryan Bates and Steven Gonzalez to push the older guys for playing time, as well as Michal Menet and Connor McGovern. While true freshmen, the latter two are still talented enough to handle the rigors of college ball in a pinch.
Given the nature of the competition, many of the guys listed above will end up being key reserves. Others on this list are Wendy Laurent, who spent a lot of time at center last season, as well as Sterling Jenkins. Jenkins has made tremendous progress in the offseason, but may not be ready for a starting spot just yet. Chance Sorrell is another player Franklin called out recently as having made progress in the offseason, so look for him to provide quality depth at the Tackle position.
One of the biggest benefits the offensive line enjoys in 2016 is the fact that there is enough depth for each player to focus on their position. The line has played so many different combinations over the past two years that no member was really able to take hold of just one position and become really good at it. This time around, that concern is not as pressing as it has been. Couple that with the simpler concepts and faster developing plays, and the offensive line has a chance to become average, and maybe even decent, by season's end.